Only a handful of women became official war artists in the Great War. One of them was Londoner Olive Mudie-Cooke, – creating evocative images of the conflict while serving as a driver during the war and visiting the battlefields after the Armistice.
Olive was the younger of two daughters of Henry Cooke and his wife Beatrice, nee Mudie. Henry was a carpet merchant, who lived at 3 Porchester Terrace in 1911 with Beatrice, their daughters and two servants. Olive is listed in the census return as a painter, aged 21, while Phyllis (23) was an archeology student. In 1916, Olive Mudie-Cooke went to France as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) driver; as well as the Western Front, she served in (and painted of Italy) .
Mudie-Cooke’s most famous picture is this one of a VAD worker lighting a cigarette for a wounded soldier. Restricted to scenes well behind the lines, many of her images depict the process of evacuating wounded men from the front and treating them.
Mudie-Cooke’s art could be light-hearted, such as his image from her postwar book With the VAD convoys in France, Flanders and Italy:
On the whole, though, the examples of her work in the Imperial War Museum collection (donated by her sister Phyllis Tillyard, who married literary scholar EMW Tillyard after the war) are more serious. When she returned to the Western Front in 1920, Olive Mudie-Cooke found the haunting scene of two British tanks that had been put out of action in November 1917.
The two tanks had been part of an action near Poelkapelle on 9 October and were put out of action after engaging the enemy, ‘Dop Doctor’ (D32) apparently when trying to pass D24 (Deuce of Diamonds) after the latter tank had been knocked out of action by a direct hit from enemy fire. Mudie-Cooke was not the only post-war visitor whose eye was caught by the scene, several photos exist on the internet of the same scene, and a Great War Forum thread has more information about them.
More sobering than the wrecked tanks is a scene that Olive Mudie-Cooke painted depicting British medics treating a French peasant wounded by ammunition left on the Somme battlefield.
I haven’t been able to find out Olive Mudie-Cooke’s life after the war, beyond her visit to the battlefields. Sadly, she died in France on 11 September 1925. The following year an exhibition of her art was held at Beaux-Arts Gallery on Bruton Place.