A soldier and his pin-up

A soldier and his pin-up
A closer look at photographs reflecting life during the First World War
1 June 2016

This post was originally written for the regular feature ‘In the Frame’ in the National Library of Australia Magazine.

An image of an Australian soldier pinning up a poster on a Wall at Heliopolis Aerodrome, Cairo, Egypt in 1916

Australian Soldier Pinning up a Poster on a Wall at Heliopolis Aerodrome, Cairo, Egypt, January 1916, black and white photograph; 6.7 x 8.5 cm, nla.cat-vn6414156

William Dunlop’s album is one of the photographic records of Australia’s part in the Great War in the National Library’s collection that deserve to be better known.

Dunlop was a doctor’s son from Charlton, a wheat town on the Avoca River in central Victoria. A cadet at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1914, he was immediately commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force on its formation.

He survived Gallipoli (partly because he became a staff officer) and after the campaign returned to the 4th Light Horse Regiment, which early in 1916 was at the Aerodrome camp near the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

Is this soldier captured pinning a photograph or drawing to the wall of his hut Dunlop? It seems not, judging by the photographs of a pipe-smoking Dunlop in his album.

This may be one of Dunlop’s fellow light horse officers, brightening his billet with some pin-ups, perhaps from racy magazines such as La Vie Parisienne or The Pink ‘un—racy by the standards of 1916, that is.

Dunlop has defaced the original print by writing ‘Censor!’ across the picture his subject is pinning up.

What was it he wanted to conceal? Sensitive military details? Hardly—his album includes many photographs of, say, aircraft. It is more likely that Dunlop’s companion was putting up an image that—on reflection—Dunlop did not want his family to see, perhaps one of the ‘feelthy peectures’ notoriously sold on the streets of Cairo.

But why would these young men not put up such images in their hut? Dunlop was 24 and single, having spent much of his youth either at Geelong Grammar or at Duntroon. He had spent most of 1915 on Gallipoli. His comrades in the 4th Light Horse would spend the next three years serving in the desert of Sinai or in Palestine. Except for those willing to risk VD in the brothels of Cairo, the only women they would see would be in their fantasies.

William Dunlop went on to serve as a staff officer on the Western Front and survived the war. His album offers illuminating, but also intriguing, insights into his Great War.