London: Central Press Photos Ltd., 18 October 1941. Photograph. This original press photograph captures Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill inspecting an anti-aircraft gun and its crew in London on 17 October 1941. The gelatin silver print on matte photo paper measures 7.75 x 9.5 inches (19.7 x 24.1 cm). Condition is very good. The paper is crisp, clean, and free of scratching with only some light edge wear confined to the margins. The verso bears the copyright stamp of “Central Press Photos Ltd.”, a stamp indicating that this photograph passed censor, a received stamp dated 18 OCT. 1941, and a typed caption. The caption is titled “PRIME MINISTER WITH “ACK ACK" GIRLS and reads, “Mr WINSTON CHURCHILL, accompanied by his wife, today paid a visit to the anti-aircraft battery in the London area which is manned by men and women. The picture shows the Premier watching some of the men load one of the guns.”
Throughout the war Churchill frequently visited defense-related production, testing, and training sites. The caption on the verso of this photograph indicates that this gun site was operated in part by the Ack Ack Girls. (Though this photograph captures the loading of the guns, a job performed by men, one woman is visible in the background). All women age 20-30 were required to join one of the Auxiliary services. One such service was the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) which contained one of the most exciting, and dangerous, roles, that of the Ack Ack Girls who were charged with operating London's anti-aircraft guns. Churchill’s youngest child, Mary (1922-2014), was among the first Ack Ack Girls to volunteer, serving at a gun site in Hyde Park. Though women were forbidden to operate weaponry, the Ack Ack Girls played a critical role in spotting enemy aircraft and calculating trajectories.
This photo is testimony to Churchill’s lifelong informed fascination with the minutiae and machinery of combat and a reminder of the fact that he was a soldier before he was a politician. Churchill’s interest was neither idle nor amateur. The man who began his career as a cavalry officer and participated in the ‘last great cavalry charge in British history’ would later help conceive the tank, pilot aircraft, support establishment of the Royal Air Force, direct use of some of the earliest computers (for WWII code breaking), and ultimately preside as Prime Minister over the first British nuclear weapons test. Before he became Prime Minister, Churchill had twice served as wartime First Lord of the Admiralty and also as wartime Minister of Munitions. During the Second World War – as he had for decades before – Churchill showed keen interest in – and critical support for – the struggle for technological mastery that would prove as critical to winning the war as men, material, and logistics. This press photo came from the Central Press Photos agency.
During the first half of the twentieth century, photojournalism grew as a practice, fundamentally changing the way the public interacted with current events. Newspapers assembled expansive archives, including physical copies of all photographs published or deemed useful for potential future use, their versos typically marked with ink stamps and notes providing provenance and captions. Photo departments would often take brush, paint, pencil, and marker to the surface of photographs themselves to edit them before publication. Today these photographs exist as repositories of historical memory, technological artifacts, and often striking pieces of vernacular art. Item #005221