Eliane Cossey

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Eliane "Ginger" Cossey (Poperinge, 1902 – London, 1942), a precocious teen with striking red hair, was the most famous entertainer and pin-up of the Allied Western Front (World War I). For her service to the British war effort, she was invited to Buckingham Palace and personally thanked by King George VI.

Family and start of the war

Eliane Cossey was the youngest daughter of Elie Cossey (1860–1938) and Silvie Vandromme (1868–1937). The family had eight children, the father was a shoemaker and the mother ran a lingerie store in Poperinge, Belgium. At the beginning of the First World War, the two eldest sons volunteered for the front, and with the shelling of Poperinge, the three youngest sons were sent to a refuge in France, whilst the Eliane and her two sisters stayed home[1] .

Catering to British officers

War was bad for the family's existing business, but Poperinge, with Veurne, were be the only unoccupied towns in Belgium and rest and recuperation spots for the multi-national Allied troops, of which the British were the wealthiest. Specialised shops, clubs and restaurants sprung up, with Poperinge now nicknamed "Belgium's Piccadilly Circus".

The family remodelled their store into an officers-only café named "A la Poupée"[2]. The café was well-kept, a pianola, the license to sell champagne and other alcohols, rounded off with home-made cakes and snacks made many an officer feel at home.

A cheery spot it is, bedecked with the flags of the Allied nations. All the appointments of the place are good; clean clothes upon the little tea tables, little bunches of flowers here and there, and altogether an air of brightness and comfort about, very grateful indeed to eyes weary of the drab dismalness of trench and mud. In the hours of the afternoon the tea room is crowded with officers from various units, and it is of interest to observe that they very often represent branches of the Army in the field from almost every corner of the Empire.


The café's unique selling proposition was Eliane[3] . Simply referred to as “Ginger” by the British officers due to her flaming red hair, soldiers, often not much older, would came from afar to see her and collect her autograph. Notes on Ginger were to be found in the diaries of almost every officer stationed on the front[4], photos of her were found on the bodies of many thousands of young men who had fallen on the front.

The two rooms were full of diners but we found a table in the glass-roofed garden. A sweet little sixteen-year-old girl came to serve us. I fell a victim at once to her long red hair and flashing smile. When I asked her name, she replied 'Gingair' in such a glib way that we both gave a burst of laugher. We had a splendid dinner, with several bottles of bubbels, and Ginger hovered delightfully about us.

Only twelve at the very start of the war, she was soon a teen, and her mother had to keep a watchful eye on her, since the café's most successful sales gimmick was the innocent dance with Ginger for officers who had ordered one last drink at closing time.

After the war, war Tourism and Buckingham Palace

After the end of the war the international soldiers left Poperinge, but a new business developed: War tourism. In order to lodge battlefield tourists, Ginger's father Elie remodelled his café into "Hotel à la Poupée". His wife ran the business and he drove the guests around the battlefield sites in his car.

When, ten years later, the British government extended an invitation to the mayor of Poperinge to thank him for his hospitality, this provoked protests from British veterans. If there was one person that represented that hospitality, it was Ginger, and so it was she that was received at Buckingham Palace on 8 December 1928 and showered with the flowers at Royal Albert Hall.

Later life

Eliane married a business-man specialised in buying and modernising farms throughout Europe. The couple worked in Ireland and then in the UK, with their children mostly raised by the grandparents back in Eliane's hometown. Ginger was gravely wounded by German bombs on London in 1942, bravely tended to by her teen daughter Helena, but succumbed aged only 40.


  1. Holt 2011, pp. 165.
  2. Connelly 2015, p. 12.
  3. Hughes 2014, pp. 97.
  4. Cusack 2004.

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