Sarah Jackson explores why First World War soldiers on the Western Front sent their loved ones silk embroidered postcards, with examples from the archives of Europeana
© Europeana 1914 - 1918
For the families of soldiers in the First World War, letters and
postcards were the only method of communication with their loved ones at
Embroidered silk postcards soon became one of the most popular ways for soldiers to send their love back home. Originally hand-embroidered by women in France and Belgium, the postcards provided not only much needed income for them but also a beloved keepsake for troops and their loved ones.
The postcards have been much prized by the descendants of those who fought in the war and collectors alike. Their beauty comes not just from the skill of the female embroiderers but the love conveyed in the messages they bear.
Thanks to Europeana 1914 - 1918, many of these postcards are now available to view online for free, along with the stories of the men who sent them.
Some of these cards reveal the soldiers fears and the horrors they experienced. One poignant and rare example of this is a note from Frederick Clegg to his sisters, submitted by his descendants to Europeana:
"We are on the [censored] it is dreadful to see the chaps dead thousands of them and Germans legs and arms flying all roads I saw some sights walking on dead chaps [censored] get in shell holes and go to sleep on the tops of them don't let anyone see this. Fred"
Tragically, Fred died only a few weeks before the Armistice.
The postcards found on Europeana feature a wide range of designs, from simple seasonal greetings to flags and patriotic images to sentimental images of flowers and birds. However, not all mail from the Front was quite as decorative.
All post went through the censors, sometimes causing lengthy delays to post arriving. In an effort to curb this, the Army Postal Service introduced the Field Service Post Card, which had a series of pre-typed messages that could be deleted as appropriate – no other messages were allowed to be written.
The postcards could only convey whether the soldier was well and when he had last received a letter from home, but as they did not have to be scrutinised as closely as other postcards, they travelled more quickly, leading to their nickname of “Wizz-bangs” after the high velocity shells of the conflict.
Although they lack the beauty and sentiment of the embroidered postcards, the Field Service Post Cards must have been received just as gratefully by families such as that of John Doolan, a private in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
You can see more examples of postcards from the First World War below. All images are taken from Europeana 1914-1918, which brings together resources from three major European projects each dealing with different types of First World War material from national libraries, film archives and contributions from the public.
Click below to launch a gallery of images.
Three embroidered postcards with handwritten notes with typed up transcriptions mounted on a red board.
A silk postcard embroidered with the regimental badge of the Royal Engineers, with a band of daisies across the top and two flags crossed at the bottom, one a Union Jack and the other possibly the Merchant Navy Ensign
An embroidered postcard with a dove sitting in a snow-capped holly tree with mistletoe next to a small birdhouse, with the caption "Xmas Greetings".
An embroidered postcard featuring a butterfly with wings featuring the flags of the Allied Powers and the caption "From Your Soldier Boy"
A buff-coloured postcard with a typed series of messages that have been erased to read "I am quite well" and "I have recieved no letter from you lately", and signed and dated by the soldier writing it
An embroidered postcard showing a blue bird flying down to a a curved line of pink flowers with the caption "I carry hope" writeen underneath in periwinkleblue
An embroidered postcard showing a man's head wearing an officer's cap and smoking a pipe encircled by a garland of leaves and flower with two Union Jack's at the top. At the bottom a caption reads "Never Say Die"
Embroidered postcard showing three chicks sitting in blue eggs nestled in a swing, underneath a blue banner with the word "Easter" written on it yellow. At the top and bottom of the postcard are purple flowers on green foliage.
An embroidered postcard showing a mustard coloured four leaf clover, each leaf containing the flag of a country: Great Britain, Belgium, France and Prussia(?). In gold letting below is the phrase "Right is Might"
Embroidered postcard in the envelope style decorated with two Union flags attached to an anchor and "1914 - 1915" underneath
These images and many more are available to view on Europeana.eu, a digital portal that allows you to explore the digital resources of hundreds of Europe’s galleries, museums, libraries, archives and audio-visual collections.
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