From Your Soldier Boy - First World War postcards from the Europeana Online Portal

By Sarah Jackson | 09 May 2014

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

An embroidered postcard of a butterfly with wings made up of the flags of the Allies resting on a garland of yellow flowers. Underneath is the phrase "From your soldier boy".
Embroidered Card sent by Samuel Edmund Bodger© 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 the Front.

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.

An embroidered postcard with a blue bird flying towards a curved line of pink and white flowers, below which are the words "I carry hope".
Postcard sent by Patrick Rossiter from France - "I Carry Hope"© Europeana 1914 - 1918
Other soldiers were much more restrained in their letters home, only confirming that they are well and wishing the best for their families. Patrick Rossitor wrote frequently to his son, also called Patrick, calling him his “dear son” and expressing pleasure at the news that his son was being “a good boy”.

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.




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.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Latest comment: >Make a comment
The vast majority of "silks" from WWI still circulating have no message attached, and no other means of checking their provenance. This makes those that can be identified with an individual well worth remembering.
Although Beepers is correct in saying they were machine embroidered many were produced in France and provided some form of subsistence for the women living there. I choose to remember the nameless as well.
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