First World War Christmas cards show stiff upper lip and dark humour of serving soldiers

By Culture24 Reporter | 19 December 2014

Growth of Secretary of State's volunteer army saw increased market for regimental cards full of steely humour

Click on the picture to launch a gallery of pictures

Wit and spirit are a consistent theme of Christmas cards from the First World War, but there’s always an underlying sense of unease, bleak humour, propaganda and defiance, not least in the bulldog, teeth gritted by a globe and the Union Jack, next to the message “our banner unfurled, shall proclaim to the world, that there’s life in the old dog yet”.

An image of a card from the first world war showing a bulldog with the union jack
© York Museums Trust
One soldier, bearing a bayonet, is stumped by the sight of Father Christmas delivering alcohol to the trench of the 11th Division in 1917.

“Happiness, humour and fortune, keep with you,” reads a simple yet stirring depiction of a marching unit, their strongest hope perhaps for the latter element.

A Somme Pudding is exchanged between two soldiers in 1916.

And one card, sent by a Prisoner of War, tries to wring positivity from a holiday spent behind enemy lines.

“Regimental cards were not new to the First World War,” points out Faye Prior, the collections facilitator at York Museums Trust, who have put the cards on show at York Castle Museum for the festive period.

“But the growth of the regiments and the recruitment of Kitcheners’ new armies meant the market for regimental cards grew exponentially.

An image of a christmas card from the first world war showing a soldier marching to berlin
© York Museums Trust
“These cards often portrayed the dark humour and stiff upper lip attitude which were strongly associated with British trench warfare.

“Cards were also produced by German Prisoner of War camps to try to convince British families that imprisoned soldiers were being treated well.

“In both cases the cards portrayed images that each side wanted to be put into the public domain.”

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An image of a painting of father christmas delivering alcohol to a soldier in a first world war trench
© York Museums Trust
An image of a christmas card from the first world war showing two soldiers smiling
© York Museums Trust
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