World War I Postcards

Every Card May be the Last

Wartime postcards form a visual bridge between the military front and the home front. The cards were sent both by soldiers from the front and by their family and friends from home. The illustrations on the postcards illustrate the moral of the troops and the nation. In the beginning of the war the cards were very positive and cheerful, but as the slaughter of the trenches continued, the postcards got more grim and depressing.   The postcard was "invented" in Austria in 1869, in order to increase post office business by reducing the time and delivery of letters. Their popularity quickly spread throughout Europe. At first only pre-stamped, plain cardboard postcards were used, but soon they varied in style and photographs were used as well. The post knew busy times during World War I, as millions of letters and postcards were send back and forth between civilians and soldiers. The post ranged from pre-printed cards from the trenches ("I am well", "I am wounded", "I am in receipt of your letter", etc.), to commercial postcards in the villages and long letters. The messages were normally censored in order to maintain morale at the home. The civilians on the home front had a vast array of sentimental or humorous or patriotic postcards to send to their boys at the front lines. This makes the photographs and pictures wonderful and valuable social records of the war. The sources are organised in a thematic way. For example, some are clear examples of nationalism, while others depict individual heroes, are Christmas cards, official group photos, religious photos or pictures of battles.

Acknowledgements: This source collection has been developed by Bjorn Pels with the support of Laura Steenbrink. The source collection makes use of sources provided by Europeana 1914-1918.

Proud to be German

During the First World War, propaganda was one of the tools that governments used to persuade the people to support them. First, by gaining enthusiasm and active approval from the population when war was declared. Second, by maintaining the support of the troops and public during the conflict. British 'paper propaganda' took many forms and a postcard in the form of a poster was one example. It was an ideal way to promote the point of view of the government, both officially as unofficially. This postcard shows a woman holding a flag. The Kriegslied is a warsong, describing the pride of the Germans. (Contributed by Claus-Ulrich Bielefeld to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Proud to be German

During the First World War, propaganda was one of the tools that governments used to persuade the people to support them. First, by gaining enthusiasm and active approval from the population when war was declared. Second, by maintaining the support of the troops and public during the conflict. British 'paper propaganda' took many forms and a postcard in the form of a poster was one example. It was an ideal way to promote the point of view of the government, both officially as unofficially. This postcard shows a woman holding a flag. The Kriegslied is a warsong, describing the pride of the Germans. (Contributed by Claus-Ulrich Bielefeld to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Set of Postcards

This is a set of ten postcards, sent from Ireland to France, which together form the image of a soldier with a trumpet. Soon after the start of the war, publishers realised the commercial potential of projecting stirring images of patriotism and rallying cries to the flag on postcards. Artists were put at work quickly. Patriotic postcards were sold already within a week of the declaration of the hostilities and well before the first British troops landed in France. (Contributed by Deirdre Archer to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Set of Postcards

This is a set of ten postcards, sent from Ireland to France, which together form the image of a soldier with a trumpet. Soon after the start of the war, publishers realised the commercial potential of projecting stirring images of patriotism and rallying cries to the flag on postcards. Artists were put at work quickly. Patriotic postcards were sold already within a week of the declaration of the hostilities and well before the first British troops landed in France. (Contributed by Deirdre Archer to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Allegory of Italy: Free Trieste

In the middle of the postcard, an allegory of Italy, recognizable by the clothes with the colours of the Italian flag, is helping a woman up the platform, surrounded by a cheering crowd of soldiers. The bright and colourful picture postcards that carried slogans helped to fuel the patriotism and jingoism which was widespread during the first months of the war. By 1916, the production of patriotic and jingoistic picture postcards had declined. This card, however, was still a good example of war propaganda by postcards, because at the time that the postcard was sent, Trieste had not yet been annexed by Italy. It is thus possible that the card represents the Italian desire to add the city of Trieste to their territory. (Contributed by Livia Morica to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Allegory of Italy: Free Trieste

In the middle of the postcard, an allegory of Italy, recognizable by the clothes with the colours of the Italian flag, is helping a woman up the platform, surrounded by a cheering crowd of soldiers. The bright and colourful picture postcards that carried slogans helped to fuel the patriotism and jingoism which was widespread during the first months of the war. By 1916, the production of patriotic and jingoistic picture postcards had declined. This card, however, was still a good example of war propaganda by postcards, because at the time that the postcard was sent, Trieste had not yet been annexed by Italy. It is thus possible that the card represents the Italian desire to add the city of Trieste to their territory. (Contributed by Livia Morica to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Our Great Army

This is a composition of four different postcards. They illustrate four different roles of the Italian army. Each image is titled “Il nostro valoroso esercito”, which means “Our glorious army”. By sending a large amount of patriotic postcards, the people obligingly distributed the patriotic message to the men at the front and to each other. The message of postcard patriotism cost the Government nothing and for many people, the motive to select postcards was their bright colours. (Contributed by Luigi Bertini to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Our Great Army

This is a composition of four different postcards. They illustrate four different roles of the Italian army. Each image is titled “Il nostro valoroso esercito”, which means “Our glorious army”. By sending a large amount of patriotic postcards, the people obligingly distributed the patriotic message to the men at the front and to each other. The message of postcard patriotism cost the Government nothing and for many people, the motive to select postcards was their bright colours. (Contributed by Luigi Bertini to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Image of a Hero: the Italian Apline Soldier

Italian troops in the Alps will use anything to win the war. Look at this strong Italian soldier that uses rocks to push the enemy back over the Alps. According to this postcard, the “empire of the barbarians comes to and end”. (Contributed by Luigi Bertini to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Image of a Hero: the Italian Apline Soldier

Italian troops in the Alps will use anything to win the war. Look at this strong Italian soldier that uses rocks to push the enemy back over the Alps. According to this postcard, the “empire of the barbarians comes to and end”. (Contributed by Luigi Bertini to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Italian Honours

Awards are the most important reward for soldiers and this postcard explains what the different colours mean. The fact that there are so many distinctions and the word “Italian” comes back often, underwrites the nationalist features of this postcard. (Contributed by Luigi Bertini to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Italian Honours

Awards are the most important reward for soldiers and this postcard explains what the different colours mean. The fact that there are so many distinctions and the word “Italian” comes back often, underwrites the nationalist features of this postcard. (Contributed by Luigi Bertini to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Celebrating Victory in Paris, 13 July 1919

After the war the French awarded soldiers in Paris. This, and the fact that the photograph was printed on a postcard was a way to show the bravery of the soldiers during the war. (Contributed by Archives départementales de la Haute-Vienne, 1 to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Celebrating Victory in Paris, 13 July 1919

After the war the French awarded soldiers in Paris. This, and the fact that the photograph was printed on a postcard was a way to show the bravery of the soldiers during the war. (Contributed by Archives départementales de la Haute-Vienne, 1 to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Henri Gomis is rewarded

There are not many postcards with soldiers from the colonies. This soldier, is rewarded, together with his colleagues in 1916. You rarely see soldiers from the colonies. This black soldier is rewarded along with others in 1916. (Contributed by Archives départementales de la Haute-Vienne, 1 to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Henri Gomis is rewarded

There are not many postcards with soldiers from the colonies. This soldier, is rewarded, together with his colleagues in 1916. You rarely see soldiers from the colonies. This black soldier is rewarded along with others in 1916. (Contributed by Archives départementales de la Haute-Vienne, 1 to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Christmas Card from the Home Front

When the first Christmas of the First World War approached, commercial outlets began to sell happy postcards with patriotic and military designs and illustrations. They were eagerly bought by the public, who sent them to friends and relatives both at home and on active service overseas and as the war progressed, to British units in France. They were not only produced at the home front, also at the military front behind he front lines. Occasionally, even a couple of British prisoners in German captivity managed to design their own cards to send home. The design of this postcard with the cosy, house-like setting probably implies that it was sent from families at home to their soldiers fighting at the frontlines. (Contributed by Darragh Begley to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Christmas Card from the Home Front

When the first Christmas of the First World War approached, commercial outlets began to sell happy postcards with patriotic and military designs and illustrations. They were eagerly bought by the public, who sent them to friends and relatives both at home and on active service overseas and as the war progressed, to British units in France. They were not only produced at the home front, also at the military front behind he front lines. Occasionally, even a couple of British prisoners in German captivity managed to design their own cards to send home. The design of this postcard with the cosy, house-like setting probably implies that it was sent from families at home to their soldiers fighting at the frontlines. (Contributed by Darragh Begley to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Xmas Greetings from Ypres

This postcard is a Christmas card, sent by a soldier signed “Will”, to Miss Stone in Altrincham, Cheshire, England. On the card is written that this soldier belonged to the 7th division, that was on the front of Ypres, Neuve Chapelle. Men marching with greatcoats, caps, sacks, rifles and other belongings are depicted on the card. The atmosphere of this postcard supports the fact that this postcard was sent in the first half of the war, and probably wants to give the home front a positive image of the experiences of the soldiers at the front lines. (Contributed by Alan Hunt to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Xmas Greetings from Ypres

This postcard is a Christmas card, sent by a soldier signed “Will”, to Miss Stone in Altrincham, Cheshire, England. On the card is written that this soldier belonged to the 7th division, that was on the front of Ypres, Neuve Chapelle. Men marching with greatcoats, caps, sacks, rifles and other belongings are depicted on the card. The atmosphere of this postcard supports the fact that this postcard was sent in the first half of the war, and probably wants to give the home front a positive image of the experiences of the soldiers at the front lines. (Contributed by Alan Hunt to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Printed Photographic Postcard

Photographic postcards could be produced in two formats. The first format was the Printed Photographic Post Card (PPPC). They were produced in large numbers by printing offices. The image was made up of small dots of different shades or colours and therefore did not have the quality of the second format, the Real Photographic Post Card (RPPC). This was a more sharp and high-quality way of making postcards from a photograph, because the images were printed directly from the negative onto the postcard. This postcard of a group picture of probably German officers can be an example of the first type, because of the dots that appear when you zoom in on the picture. (Contributed by Jürgen Sahl to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Printed Photographic Postcard

Photographic postcards could be produced in two formats. The first format was the Printed Photographic Post Card (PPPC). They were produced in large numbers by printing offices. The image was made up of small dots of different shades or colours and therefore did not have the quality of the second format, the Real Photographic Post Card (RPPC). This was a more sharp and high-quality way of making postcards from a photograph, because the images were printed directly from the negative onto the postcard. This postcard of a group picture of probably German officers can be an example of the first type, because of the dots that appear when you zoom in on the picture. (Contributed by Jürgen Sahl to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Real Photographic Post Card

In contrast with the Printed Photographic Postcard (PPPC), this can be an example of a Real Photographic Post Card (RPPC). During the war commercial companies such as Beagles and the Rotary Photo Co. and even some national newspapers, used mass production methods to turn out millions of quality real photographic postcards including sets and single cards featuring for example, military and naval leaders, royalty and battlefield scenes. These photographs were printed directly from the negative onto the postcard. This is probably an example of a RPPC, because of the sharpness and high quality of the photograph. The postcard was sent by Léonard Laroudie, standing on the top row, second position from the left, in a group picture with his squad. (Contributed by Archives départementales de la Haute-Vienne, 1 to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Real Photographic Post Card

In contrast with the Printed Photographic Postcard (PPPC), this can be an example of a Real Photographic Post Card (RPPC). During the war commercial companies such as Beagles and the Rotary Photo Co. and even some national newspapers, used mass production methods to turn out millions of quality real photographic postcards including sets and single cards featuring for example, military and naval leaders, royalty and battlefield scenes. These photographs were printed directly from the negative onto the postcard. This is probably an example of a RPPC, because of the sharpness and high quality of the photograph. The postcard was sent by Léonard Laroudie, standing on the top row, second position from the left, in a group picture with his squad. (Contributed by Archives départementales de la Haute-Vienne, 1 to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The First Battle of the Marne

Photographs that were used to print on postcards were not always static portraits of groups of men. Photographs, like this one of the Battle of the Marne, sent by Casimir Lasserre in September 1914, were also used to print on postcards and used for correspondence. However, they were almost always staged, and made to create a positive, brave image of the own side. The images were printed directly from a negative onto photographic card with a 'postcard' back. Each image was printed by hand and usually in small numbers. For example, a portrait study of one man in uniform would merit perhaps half a dozen copies at most, which he would send to friends and relatives. Nevertheless, an image depicting a small group of men - perhaps from the same billet or unit - would obviously put a little more money into a photographers’ pocket. (Contributed by Archives départementales de la Somme to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The First Battle of the Marne

Photographs that were used to print on postcards were not always static portraits of groups of men. Photographs, like this one of the Battle of the Marne, sent by Casimir Lasserre in September 1914, were also used to print on postcards and used for correspondence. However, they were almost always staged, and made to create a positive, brave image of the own side. The images were printed directly from a negative onto photographic card with a 'postcard' back. Each image was printed by hand and usually in small numbers. For example, a portrait study of one man in uniform would merit perhaps half a dozen copies at most, which he would send to friends and relatives. Nevertheless, an image depicting a small group of men - perhaps from the same billet or unit - would obviously put a little more money into a photographers’ pocket. (Contributed by Archives départementales de la Somme to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Two Belgian Soldiers Defending a Railway

This postcard shows two Belgian soldiers in battle. They appear to be defending the railway. This photograph was probably set up and not a photograph of a real battle, because the way they seem to be fighting without cover, is not very realistic. The postcard was sent by Emile Doudon to his wife and children, accompanied by the text “Je vous aime tous bien. Votre père e ton mari Emile.” (I love you all. Your father and husband Emile). (Contributed by Emile Doudon to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Two Belgian Soldiers Defending a Railway

This postcard shows two Belgian soldiers in battle. They appear to be defending the railway. This photograph was probably set up and not a photograph of a real battle, because the way they seem to be fighting without cover, is not very realistic. The postcard was sent by Emile Doudon to his wife and children, accompanied by the text “Je vous aime tous bien. Votre père e ton mari Emile.” (I love you all. Your father and husband Emile). (Contributed by Emile Doudon to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The 6th Bolognese Division Enters Gorizia

Postcards that represented battles or victories did not only show photographs, but also drawings. They are an obvious example of the use of postcards as propaganda, because the creators could be more flexible to show their version of events. The style of the postcard can be identified as romantic, because the drawing clearly glorifies the Italian army (the 6th division of Bologna in this case), while taking the north Italian city Gorizia. Romanticism is characterised by an emphasis on intense emotions, confronted with the new aesthetic categories of the beauty of nature. (Contributed by Luigi Bertini to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The 6th Bolognese Division Enters Gorizia

Postcards that represented battles or victories did not only show photographs, but also drawings. They are an obvious example of the use of postcards as propaganda, because the creators could be more flexible to show their version of events. The style of the postcard can be identified as romantic, because the drawing clearly glorifies the Italian army (the 6th division of Bologna in this case), while taking the north Italian city Gorizia. Romanticism is characterised by an emphasis on intense emotions, confronted with the new aesthetic categories of the beauty of nature. (Contributed by Luigi Bertini to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Brothers in Arms

This postcard is another example of the romantic style. A soldier with a French flag is standing side by side with a soldier carrying a British flag, accompanied by the title “Brothers in Arms”, and “English and French soldiers hunt down the barbarians in France”. The postcard was useful for both English and French propaganda, to justify the going to war of their soldiers, and not showing any of the atrocities of the war on the image. (Contributed by Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Brothers in Arms

This postcard is another example of the romantic style. A soldier with a French flag is standing side by side with a soldier carrying a British flag, accompanied by the title “Brothers in Arms”, and “English and French soldiers hunt down the barbarians in France”. The postcard was useful for both English and French propaganda, to justify the going to war of their soldiers, and not showing any of the atrocities of the war on the image. (Contributed by Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

United for Freedom

This is another example of allied propaganda. Countries in the nineteenth century were often compared with symbolic women (French Marianne), and this postcards illustrates that this was not abandoned in the beginning of the 20th century. The imahe glorifies fighting for your country, while allied countries as represented by women gave fighting in the war a romantic twist. (Contributed by Archives Départementales des Alpes-de-haute-Provence to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

United for Freedom

This is another example of allied propaganda. Countries in the nineteenth century were often compared with symbolic women (French Marianne), and this postcards illustrates that this was not abandoned in the beginning of the 20th century. The imahe glorifies fighting for your country, while allied countries as represented by women gave fighting in the war a romantic twist. (Contributed by Archives Départementales des Alpes-de-haute-Provence to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

A British Sentimental Postcard

Another theme that was used on postcards was religion. This is a postcard of a child praying for her dad to come home. There is not much knowledge about religious practices during the First World War. What we do know mostly comes from biographies of soldiers and from postcards. This postcard does tell us that religion played an important role in the life of many people and that it probably gave the soldiers in the trenches hope. (Contributed by The Army Children Archive to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

A British Sentimental Postcard

Another theme that was used on postcards was religion. This is a postcard of a child praying for her dad to come home. There is not much knowledge about religious practices during the First World War. What we do know mostly comes from biographies of soldiers and from postcards. This postcard does tell us that religion played an important role in the life of many people and that it probably gave the soldiers in the trenches hope. (Contributed by The Army Children Archive to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Religion

This is a religious postcard, of the virgin Mary holding the child Jesus who is blessing the continent of Europe, accompanied by the text “Mercy for Europe that has to encounter so much misery and ruins”, supported by Pope Benedict XV. The majority of the people fighting in Europe was Christian at the time, which explains the popularity of postcards like this. (Contributed by Livia Morica to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Religion

This is a religious postcard, of the virgin Mary holding the child Jesus who is blessing the continent of Europe, accompanied by the text “Mercy for Europe that has to encounter so much misery and ruins”, supported by Pope Benedict XV. The majority of the people fighting in Europe was Christian at the time, which explains the popularity of postcards like this. (Contributed by Livia Morica to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Embroidered Postcard

The embroidered silk postcard is a common souvenir of the First World War.  They are blank postcards onto which an embossed paper surrounding has been glued with a piece of silk in the middle. On the silk, a design is hand-embroidered in coloured thread. The embroidered postcards were very popular with British soldiers to send home. They were sold in thin paper envelopes but were actually sent with the post. They were very fragile and, more particularly, they represented quite an investment – they were not cheap souvenirs. Embroidered silk postcards do not all date from the First World War – they were used in France already before 1914. First produced in 1900, they continued to be manufactured until the 1950s. Its production did flourish during the war, because the format proved especially popular with British soldiers. The hand-embroidery is thought to have been carried out in domestic houses as ‘out-work’ by civilians in France and Belgium, and in the UK by Belgian refugees. (Contributed by Mr. Kevin Laycock to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Embroidered Postcard

The embroidered silk postcard is a common souvenir of the First World War.  They are blank postcards onto which an embossed paper surrounding has been glued with a piece of silk in the middle. On the silk, a design is hand-embroidered in coloured thread. The embroidered postcards were very popular with British soldiers to send home. They were sold in thin paper envelopes but were actually sent with the post. They were very fragile and, more particularly, they represented quite an investment – they were not cheap souvenirs. Embroidered silk postcards do not all date from the First World War – they were used in France already before 1914. First produced in 1900, they continued to be manufactured until the 1950s. Its production did flourish during the war, because the format proved especially popular with British soldiers. The hand-embroidery is thought to have been carried out in domestic houses as ‘out-work’ by civilians in France and Belgium, and in the UK by Belgian refugees. (Contributed by Mr. Kevin Laycock to Europeana 1914-1918, CC BY-SA - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)