Friday, 19 October 2012

The Edwardian passion for postcards

An example of Donald McGill's
humour (Courtesy of David Clark)
I had no idea how popular picture postcards were in Edwardian times until I started researching my book and saw just how many cards there were in people's collections of WW1 correspondence. Many had at least one or two among their letters; others had hundreds of cards which had been carefully saved and treasured over the decades. 

When I carried out a bit of research it all became clear: the early 1900s were known as the 'golden age' of picture postcards and by the time war broke out they had developed into quite a craze. Not only were they were ideal for short messages at a time when post was delivered several times a day (in Britain at least) and before telephones became widely used, they were also extremely popular with collectors.
Their popularity continued throughout the Great War, with servicemen sending carefully chosen cards home to their loved ones, and vice-versa. 

The WW1 recruting poster
which inspired Donald
McGill's card (above)

The variety of illustrations on the cards was enormous and I shall be taking a good look at them in my book. From what I've seen the most popular cards fall into three broad categories. First, the humorous card, designed to put a smile on the faces of the most careworn wives and battle-hardened servicemen. One of the best-known humorous artists was Donald McGill, who later became famous for his saucy seaside postcards. Pictured above is his amusing reply to the famous WW1 recruiting poster: 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?'

Second are the postcards soldiers sent home which showed the scenes of devastation which greeted them all over France. Charming villages which now stood as rubble, or once grand cities which had been reduced to ruins, like the card below showing Reims.

Finally, and most beautiful, were the embroidered cards know as 'WW1 silks' which were produced by French and Belgian women in their homes. These women embroidered colourful and patriotic symbols and greetings onto strips of silk mesh, often as many as 25 on a strip, then sent them to factories for cutting and mounting. These beautiful cards like the one below, were very popular with British and American servicemen.

One of the beautiful and popular  'silks' embroidered by
French women in their homes (Courtesy of Tina Mendham)
This ruins of Reims, sent home by a British soldier to his family.
The scene was photographed by Levy Fils & Co of Paris, well-known
photographers of the day (Courtesy of Bill Wadsworth)

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