Picture postcards from the Great War

A Postscript to the Great War

All aspects of the Great War have been well documented in books, photographs, magazines, newspapers and even contemporary picture postcards. However, there is one related topic, which today seems to attract little interest. The Great War ended in November 1918, but was that the end of British military involvement on the Continent? Not at all. The German Rhineland was occupied by the victorious Allies, with the British in Cologne and the surrounding area. The Armistice, the German retreat from France and Flanders, and the British involvement on German territory have all been recorded on picture postcards and depict a fascinating postscript to the 1914-18 war.


The end of the Great War came suddenly. Between 4-6 November 1918, German sailors mutinied at Kiel, Lubeck, Cuxhaven, Rostock and several other naval ports. Over 100,000 men seized control of their ships and demanded an immediate end to the war.

Throughout Germany, war-weary soldiers took part in anti-war and pro-Bolshevik demonstrations. In Bavaria on 7th November a Revolutionary Government was set up to end the war and create a Bolshevik ‘Free State of Bavaria’. The following day, mutinous troops seized control of several important cities, including Berlin. In the German capital, a general strike brought the city to a halt.
berlin strike
berlin strike back

berlin strike postcard
berlin strike postcard back
The Kaiser’s resignation was announced and he fled to Holland. Hindenburg (later Chancellor of Germany), fearful of a total collapse of the Germany army in the field and of a Bolshevik-style revolution, pressed the Allies for an Armistice.

The Armistice

On the morning of Friday 8th November 1918, a special train took the German armistice delegation to a siding in the Forest of Compiegne. Two hundred yards away, in another train, Marshal Foch, the military representative of the Allies, and Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, the naval representative, were waiting.
While the trains waited in the sidings in the forest, a photograph was taken of them. Later, the picture appeared on postcards both as a photograph and as a drawing. A real photographic version is shown below.
train in the forest
This postcard carries a photograph of the armistice train in the Forest of Compiegne. The train on the right - brought the German delegation to the meeting in the forest, which was about 52 miles north-east of Paris. 

At exactly 9 a.m., the German delegation, headed by Matthias Erzberger, climbed the steps to Foch’s saloon car (which doubled as a conference room) and talks began. There were no negotiations. Foch simply presented the Germans with an ultimatum - they had 72 hours to either accept or reject the Allied terms, which were severe.

At 5 a.m. on Monday 11th November, after many verbal and written protests against the "inhuman conditions on which the armistice was granted", the German delegation signed the conditions for the cessation of hostilities. There were no smiles or handshakes as the delegations parted. Within a few minutes a message was transmitted to all fronts ordering hostilities to cease at 11 a.m.

It seems the only illustrated record made of this historical meeting inside the carriage were artist’s impressions, and some of them were reproduced as postcards. When the Allied delegation emerged, they posed for a photograph, it too was issued as a card, both in colour and black and white.

The postcard on the left carries what is reputed to be the only known Armistice photograph of the German and Allied delegations. Marshall Foch is carrying a satchel containing the signed document - and the chief British delegate, Sir Rosslyn Wemyss - stands close by. The card was published by A. L’Hoste of Paris.

The card above was an artist’s impression of the Allied and German delegates at the Armistice talks in November 1918. The armistice agreement was signed at 5 o’clock on Monday morning, 11th November and hostilities ceased exactly six hours later. The card was published by A. L.’hoste, 139 Rue Lafayette, Paris
As mentioned previously, there was no photographic record of the signing of the Armistice - only artists impressions. Another example is the one shown above.
The writer of the letter - shown below and dated "France 11/11/18" - thanked the recipient for a book he had received, commentated that he was close to a large town where there were many examples of fine architecture. Mentioned that a colleague had broken his wrist and  "gone back to Blighty" and also that Bill Henson had gone back too. Finally - and almost as an afterthought - the writer mentioned that the war was over.

This letter dated ‘France 11/11/18’, was mailed to a member of the Royal Air Force "Branch Intelligence Section, 51st Wing R.A.F., B.E.F." from FIELD POST OFFICE A.D.2  (2nd Army depot.) The end of the letter reads, "...I suppose you know the news. Its great, but seeing that we havn’t been paid one cannot celebrate it. However old boy! here’s to when we meet."

These two postcards were written by a British soldier in France on 11th November 1918 and mailed to England three days later. The message on the lower one reads, "Hurrah! we have just had the news that its all over. Everyone is terribly excited. Kindly give my best wishes to all at home. How about the peace party now."

The cancellation stamp - ‘FIELD POST OFFICE 190’ - was that of 190 Brigade, which together with 188 and 189 Brigades made up the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. The Royal Naval Division (1st and 2nd R. N. Brigades) which had garrisoned the Aegen, after serving at the Dardanelles, arrived in France between 12th and 23rd May 1916.  On 19th July it was numbered 63rd (188 and 189 Brigades) and completed by 190 Brigade, which was formed in France on 9th July 1916. The principle battles in which the Division took part during the Great War were: ANCRE November 1916. January/ February 1917, ARRAS April 1917, PASSCHENDAELE October/ November 1917, St QUENTIN March 1918, BAPAUME March 1918, ANCRE April 1918, ALBERT August 1918 and CAMBRAI in October 1918. The Division was demobilized by April 1919.

The "Spa Commission"

After the Armistice was signed a special commission was set up to ensure that the terms of the agreement were "fairly but firmly" carried out. On 16th November the commission held its first meeting in the Belgium town of Spa (formally the location of the German Army Main Headquarters) and consisted of a delegation from each of the Allied Armies. The aim of the Spa Commission (as it became known) was to work in cooperation with members nominated by the German General Staff, and deal with matters which had been agreed on - but not in detail - in the armistice agreement. Matters such as the repatriation of prisoners of war, the handing over of materials of war, the taking over of depots, stores, etc. and the handing over of 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 wagons and 5,000 motor lorries to the Allies.
The two printed-photographic cards shown below carry on the reverse the printed words ‘Ern. Thill, Bruxelles.’ The top card depicts staff at German Army Main Headquarters at Spa, in 1918. The bottom card shows members of the Spa Commission in 1920 - in what was clearly the former German Army G.H.Q. building. Both cards have a printed caption on the back and are shown below.
The caption on this card reads: "Sur la terrasse de la Villa du Newbois pendant I’occupation de Spa par le G.Q.G. allemand en 1918."
The caption on this card reads: "Sur la terrasse de la Villa du Neubois pendant la Conference de Spa en 1920."
The articles of the ‘Armistice Agreement’ were 34 in number, and it is article five which interests us here. It demanded "Evacuation by the German armies of the countries on the left bank of the Rhine...The occupation of these territories will be carried out by the Allied and United States garrisons holding the principle crossings of the Rhine (Mayence, Coblenz and Cologne) together with bridge-heads at these points of a 30-kilometre (18.63 miles) radius on the right bank..."

The Waiting Period

Before the march to the Rhine could begin, there would be a "breathing space" of six days, from 11th to 17th November. The main reasons were: It would give the German High Command time to "bring order out of the threatened disintegration so that the fieldgreys might not arrive on the Rhine so much of a Bolshevik rabble", it would give the French time to evolve a plan of relief and administration for the huge territory coming back to it so suddenly, and lastly, it would give time to the British and others to push forward Special Missions, who would - as well as a number of other matters - make sure "that the 200 areoplanes which the enemy had to hand over...were well and truly left behind and neither monkeyed with or smuggled back into Germany." the planes were just a small part of the weapons and materials to be surrendered.

The March to the Rhine

17th November was a cold and bitter day as the Allied force of a million men - which included 250,000 British troops - began its 200 mile march to the Rhineland. Ahead of it, also marching east were three million German soldiers. By agreement with the Armistice Commission in Spa, a gap of six miles was maintained between the two great armies. The Germans marched mainly at night and averaged 20 miles in 24 hours. When daytime marching did occur, photographers in some Belgium towns recorded the humiliation of an army in retreat. One set of photographs was made into a series of postcards titled ‘La retraite allemande en Belgique. November 1918.’
A postally used card from the aforementioned series - and Illustrated below - was obtained by a soldier with the advancing British Army. He wrote this message on it, "A view of the Hun flitting. He had time to take quite a lot of civilian stuff & though there was little disorder, he had to leave lots of big tractors & broken down lorries all along the roads, also a number of English traction engines bought for steam ploughing before the war."
This card by P. Legast of Soignies, depicts the German retreat from Belgium. Article six of the armistice terms stipulated "...the stores of food of all kinds for the civil population, cattle etc., shall be left where they are." Clearly, the cow (top right) had not heard of article six!
This card was mailed from Germany in early 1919 by a British soldier. A message on the back reads, "German infantry transport getting ready to move. I am also getting ready to move but no one can tell me where or what for. All sorts of queer jobs turn up & with officers getting home more faster now, the job you may be picked for today is not the one you get tomorrow."

 It seems that most of the pictures of the German retreat from the town of Soignies were taken secretly - by a photographer named ‘Legast’. In one instance he set up his camera in an upstairs room overlooking a square and snapped a German Army baggage-train preparing to leave. The caption on the resulting card read, ‘Retratte Allemande - Soignies 9 Novembre 1918.’ A few days later Legast again took a photograph from exactly the same vantage point, but this time the postcard picture was different and so was the caption - which read ‘LA DELIVRANCE - Les Canadiens a Soignies le 18 Novembre 1918.’ Both cards are shown below.

Another sepia-coloured printed photographic card depicting German troops preparing to withdraw from occupied Belgium in November 1918.

Advancing towards Germany with the second and fourth British armies, under the command of Generals Plumer and Rawlinson, were numbers two and five Tank Brigades. A member of 5 Brigade used the army postal service along the Lines of Communication to mail a series of ten postcards to England. Each card had a written message which told of the progress being made and charted the route of the ‘Landships’ through France, Belgium and finally into Germany and the Rhineland.
This postcard message was written on 14th December 1918 by a member of 5 Tank Brigade. It reads, "Reached here today 14 miles - lovely country but very hilly...very near (about four miles) from the frontier. We rest here a day, I think - will write tomorrow. love C." The card bears the army postmark ‘FIELD POST OFFICE Q.5.’ - that of  5 Tank Brigade.
The march to the Rhine continued, and on the last day of November, a British cavalry patrol (The advance guard of the Second Army) halted and picketed for the night on the Belgium side of the frontier with Germany. They awoke to a cold and crisp Sunday morning, and at 5 a.m., to the sound of a bugle, crossed into Germany, near Malmedy. The occasion was captured on film, perhaps by an official army photographer riding with the patrol, or maybe even by one of the troop. A week later the picture appeared as a postcard.
This card is dated 7th December 1918 and shows the first British cavalry patrol to cross the Belgium/German frontier. A written message on the reverse reads, "This is the 12th Lancers at the head of our brigade passing over the border into Germany, and you will see the post representing the border on the left-hand side of the picture. We were the first troops to enter Germany at this point. It was a frosty morning, as you can see by the picture. this date was about the 1st December."
At the same time as the first British cavalry patrol entered Germany, 50 miles ahead of it, tens of thousands of German troops were streaming back across the Rhine. In Cologne on the impressive Hohenzollern a photographer recorded the retreat. Some of his pictures were reproduced as postcards.
The postcard above, depicts a German convoy crossing the Hohenzollern Bridge. British officers making for Spa reported that the German columns of "horsed vehicles were often overloaded, often with household goods: there was no petrol whatever, and cattle and horses were being driven off...and a few red flags were seen," said the British officers.

Inscribed on the back of the card is the following: ‘German troops crossing the Rhine at Cologne after returning from “The Front”. Dec. 1918.’

Message reads: ‘This is a real photo of the defeated German army returning to Germany over the hohenzollern bridge, Cologne. Notice their flags and flowers.’

Advance  into Germany

As previously mentioned, the first British cavalry patrol crossed into Germany on Sunday morning on the 1st December and riding with it was an official war-correspondent Philip Gibbs, who said, "We went through silent pine-woods, very lonely; there was not a soul in sight. it would [have been] easy for a German soldier, with revenge in his heart , to take a pot shot at us through all those tall pillar-like trees. Some of us stared into the depths of the woods... no sound broke this silence, and afterwards on that Sunday morning when we went down the steep winding road into Malmedy, we were surprised by the attitude of the people. Many of the civilians which the British cavalry patrol first met, spoke French and were not hostile towards them, but rather friendly."

MALMEDY: The view which greeted the British advance patrol soon after it crossed the frontier into Germany. The card - which bears a ‘FIELD POST OFFICE 55’ cancellation mark on the back - was posted to England on 16th December 1918.  ‘F.P.O. 55’ was that of 18 Brigade, 6th Division, which entered Germany on 13th December 1918. The writer stated, ‘This is where we are staying tonight.’

This card shows a troop of Dragoon Guards passing through Malmedy - the first German town to be reached by the British Army of Occupation. Malmedy had been taken by Germany in 1814 and was given to Belgium in 1920 by the Treaty of Versailles.

The front of this card depicts a street scene in Malmedy. On 14th December 1918, a British soldier wrote this message on the card and posted it to England through his units field post office: ‘...arrived in Hunland 3.30pm yesterday. Its a pretty big place. We are accommodated just in the house on the corner of this street. Expect to be here for some time. Things seem pretty quiet but we carry side arms in case of emergencies...’

The first British cavalry patrol left Malmedy and rode deeper into enemy territory. As it passed through German towns and villages it was pleased to report back that "there were no unpleasant incidents" and that the only emotion expressed by the German population - was one of indifference.

The 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards was part of the British occupation force and a Private Stephen Graham was with the battalion during its advance into Germany and occupation of Cologne. According to Pte. Graham, the impression of those who took part was, "that they were marching into a land of silence and despair." He later described the long trek through Belgium as the Scottish soldiers marched to "the skirl of the pipes." Through Bende, Namur and into the Belgian Ardennes we went, he said, and "in all these wanderings the pipes were our companions, leading us and exploring the way." The companies of the battalion took it in turns to be first in the march, then second, then third and finally to follow in the rear of the column. "When my company was in front," said Graham, "it heard the music in all its immediacy and splendor, but when it was behind it only heard it far away, like a child’s voice sobbing or calling now and then." When the route took the pipers over the crest of a hill, "the music rose with the height and then became silent as the vanguard dipped into the hollow beyond," only to rise again from the base of the valley, "and resound back in increasing volume and happiness...Wonderful pipes!" said Graham. When the column marched through forest, "it sprang to life as if the woodland was full of pipers - a clamorous, exulting, echoing music." The weeks on the march were punctuated by long halts and the last days were ones of continuous marching in wet weather. The soldiers, "All [bore] the strain and so we [went] on, and the miracle [was] in the power of the music...the curiosity to see Germany, and the sense of adventure, and the music kept our spirits up", said Graham. "At each turn of the road, the evenly pacing highlanders in the vanguard of our column...explored the new way, playing as they went." On the morning of 12th December, "parading in the wet and in our waterproof capes, we left the last forlorn village of the Belgian Ardennes...[which] put friendly land behind us and left enemy country in front." An hour later the Scots Guards reached the German frontier and, "by someone’s inspiration the word went to the pipe major, [to] play 'Over the Border'. So with a skirl that no weather could scupper", said Pte. Graham, "we came up to the line to the strains of, March, march, all in good order, All the blue bonnets are over the border.”

According to the terms of the Armistice Agreement, Cologne and the surrounding area was designated the British Zone of Occupation. "We entered Cologne," said the war-correspondent Philip Gibbs, "earlier than the expected date that had been arranged on the 'programme', by special request of the Burgermeister, who was afraid of anarchy [breaking out]." At midday on Friday 6th December the British entered the city, and rode to the Hohenzollern Bridge. Hussars were posted as sentries on the approaches, both on the town side and the eastern side. At the same time, other mounted Hussars assembled on the Domplatz in front of the great cathedral, where before the day was over, the city would be handed over to the British Army.

Gibbs watched as the victorious British cavalry paraded on the cathedral square - but felt only sadness. "It was the visible proof of the victory over the greatest war machine in the world...I do not think there were any men among us who had a sense of exultation or arrogance at this proof of victory...we gazed over the Rhine, looked round upon the Germans about us, and remembered good friends, so many of them, who had fallen on the way."

The arrival of the British in Cologne was tolerated by the population, as "their fear of anarchy was greater than their wounded pride", said Gibbs, "and the British Army was a guarantee of safety to property and lives...which mitigated their sense of bitterness at the...occupation." Ferdinand Tuohy - a British newspaper correspondent - said the German population, "showed both dignity and control," at the occupation of their city and "their mask of indifferance was well carried off. They either glanced gravely at the khaki columns or they didn’t glance at all"

The day after the ‘hand-over’ there was trouble in Cologne and British machine-gun units had to be rushed there by special train. They had been urgently requested by the German civil authorities to help, "put down rioting groups of disbanded [German] troops who were plundering the shops and endeavoring to overwhelm the city in Bolshevist anarchy."

Machine-gun and Lewis-gunners were deployed at strategic points around the city and on the ‘Bridge’. However, by 12th December the worst of the  rioting was over and the main body of the British Occupation Force arrived in Cologne. On the bridge beneath a Union Jack, General Plumer (Commander of the British force) took the salute. Ferdinand Tuohy,  watching the proceedings recorded what he saw, "As the first squadron rode by, Rule Brittania crashed out..for two hours “old Plum” best liked of the army commanders, stood there at the salute as the cavalry and horse gunners crossed on this their last ride eastward...Next day it was the turn of the P.B.I. - For seven hours the troops flowed over the Rhine."

As the British cavalry rode through the avenues of sombre crowds, an onlooker later said that the spectacle, "left the people astonished and incredulous. Germans were heard to remark that parade troopers, kept in England throughout the war, had been sent out to impress the Rhine Provinces. They could not believe that the force they saw was the working vanguard of the army which had pursued their men relentlessly from the Ridge of Flanders...splendid men on splendid horses and terrible in their beauty."

Occupation of Cologne

This photograph was taken on Friday 6th December 1918, and shows some of the first mounted troops to enter Cologne. A British soldier has written on the back of the card, ‘handing over the city to the Conquerors.’ There are no details of either photographer or publisher - simply address lines.

This card carries a message from a British soldier . ‘This is G.H.Q. Buildings where I am at present.’

By the evening of 12th December, Lancers, Hussars and Dragoon Guards had ventured 19 miles from the Rhine, to the limit of the Zone of Occupation.

The limits of the Cologne bridgehead were marked by notice boards - as the  card above shows - and sentries were posted to prevent any Allied troops crossing into the six-mile deep strip of No-Man’s-Land. Beyond this was the rest of Germany and several million potentially hostile German troops.

The British Army installed its Cologne G.H.Q. in the Excelsior Hotel on the Domplatz and the German authorities were told what was required by the British and they in turn informed the population. These requirements were quite harsh. The population of Cologne was about 600,000, and occupation meant registration, curfews and passes. All telephones were disconnected and motor car owners needed special authority to drive. A strict censorship was put on letters and newspapers, and Central European was changed to Greenwich time. Ferdinand Tuohy said, "Essentially the British desired a minimum of trouble. The population could go about its business as far as possible uninterfered with...but there would be no nonsense of any kind...they would have to recognize that an occupation was an occupation. Our psychology experts had reported that it would be an error not to confront Cologne with unmistakable and even menacing engines of war."

One of the ‘menacing engines of war’ was the tank, and according to a postcard message written by a crew member -  mentioned earlier - the tanks entered the city in the last days of 1918. Several of the machines immediately took up prominent positions in the Cathedral Square.

This card carries a ‘ARMY POST OFFICE R.C.1’ cancellation stamp dated 15th December 1918. A message on the card reads ‘...We have reached Cologne as you will see by the [picture on the] card.’ Datestamp A.P.O. R.C.1, was that of 1, 2 and 9 Cavalry Brigades, of the 1st Cavalry Division, who entered Germany on the first day of December 1918. The writer was among the first cavalry troopers to cross into Germany and also among the first to enter Cologne.

‘Menacing Engines of War.’ Tanks in the streets played an important part in convincing the people of Cologne that, ‘an occupation was an occupation’, said Tuohy. As the days passed, they became a popular attraction and were often featured on postcards.

A British tank - led by an officer - patrols the streets of Cologne. A member of the Rhine Army wrote this message on the back of the card: ‘Just going over the finest bridge in Cologne & my word it is a fine bridge too. You see the cathedral (or Dom)  & the fine station in the background

This card depicts an officer giving orders to British troops - in full battle order - during the first days of the occupation. Note the inquisitive small boys!

The Rhine in Cologne was over 400 yards wide and to patrol it and to safeguard the Bridges, a number of motor boats were sent out from England. The Rhine Flotilla consisted of 12 boats, but In August 1919 was reduced to six and in December 1921 further reduced to five. The boats remained there until the city was evacuated – and left for the U.K. on 27th January 1926.

This card featuring the Hohenzollern Bridge also depicts in the centre of the picture several boats from the Rhine Flotilla. Each boat was armed with a 3-pdr gun.

It was known that many Germans felt that, Although the “Home Front” had cracked and given in...their army was still intact and undefeated in the field and Germany should have rejected the humiliating terms and continued to struggle behind the barrier of the Rhine, if need be.’ Because of this, the British occupation force subjected Cologne to what amounted to a ‘state of siege’. Machine-gun posts were placed on street corners and armoured-cars patrolled continuously. Batteries of Horse Artillery were stationed at strategic centres and columns of cavalry in full battle order clattered around the streets, while infantrymen with fixed bayonets were everywhere. Ferdinand Tuohy said, "It was all very military and meant to be so...khaki everywhere, armed to the teeth." Throughout the winter of 1918-19 the British Army kept an iron grip on Cologne.

On 21st April 1919, General Sir Herbert Plumer resigned his command of the British Rhine Army and was succeeded by General Sir William Robertson.

A bird’s eye view of Cologne, showing one of the main bridges across the Rhine. The west bank (the town side) is shown in the lower part of the card. The British also occupied a bridgehead of about 19 miles on the east side of the river. The card bears a written message, ‘TAKEN FROM A ZEPP.’

"Rumblings of Miscontent"

By the spring of 1919, the British authorities felt able to scale down their deterrent of high profile military power in the Zone of Occupation, and turned their attention to rumblings of discontent among their own ranks. Some of the long-serving conscripted soldiers were angry because they could not see why they should be kept in uniform, as the war had been over for nearly half a year. Seeking to avert trouble, the military authorities started to demobilise certain categories of men, and it is always worth looking at the messages on ‘military’ cards from this time, to see if anything is said about the troubles in the army. Examples are shown here.

This card - dated 30th January 1919 - reflected the exasperation felt by many conscripted soldiers who believed they had been in the army far too long. The message reads, ‘Dear Wilf, how’s things going now you are out of the army, bit of a change ain’t it. I have not much hope yet, but I’ve had enough of Germany, it’s time they got a move on with the demobbing. I think they have forgot the army of occupation. This picture is of Cologne Cathedral. I was in it on Sunday. Well, cheerio kid, hope to see you someday. Your old pal, Bill.’

Another soldier was more lucky than the one above. On the postcard he sent home he wrote, "I am going down to the Demob Camp tomorrow, so I expect I shall leave Cologne Friday night and sail Sunday...Should be home Tuesday, so by the time you get this you can start getting my 'CIVVIES' ready."

This ‘demob’ card carries the datestamp of ARMY POST OFFICE S.120 - that of the Stationary A.P.O. at Duren, which opened in March 1919 and closed in September the same year. On 19th April, a soldier signing himself  ‘B’ sent this card to Cheshire, saying, ‘May see you before next Xmas if they keep on ‘Demobbing’ & then hope to volunteer for Russia, by God, yes, I don’t think.’

‘Blighty for us’. In 1919, photographic cards often captured the anger of conscripted men who were still in khaki.  Does this card display a demand to be sent home or a last picture before demobilisation? A Rhine steamer would take the soldiers from Cologne to Rotterdam, from where they would be shipped back to England for dispersal..

‘Blighty for us.’ The cap badge worn by these soldiers appears to be that of the Army Service Corps. The soldier in the centre of the picture has a wound-stripe on the left sleeve of his tunic.

According to a volume of the official history - The Occupation of the Rhineland - it was Winston Churchill who finally intervened and averted trouble with the conscripted men: firstly by seeing to it that those who had served longest and had been wounded [during the war] were demobilized first; secondly by raising army pay to bring it into line with civilian rates; and thirdly by bringing out young soldiers from England ‘to replace the older men who had borne the heat and burden of the day.’ After that, the British Army on the Rhine, settled down to make the best of things.

The British Empire Leave Club

Miss Decima Moore was one of the people who helped the occupation force ‘make the best of things’. She arrived in Cologne in January 1919 and noticed the ‘swarms of splendid British soldiers everywhere,’ and knew she had been right to have made the effort to get the coveted “white-pass” and travel to Germany ‘to see what our men wanted.’ They wanted ‘amusements and entertainment’s’. Over the followings months she gathered together a band of British ladies representing all the voluntary organizations - who had done ‘so much for both our Allies and our men...during the war’ - and took them to Cologne to staff her new club. She called it the British Empire Leave Club (B.E.L.C.) and opened it on 12th May 1919. It was a splendid place, with an Information Bureau just inside the entrance, ‘where two British women gave you a welcome, tell you where everything is to be found and have to answer innumerable questions’, said Decima. There was a restaurant, a music room, a library, two billiard rooms and a canteen, but the most popular entertainment was the theatre. Capable of seating about 1,500 men, it put on concerts, dances and showed films. There was also a Guides Department in the club, which ‘fixed up trips on the Rhine, picnics in the woods, trips around the town, collecting men in the garden and giving out their lunch boxes, and taking them out by the hundreds.’ During the first five months of its existence, the B.E.L.C. notched up an impressive list of services which it provided for the men of the occupation army: including over two hundred and fifty thousand cooked meals, 31,968 beds, 6,695 baths, 5,447 guided tours and 556 sessions of entertainment - including dancing lessons, debates, lectures and German classes. At the end of 1919 it was recorded that over one million men had passed through the club, and all of them, said Decima, ‘with a smile on their faces, will say what they like best at our beautiful club in Germany is to hear British voices and see British women.’ A set of photographic postcards were produced which recorded various scenes at the club and some are shown here.

The entrance to the British Empire Leave Club in Cologne. Decima Moore, its founder, was educated at Boswell House College and Blackheath Conservatoire of Music and before the Great War she appeared in many operas and comedies. In 1905 Decima married Brigadier-General Sir Gordon Guggisberg. She sang at concerts in the Albert Hall, St. James Hall and Queens Hall. Mrs Moore-Guggisberg travelled the world extensively and accompanied her husband in treks in little known parts of Africa.

On 9th August 1914, Decima Moore-Guggisberg began her war work and  founded the Women’s Emergency Corps (placing women in jobs vacated by men joining the army) from which sprang the Women’s Volunteer Reserve, the Women’s Legion, the National Food Fund and the Women’s Emergency Canteen. In addition, she sat on many committees devoted to the war effort, nursed war casualties at the Hopital Militaire 103, at Amiens and founded the British Army and Navy Leave Club in Paris. In 1918, this energetic and remarkable woman was awarded the C.B.E. The French honored her too. She was awarded the Medaille de Reconnaisance Francais - Premiere Classe. The card above shows Decima Moore (on the left) surrounded by men of the British Occupation Army in 1919.

Peace Day in Cologne

Nine weeks after the signing of the Armistice, delegates from 32 states gathered in Paris to begin drafting the various Peace Treaties. After six months of deliberations the final details of the settlement with Germany were decided. The terms of the agreement were savage and included ‘war guilt’ clauses, and were presented to the German delegation on 16th June 1919. On 22nd June the Germans asked for the clauses to be deleted, the Allies refused - and threatened wholesale invasion of Germany. On 28th June 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, Germany and the Allies signed the Peace Treaty designed to end war forever. (It was also the fifth anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand.) By the terms of the treaty Germany lost 14 per cent of its territory, and all its overseas colonies and was made virtually defenseless by severe restrictions placed upon its armed forces. But the most damaging demand was war reparations. The British Treasury calculated that the figure Germany ‘could reasonably be expected to pay’ was £2,000 million. But France, seeking revenge for the war imposed on her was determined to wrench the fullest measure of retribution. In the end the Allies decided that Germany would be made to pay £6,600 million, plus interest. (A number of flags which were captured in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 were also to be returned to France.)

This card, captioned ‘VERSAILLES 28 Juin 1919 Signature de la Paix’, by ‘LEVY FILS & Cie, Paris.’ was sent to Wales on 22nd August 1919 by a British soldier. It was mailed from ‘ARMY POST OFFICE S.5’, which is thought to have been a ‘static’ post office located in the French capitol. There are printed captions on the reverse of the card in French and English. The English version reads: ‘18 January 1871 - William I, King of Prussia is crowned Emperor of Germany. 28 June 1919 - The signature of the treaty of peace puts an end to the Great War. 1919 Avenges 1871.’

In Cologne on 28th July 1919 it was ‘Peace day’ and the guns of 190 Brigade, Royal field Artillery, fired a salute across the west bank of the Rhine. A set of six photographic cards recorded the occasion. They were copyrighted by ‘Hunters, photographic specialists, of Buxton and Cologne, c/o A.P.O.’ and were sold as a set - in a buff coloured envelope - and cost Mk 3.50.

In Cologne on 28th July 1919 it was ‘Peace day’ and the guns of 190 Brigade, Royal field Artillery, fired a salute across the west bank of the Rhine. A set of six photographic cards recorded the occasion. They were copyrighted by ‘Hunters, photographic specialists, of Buxton and Cologne, c/o A.P.O.’ and were sold as a set - in a buff coloured envelope - and cost Mk 3.50.

Victory and Peace

The top card is captioned ‘VICTORY’ and was published by ‘C.W. Faulkner & Co., Ltd., London.’ soon after the Armistice was signed and lists the various dates of the surrender of the Central Powers. The bottom card, a ‘Souvenir of Peace.’ was published by ‘Benton & Co., North Rd., Brighton.’ soon after the Peace Treaty was signed and carries a short list of important dates, ‘LEST WE FORGET.’

"The Good  Old Days"

Members of the British occupation force in later years remembered 1919-20 as ‘The good old days’. The Cologne Post (The official newspaper of the Rhine Army) said that in 1919, "the Army Commanders decided we must have organized amusements and plenty of ‘em and thirty theatres and forty-five cinemas were opened as if by magic." In Cologne at least, old hatreds between former enemies were put aside, "with the British army on holiday in its streets and the Germans themselves somehow caught up in the atmosphere." Ferdinand Tuohy said, "at concerts, in cafes - there our fellows sat amid beer, laughter and song, their elbows touching the enemies of yesterday as though nothing in the world had happened. After all that concentrated murder and venom of more than four years." It seemed the British were generally accepted by the population.

This card shows British soldiers boarding a Cologne tram. In the early days of the occupation, troops were not allowed to fraternize, but by 1923 almost 500 of them had been allowed to marry German women.

By November 1919, the British had firmly stamped their mark on Cologne and on 11th November 1919, former enemies came together - to remember their dead. Ferdinand Tuohy was there and later wrote, "Those who were in Cologne in the opening years felt that the most impressible of all occupation occasions was the first two minutes silence on the Domplatz. Dense German crowds stood motionless and mostly bare-headed as the troops, headed by F.M. Sir W. Robertson, preserved this first of many memory-contacts with those who had fallen."

A few days after the ceremony, a set of six sepia photographic cards were put on sale in cologne and depicted British occupation troops and German civilians brought together in a simple act of remembrance - exactly a year after the Great War had ended.

‘Greetings from Cologne.’ During the winter of 1919/20, the Rhine overflowed its banks and caused serve flooding in Cologne. The writer of the above letter - Pte. Will Readman No. 5 Field Ambulance - was there, and on the last day of 1919 wrote, ‘The Rhine is getting higher every day, a big part of the streets and houses are flooded out, and down many the trams have had to stop and the water is to high for the ships to go under the bridges...the water has reached the bottom of our yard, so will have to clear out. Down one street it is so deep that it covered a sentry box...’ It seems that Pte Readman censored his own letter! 

The Postcard Record

Almost all ‘Occupation’ cards (except those published by Hunters of Buxton and Cologne.) give no indication of either the publisher or photographer - usually there are only address lines on the reverse of the card. According to an Occupation Policy Note 1, XV Photography, signed by Plumer on 2nd December 1918, the "taking of photographs out of doors by [German] civilians is forbidden; civilians are [also] forbidden to carry photographic apparatus out of doors." Who then took the photographs for 2the ‘Occupation’ postcards? Was it a British Army Photographer or did civilians in Cologne ignore the Policy Note? It was clearly in order for Germans to take studio photographs of British soldiers and turn them into souvenir postcards. Many can be found.

A souvenir postcard of army service in Cologne 1919. Could the soldiers depicted be related?

Whatever prohibitions there were on taking photographs, ‘Occupation’ cards were openly sold in Cologne. A British soldier mailed one to Scotland on 9th February 1919. It shows Scottish troops marching through the streets and a message written on it reads, ‘This shows Scotch troops in Cologne, it should be interesting in after years. It is part of the un-understandable German psychology that these should be on sale in Cologne.’

‘1919 Souvenir From Cologne on the Rhine.’ The troopers depicted on this card are wearing the cap badge of The Kings Shropshire Light Infantry – and also spurs.

There were other photographic opportunities for postcard publishers; celebrities could be snapped. "Hardly a week passed," wrote Tuohy, "without some distinguished visitor coming to Cologne - Haig, Foch, Winston Churchill, Joffre, Henry Wilson, and others."

On 17th May 1919, Marshal Foch paid a visit to the British zone of the occupied territory. The message on this postcard reads: ‘This is a photo of Foch and Sir William Robertson when the former visited Cologne just before peace was signed. He has just left the steamer...in the background is the Hohenzollern bridge. Just a year ago, the rout of the Boche armies started.’

The ‘Generals’ depicted on the above card - published by Hunters of Buxton and Cologne - are Fayolle and Robertson. The latter taking over as Commander-in-Chief of the British Rhine Army after General  Plumer retired. There were six cards in this set depicting the Cameron Highlanders parading on the Dom Platz.

After the peace treaty was signed Benton and Company of North Road, Brighton’ produced this special ‘Souvenir of Peace’ postcard, which carried a short list of important dates ‘LEST WE FORGET.’

This ‘political’ postcard by ‘H.B’ of London was mailed from Blackpool on 21st September 1919 and demonstrated the feelings of some, who thought that the whole of Germany - not just west of the Rhine - should have been occupied by Allied troops after the war ended.

German Inflation

By the early 1920s the British Rhine Garrrison had been reduced to  about 8,000 men, who "experienced all the joys and thrills of possessing practically unlimited wealth...as the mark slumped against sterling," said Ferdinand Tuohy, and went on, "Try as they would...these fortunate ones found it increasingly difficult to develop their full spending capacity." But as the marked continued to drop the Allies should have taken some of the blame. The mood after the Great War had been, "make Germany pay", and the demand for savage reparations - together with the dismantling of much of German industry - contributed to the inflation which followed. Tuohy said, "[when the mark] nose-dived down, down, dizzily down...one had to take along a suitcase in order to have enough paper milliards to pay for lunch or dinner in a restaurant...everybody became a financial expert, even the Tommy of eighteen carried his pencil and notebook with him. It became a hobby."

An interesting postal history item from the period of inflation is a postcard mailed by an English teacher in September 1923. It describes in graphic detail the effect of runaway inflation.

This postcard dated 7th September 1923, was used at the very height of postwar depression. The overprinted German stamps have a value of no less than 120,000 marks. On the back of the card the sender gave a graphic description of the effect inflation had on daily life. "Marks are absolutely on the run, yesterday the price was 160 millions to the pound. A glass of beer y’day cost 850,000 - today it will be over a million, prices go up two or three times a day, it is quite bewildering. Have not seen any bargains whatever, yet people stand in queues outside shops and spend the marks as soon as they get hold of them in wages. Where this state of affairs will end I don’t know." As mentioned above the card was mailed by an English teacher, who lived in Barmen on the east side of the Rhine. The town was about five mile outside the British zone of occupation.

Evacuation of Cologne

By 1925, Germany was no longer in a position to wage war and under the terms of the Peace Treaty the Allies agreed to remove British troops from Cologne. The first withdrawal began on 30th November 1925 and continued for eight weeks. The British evacuation gave the Rhinelander’s a chance to express their opinion of the British conduct during the seven years of occupation. For instance, on 29th December the Rheinzeitung said the British Army in Cologne had "done much in the general service of international peace." A local paper, said the British "had been conciliatory occupiers" and Dr. Adenauer, the Mayor of cologne, while stressing the impact which "the hard fist of the victors for seven long years had on the local civilian population," acknowledged that, "the British had always been scrupulously fair." On 31st January 1926 the last of the British occupation force - a unit of the King’s Shropshire Light infantry - presented arms on the Domplatz. A huge crowd gathered as the Union jack was hauled down and as the last British troops marched off to the railway station the Germans watched - in silence. The postcard below recorded the event. The picture was taken by Frank M. Luther, ‘army photographer, Wiesbaden.’

A Postscript

In 1927, the French took the ‘Armistice Coach’ out of regular service and returned it to its historic site in the forest of Compiegne. The interior was fitted out exactly as it had been on Armistice Day, and a special building was erected to house it. To the French it was a proud victory over Germany. In the 1920s, many cards were published of the coach.

This printed photographic card by ‘A L’Hoste, Paris, depicts the special building erected in the Forest of Compaigne to house the armistice coach. The funds for its construction were provided by an American businessman, Mr. Arthur Fleming.

This card shows the Armistice coach on temporary display in Paris sometime during the twenties. Booklets of ten postcards depicting the coach were published by L. Boisson of Paris and were on sale at the display.

On 21st June 1940, after ‘the fall of France’, a triumphant Adolf Hitler presented the French with his peace terms - there was to be no negotiations. As a final humiliation for the French, the meeting was held in the old armistice coach. Afterwards it was taken to Berlin and put on display. Near the end of the Second World War it disappeared! Today, a replica stands in the Forest of Compiegne - a silent reminder of the signing of the Armistice in 1918, and the subsequent occupation of the Rhineland.

Copyright © 2014 Picture Postcards from the Great War 1914-1918. All rights reserved.