Picture Postcards from the Great War

 The story behind a Great War postcard - Tony Allen

(13) "The British Ambulance Committee" Appeal

In 1916, a card produced in colour and also black and white and intended to demonstrate the 'frightfulness' of the enemy was put on sale to raise funds for The British Ambulance Committee. (B.A.C.) It was a voluntary organisation which was formed early in the war and attached itself to the French Army. The B.A.C. publicised the fact that it sent "British Ambulances for French Wounded" and said that; "we staff and maintain 120 at the French front…please help us to carry on this good work by subscribing to the BRITISH AMBULANCE COMMITTEE." Below is an example of The British Ambulance Committee's fund-raising postcard.


ww1 british ambulance shattered by shell-fire postcard

This card was mailed from London on 27th June 1917 and carried this message; "Grandma saw this ambulance at Trafalgar Square." What 'grandma' would have seen at the Square was a mock battle display showing a shell-damaged French village complete with windmill, houses, captured German guns, tanks and the ambulance depicted on the card. Later, a tank would be on display there also to help raise subscriptions for the War Bond Campaign.

By April 1915, the organisation had sent out to French sectors on the Western Front, three convoys of 25 vehicles each and all provided with a volunteer driver. But by the spring of 1916, it took out a large illustrated advertisement in The Times for an "URGENT APPEAL TO REPLACE 25 WAR-WORN AMBULANCES" at the French Front. .

The committee, through the generosity of the British public, had sent out 110 motor ambulances during the previous twelve months but 25 of them were now worn out. "They had done grand work," said the committee, "and won the high appreciation of the French Government and Military Authorities [and] twenty-three Military Crosses have been bestowed on our men for conspicuous courage and efficiency." The British ambulances had saved many lives and "who can tell what suffering they have saved the gallant French soldiers." said The Times advertisement.

It was not only the French Army that were in dire need of motor ambulances to carry its wounded soldiers. In September 1914, the British Army Medical Service was also desperately in need of the vehicles. It had only fifty on the Western Front!

As the British front-line medical units were stretched to breaking point, The Times, the B.R.C.S. and the public, were soon to join forces to help them. On 2nd October, the paper carried this announcement; "The need which transcends all other needs at this moment is an adequate supply of properly fitted motor-ambulances...and if only the public knew of the urgency of the demand, the cars would be forthcoming."

A few days later, readers of The Times were asked to donate money to an ambulance fund which the newspaper had set up in conjunction with the B.R.C.S. and the "spirited way in which the public responded to the appeal was magnificent," said the paper. Money and offers of help poured in and within a week donations had reached almost £9,000 and 143 motor-ambulances had been promised too. For several months a daily list appeared in The Times naming those who subscribed to the ambulance fund. The sum of £350 would buy a "ready for the road", 12/15 h.p. FIAT AMBULANCE. Likewise, £475 would send a powerful 15/20 h.p. motor "to help the boys at the front", and £500 would buy a 35/40 h.p. "top of the range" model.

The public response to The Times appeal was tremendous, and soon charitable organisations and commercial companies, trade organisations and societies, schools and universities were raising money for the cause. Ambulance-appeal organisers frequently commissioned photographic postcards of their vehicle, which usually had displayed on it - in large white letters - the name or title of the sponsor. Often the postcards would be sold to help raise more funds for more motor ambulances.



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