IntroductionIn 1840, Joseph Cundall (A children's and illustrations publisher) published the first ever commercial Christmas card. It was designed by John Horsley at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole. (Sir Henry was later involved in the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was a founder member of the Victoria and Albert Museum.) One thousand cards were printed by Jobbins of Holborn, then hand‑coloured by a professional colourer ‑ William Mason. The design was divided into three panels, the centre one depicted a family party, and the legend "A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU". The side panels showed 'the poor' being fed and clothed.
By the early 1900s, the sending of specially designed Christmas cards was a regular feature of many British Army regiments. Gale and Polden ‑ the military printers and publishers ‑ supplied suitably designed cards to military units both at home and abroad and later during the 1914‑18 war, military festive cards continued to appear in quite large numbers. Appearing at the same time ‑ but in smaller quantities ‑ but just as interesting (and perhaps even more so) were regimental and unit 'Christimas' picture postcards.
Christmas Greetings from the Great War
During the 1914‑18 war, soldiers on both sides of the conflict (especially those at the sharp end of it) looked forward to a brief period each year, which they dared to hope, would be a time of relative peace and free of danger. The period was of course Christmas. Gift parcels and Christmas cards, and postcards with picture and verse from 'Blighty', conveyed to British servicemen a symbol of hope for the future and renewed their thoughts of home. This page describes and illustrates some of the festive postcards which traveled between the home front and various theaters of war
During the run up to the first Christmas of
the First World War, commercial outlets began selling festive postcards which carried
patriotic and military type 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 British units in France and
elsewhere also designed and produced their own greeting cards. So too, did some
enterprising British PoWs in German camps.
Although of postcard size, a few 'military' festive cards were produced with a 'plain‑back', and therefore, were not really postcards at all, nevertheless, as they are sometimes found postally used ‑ it seems fair to include examples of them.
Christmas Day in the Trenches 1914
During the first Christmas of the Great War extraordinary scenes occurred in several sectors of the British and German lines. For instance, at eleven o'clock on Christmas Eve, Rifleman Graham Williams, who was on sentry duty in the forward trenches at Ploegsteert, looked across No‑Man's‑Land towards the Germans positions (where it was midnight according to German time) and later wrote about what he saw.
At the same time as Williams stared across no-man's-land, sentries in other parts of the British front‑line had also seen the lights and began to wake their sleeping comrades. The Germans started to sing 'Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht'. "It was the first time I had heard this carol", said Rifleman Williams, "and when they had finished we thought we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang "The First Nowell"...and they all began clapping...and so it went on. When we started up '0 Come All Ye faithful' the Germans immediately joined in...I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing ‑ two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war"
Also there witnessing the scene and writing a letter to his sister was a Major Arthur Bates of the London Rifle Brigade. "Just a line from the trenches on Xmas Eve ‑ a topping night with not much firing going on & both sides singing. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. My orders to the Coy are not to start firing unless the Germans do..."
As dawn broke on Christmas morning 1914, extraordinary events began to take place in No‑Man's‑Land. Sir John French, one time Commander-in‑Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, later said that, "soon after daylight...the Germans took a bold initiative at several points along our front, in trying to establish some form of fraternisation...These overtures were in some places favorably received and fraternisation of a limited kind took place during the day. It appeared that a little feasting went on...in 'No-Man's-Land."
Stories of the unofficial truce between British and German troops on Christmas Day 1914, are now well‑known, and were known about at the time, through press reports and letters from the Front. This photograph of German and British troops fraternising in No-Man's-Land on Christmas Day 1914, appeared in The Daily Mirror in early January 1915.
"FIGHTING IN THE FLOODED TRENCHES." This 1914 postcard is an artist's impression of trench life on the Western Front in the first winter of the war and first appeared in The Sphere. In the foreground a brazier burns. A soldier works a trench pump while others ankle deep in water, peer across the frozen ground towards the German positions through field glasses and trench periscopes. A sniper stands at the back of the trench peering through his binoculars - his rifle waits in a wooden box.
The incidents which occurred during the truce were not ‑ as far as is known ‑ featured on contemporary picture postcards, either as photographs or artist's impressions, had they been ‑ the pictures would have been memorable. Gunner Herbert Smith ‑ who before the war played football for Aston Ville ‑ was a member of 5th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, and was in the forward trenches on Christmas Day and said, "I went out myself and exchanged some cigarettes for cigars...The German I met had been a waiter in London...fancy a German shaking your flapper...and then a few days later trying to plug you, I hardly know what to make of it."
In another sector of the front‑line, German soldiers rolled a barrel of beer into the British trenches, and in return were given a "quantity of plum puddings". There are German accounts of the festivities that day too. For example, Lieutenant Johannes Niemann of the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment recalled 'feasting' with Scottish soldiers and being entertained by them in a way rather different then was intended,
"Suddenly my orderly threw himself into my dugout to say that both the Germans and Scottish soldiers had come out of their trenches and were fraternizing along the front...looking cautiously over the parapet I saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy...A Scottish soldier appeared with a football...and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. Us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts ‑ and hooted and whistled every time they caught an impudent glimpse of a posterior belonging to one of 'yesterday's enemies'."
Princess Mary's Gift Fund
When Private Henry Williamson of the London Rifle Brigade, ventured into No-Man's- Land on Christmas morning, he saw a German soldier holding a tiny photograph of Princess Mary. Williamson recognized the picture as being part of a Christmas present given to British troops that morning by the Princess Mary's Gift Fund.
The public supported the fund magnificently and £162,591 12/- 5d. was quickly raised.
With such a large sum available it was now decided to include every person "wearing the King's uniform on Christmas Day 1914." Over two and a half million men and women were now entitled to the gift.
However, It soon proved impossible to make sure everyone would receive their gift on Christmas Day, due to the large number involved. Therefore, it was decided to split recipients into three classes A,B and C.
Class A. (received the gift on or near Christmas Day) and comprised of troops at the Front in France, the Navy, wounded men in hospital, those on leave, prisoners of war (who would receive their gift when they returned home), nurses at the Front and widows or parents of men who had been killed.
Class B. All British, Colonial and Indian troops who were serving outside the British Isles and not provided for in Class A. These gifts were sent out in January 1915 and contained a 'Happy New Year' card.
Class C. All troops in the British Isles. These gifts were also sent out in January 1915.
The gift consisted of a "beautifully designed embossed brass box", inscribed "Christmas 1914". The contents of it varied. Princess Mary's silhouette and monogram appeared on the centre of the lid. The names of the Allies were embossed around the edges.
For smokers the box contained a pipe, tobacco, cigarettes, a small Christmas card and a photograph of the princess.
This photographic postcard by an unknown publisher displayed the brass box and its contents given to soldiers on Christmas Day 1914, by the "Princess Mary's Gift Fund." Also there is the card featuring the King and Queen. The King is wearing a naval uniform. On the card above this one, the King is depicted in army uniform.
Gifts from Home 1914
As Christmas 1914 approached on the home front, retailers of pens, pencils and paper directed their newspaper advertisements towards readers with men away on active service. For instance, in early December 1914, the Daily Express offered its readers "British‑made Onoto Pens...for your friends at the front...which are just the right size to fit into a soldier's pocket. Price 10/6." The Daily Mirror carried an advertisement on 12th December ‑ the last day for sending parcels to the front in time for Christmas ‑ offering "WAR SOUVENIRS XMAS PRESENTS in solid silver", Among the gifts listed was "THE ALLIES PENCIL 3/6, just the thing for those on active service'."
During August and September 1914, many people in Britain
believed the war would "all be over by Christmas." (In Germany people thought
the same, as the Kaiser had told his departing troops, "You will be home before
the leaves have fallen from the trees.") During the autumn of 1914, an
atmosphere of excitement and patriotism prevailed, as large numbers of young
men (and not so young) flocked to the colours, fearful of being left behind
before they had 'done their bit' for 'King and Country'.
However, by October the so called 'war of movement' had turned into trench warfare and stalemate and people began to think the war would not be over by Christmas. The publisher J. Salmon obviously though so too and produced one of the cards shown. below. The Regent Publishing Company released similar cards in their 'Xmas Series' and the illustrations thereon reveal they were clearly intended to be sent to soldiers on overseas service. An example of one is also illustrated below.
The card on the left, which is captioned "IF YOU DON'T COME
HOME THIS CHRISTMAS WE SHALL THINK OF YOU AND WISH YOU LUCK." was published by
J. Salmon and sent on 23rd December 1914, to Private A. Cornhill by his brother
'W. C'. The card was aptly captioned as W. C., wrote, "I hear you are not able to
get home just now so I wish you a happy Christmas." In the first weeks of the war people believed that it "would all be over by Christmas." but as the weeks progressed, it dawned on them that the war would not be over by the end of the year. The card on the right
conveyed "CHRISTMAS GREETINGS ACROSS THE SEA." and was an early offering by the
Regent Publishing Co. It enabled women ‑ during the 1914 Christmas period ‑ to
send a special festive greeting to their husband, father or son on active
service in France or Belgium. The card was number 1886.
Here are four more cards from "The Christmas Patriotic Series."
During the run up to Christmas 1914, Bamforth also released a coloured set of 12 festive cards - these also lampooned and made fun of William. Some of the cards from this festive set are shown below.
The 1914 card on the left ‑ depicting Belgium, Russian, British and
French soldiers bringing Christmas gifts ‑ was printed by the Regent
Publishing Company and was number 1883 in its "The XMAS Series". The company was proud to announce the card was of "ALL BRITISH" manufacture. On 24th December 1914, the card in the centre - titled "READY! AYE READY!" - was posted in the capitol to an address there also. It was published by 'P.S. & Co.' and was number 104. The card on the right was also posted on 24th December 1914. This time from Southampton to Winchester. The Regent Publishing Company released it as number 1884 in its "The XMAS Series."
Greetings from the Trenches 1914The first Christmas of the war, saw few units on the Western Front produce their own Christmas postcards. However, Lieut‑General Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander of IV Corps, did two drawings which appeared on festive cards. The first depicted a soldier peering over the top of a trench towards No‑Man's‑land, in the distance was a rising sun with the figures '1915' on it. Presumably each man received one of the cards which were sent by 'Lady Rawlinson and the friends of 4th Corps', who wished them, "success, victory and safe return."
On the Home Front 1915
Probably one of the questions foremost in the public's mind, at the time of the announcement of the Gallipoli disaster in 1915, was
what gifts to send its fighting men for Christmas and as in the previous year,
newspapers and illustrated magazines were full of suggestions. For example,
Home Brothers of Oxford Street, offered 'campaign comforts' of leather and
sheepskin clothing, said to "form a splendid protection against exposure in the
trenches" and were specially designed from "the advice and practical experience
of officers who spent last winter in Flanders". Photographic postcards
sometimes recorded soldiers wearing this type of winter clothing and one is
This photographic postcard by an unknown publisher, shows a member of the Green Howards, posing in what was probably a Christmas gift from home ‑ a warm winter jacket, as promoted by Home brothers of Oxford Street. Most such garments were made from sheepskin or goatskin, but the jacket this soldier is wearing appears to be smooth‑haired and the colour is rather dark, suggesting perhaps that it could have been made from fox or even bear skin.
On 7th December 1915, The Times told its readers that one
particular gift given to the troops in 1914 would not be repeated. It said "the
King and Queen have been compelled this year to abandon their intention of
presenting Christmas postcards to the troops on active service", and as the
army was now "fighting in all quarters of the globe", said the paper, "the
military authorities had deemed it impossible to undertake the transportation
and distribution of the cards". All available space on ships was required for "hospital necessaries, ammunition and other military supplies".
Some of the best advice about what to send to the men at the Front, came from newspaper proprietor Lord Northcliffe. "...but most of all they long for letters from Home" he said, "and for the Home town newspaper. World‑news they get in English or French journals : it is local news they hunger for. Write to them and send them such newspapers at least once a week. I have sometimes had to turn away from groups of soldiers at the front because I could not bear to see the anguish on the faces of men who saw their comrades reading letters and who had received none themselves. Do not let your soldier have to feel the sharp and painful sting of neglect. Keep him well supplied with news and loving words,"
Although the plan for sending official 1915 Christmas cards to soldiers on active service had to be abandoned, there was
however, lots of space on ships for Christmas gift parcels destined for the Front, and two postcards published by Brown and Calder of London, encouraged
people to send them. One was in support of the Army and one in support of the Navy. Both were captioned "XMAS CHEER" and "CAUSE AND
EFFECT". Another 1915 card by Brown and Calder was headed "John Bull's
Christmas Parcels for the Front. The card on the left published by Brown and Calder (No.152 in the 'Savoy Series') was painted by E.S. Taylor. The message on it, from 'May' to 'Joe', reads, "Hoping you enjoy yourself the same as the two soldiers on the other side." The Post Office reported that in the six months preceding 12th December (1915), 250,000 parcels were addressed to the troops and in the following week there were 200,000 more and over two and a half million letters. The card on the right was E.S. Taylors' interpretation of the 'cause and effect' of sending gift parcels to men of the Royal Navy. The centre card was another Christmas offering from Brown and Calder. It was card number 508 and was mailed from Brockley to Canterbury on 24th December 1915.
The card on the left, captioned "To Wish you A Pleasant Christmas", was
'Designed and Printed with authority by Geo. Falkner & Sons, 181 Queen
Victoria Street, London.' The card, showing the badge and a soldier of "The
FIRST or GRENADIER Regiment of FOOT GUARDS," was mailed on the Western Front from one unit to another - also serving there. A message on the back reads: "From, W.O.'s, N.C.O.'s & Men, 1st Bn. Gren Gds. To, W.O.'s, N.C.O.'s & Men, 55th Coy, R.E., B.E.F." The card carried a date stamp of 24th December 1915, from 'FIELD POST OFFICE/3.B' and a CM3 type censor mark number 2008. On 24th December 1915, the card on the right was mailed from Huddersfield to a local address. It was published by 'H.B., 53a Aldersgate St., E.C.' and was number 124.
Postcards from the Front
A few days before Christmas 1915, soldiers in the British front‑line were warned there was to be no repetition of the previous year's fraternization with the enemy, as this confidential memo to 140th Infantry Brigade confirms. "The G.O.C. directs me to remind you of the unauthorized truce which occurred on Christmas Day...in the line last year...nothing of this kind is to be allowed on the Divisional front this year...and every opportunity will as usual be taken to inflict casualties upon any of the enemy exposing themselves."
In spite of orders against it, some localized 'feasting' between British and German troops did take place. For example, between the line occupied by a Guards Division and the 13th Bavarian Reserve Regiment. However, British officers were on the spot within 20 minutes and put an immediate stop to the feasting. Major‑General Cavan, OC the Guard's division, promised a "full and searching inquiry" into the incident and later said in his report that "large parties of unarmed Germans were the first to appear" in No‑Man's‑Land, and then added, but "our artillery fired throughout the day as ordered". The Corps produced its own Christmas postcard for 1915.
In 1915, Sir Henry Rawlinson of IV Corps, again put his artistic skills to use and drew an illustration for the Corps Christmas postcard. It was captioned "The Bomber's Greeting" and depicted a Tommy throwing a grenade ‑ with a label attached, inscribed 'A HAPPY XMAS' ‑ into a nearby German trench. Any soldier looking at the postcard would not fail to understand its message.
On 21st December 1915, this card drawn by C.M. Barber, was mailed from the Western Front to England. It carried a 'FIELD POST OFFICE 142' datestamp on the reverse ‑ that of the 142nd Brigade, which together with 140 and 141 Brigades, formed the 47th (2nd London) Division (T. F.). The division arrived in France on 9th March 1915. In May it fought at Aubers Ridge and Festubert and in September and October at Loos and the Hohenzollem Redoubt.
In 1915, John Beadle an accomplished military artist, designed this festive card for the 7th Division. It is a finely detailed sepia-coloured pencil drawing with an almost photographic quality to it and is captioned in small print "going to the trenches." On a scroll is a list of the divisions battle honors to date. The card is not strictly a postcard, as it has a 'plain' back, but nevertheless, it is sometimes seen postally used - so it seems fair to include it here.
British PoWs 1915
Ruhleben was an improvised prison camp near Berlin. It was established early in the war to hold British male civilians ‑ between the ages of 17 and 50 ‑ who had been rounded up soon after hostilities had begun. They were quartered in the stables lofts and other building of the former racecourse.
Many ranks and professions were incarcerated there, said a British Red Cross report, including, "An earl, a baronet, artists studying in Germany or exhibiting their works, lecturers, boys of eighteen years of age sent to Germany to learn the language, engineers, commercial travellers, jockeys, acrobats, negroes, waiters, and an ever increasing number of seamen, sometimes including entire crews as well as the passengers of the ships taken by the German raiders...according to the Ruhleben Directory [in all] about 4,000 British male civilians."
The internees started a number of 'businesses' in the camp, including a print shop, an internal postal service complete with its own stamps, a daily newspaper and periodicals like In Ruhleben Camp and The Ruhleben Camp Magazine were published, and also Christmas postcards taken from paintings and drawings by camp artists. Some are shown here.
The major events leading up the third Christmas of the war included: The tragic death of Lord kitchener; the introduction of conscription; the battle of the Somme; the first use of tanks on the battlefield; the battle of Jutland and the first shooting down of a Zeppelin over Britain.
During November and December 1916, newspapers and magazines carried numerous advertisements for Christmas gifts for the men at the front, and items of warm clothing and writing materials were again much in evidence. It seems the manufacturer of 'THE SWAN FOUNTPEN' thought the war would soon be over. and said so, in its advertisement in The Sphere. "The last Xmas of the war [will see] an increased demand for 'Swans'. The powerful interest of the last phase will enter into the letters from the Front. Those with friends 'out there' will want more of these historic letters, and they will want them in ink for clearness and permanency", said the advertisement.
Not everyone at home, however well meaning, sent their men sensible and useful gifts. Commenting on 'What to send to our soldiers', Lord Northcliffe said, "A dear old lady in England forwarded to her nephew at the front a typewriter "to write his letters with", an elaborate picnic‑basket; and a manicure set solidly mounted in silver. She did not understand that the soldier has to carry about with him everything that he possesses. Her gifts found their way swiftly to the nearest pawnbroker."
This coloured card was published by J. Salmon and the picture it carried seemed to be rather an inappropriate choice to accompany the printed greeting.
The "Christmas Pudding Fund."
In September 1916, the London Daily News and the Daily telegraph encouraged their readers to give donations to their "Christmas Pudding fund." In return for a donation the sender would receive an illustrated postcard. A gift of 6d. would pay for a pud for one soldier, a more generous donation of £9/9/- would put a whole artillery brigade in good cheer and for the princely subscription of £21, every soldier in an infantry battalion would receive a Christmas-day dessert. In September 1916, the Daily News received a letter of support for its 'Pudding Fund' from General Sir Douglas Haig when he wrote from General Headquarters, France: "On behalf of those whose Xmas will be made brighter by your kindness, I wish to thank you." Members of the public who sent a donation to the fund were sent a specially illustrated postcard thanking them for their subscription. An example is shown below
On 30th October 1916, the Daily News sent the card on the left to Miss A. Prossthwaite of Bramley, Leeds, thanking her for a donation of 2/6. which "will provide 5 Christmas Puddings for 5 soldiers at the Front". The Times had given publicity to the fund in December the previous year, when it reported that a "collection will be made in many of the principle London theatres and music-halls to-morrow on behalf of the fund for supplying Christmas puddings to the men at the front, which has been instituted by the Daily News with the authority of the war office…The fund at present amounts to over £21,000." In addition, subscribers to the fund also received a "TRENCH CARD" which gave further details of their donation. The card on the right is an example.
Greetings From the Front 1916
Scottish units frequently placed more emphasis on celebrating New Year than Christmas. A 1916 card which reflected this, carried a sketch of a kilted warrior cooking a haggis ‑ or maybe it was a plum pudding ‑ over a brazier. The trench brazier was an essential piece of equipment and was depicted by a number of artists in their Christmas postcard illustrations.
"nearing the finish". This rather optimistic 1916 card on the left was sent to England by 'Norman' who was serving in the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division. The division had been in France about six months when Norman designed and produced "LA CHASSE." Many Scottish units celebrated the New Year more than Christmas. Leonard J. Smith designed the card on the right for the 51st (Highland) Division. This Territorial Division went to France in April 1915. When the card was issued to the men at the end of 1916, they had already that year, fought on the Somme in July and August and on the Ancre in November.
The talented artist John Beadle did the pencil illustration on this 1916 Christmas postcard for the 7th Division. The list of battle honours tells of its involvement at Ypres, Neuve Chapelle, Festubert, Givenchy, Loos and the Somme.
The card on the left was a festive offering from the 5th Battalion, Scottish Rifles, urging the troops to find the Germans and `Rummle them up'. The card on the right was another pen and ink drawing - by a soldier signing himself 'Billy T' of the Royal Horse Guards. The card appeared in 1916 and commemorated the horse guards who were on active service in France and Belgium in 1914, 1915 and 1916.
Christmas postcards were also produced for troops fighting in places other than the Western Front ‑ the so‑called 'side‑show' campaigns. For example, the Salonica campaign.
The Salonica campaign
In October 1915, British and French divisions were rushed to Salonica with the intention of marching into Serbia to assist the Serbs who were under attack by German and Bulgarian forces. But the Allied effort was too little and too late and when Serbia was defeated on 3rd December the Allies were forced to withdraw to Salonica.
The defeated Serbian Army joined the British and French and by August 1916 a new front had been established. When Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies a new offensive was launched, but met with limited success and soon heavy enemy resistance stopped any further advance by British, French, Russian, Italian and Serbian troops and the front was quiet once again. A 1916 Christmas postcard ‑ shown below ‑depicted troops from the multi‑national Salonica Force.
By September 1918, German forces had almost completely withdrawn from the Salonica‑Bulgarian front and on the 14th the Allies launched a new offensive against the remaining Bulgarian army. On the 30th of September the Bulgarians signed an armistice. The British Army considered that during the long campaign it did little more than 'dig‑in' and therefore gave itself the nickname ‑ "The Gardener's of Salonica".
Festive postcards from PoWs 1916
In 1916 ‑ as in the previous year British internees and PoWs in German camps produced festive postcards to send to friends and relatives at home. A card published by The Ruheben Camp Magazine depicted a cherub placing a brick dated '1916', on top of another dated '1915', which had been placed on one for '1914'. The drawing symbolized a third year of captivity for many of the internees. Another card from the same camp was captioned 'BEST WISHES from RUHLEBEN, CHRISTMAS 1916', and carried a drawing of two internees gazing through a wire‑mesh fence towards a rising‑sun with '1917' written on it.
The card on the left was from Dyrotz camp. Designed by camp artist Leslie H. Durrrant, this 1916 Christmas postcard was mailed from Germany on 5th December 1916 ‑ by someone signing himself 'Tom'. The centre card was mailed by an inmate at the civilian internment camp at Ruhleben. The card on the right was from 'THE LOST LEGION" who sent 'Xmas Greetings.' from Hann Munden camp.
In 1917, one of the main battles involving British forces on the Western Front had been the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). In March, Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated, effectively taking Russia out of the war ‑ which was bad news for the Allies. But good news came in April when it was announced the Americans were entering the war and by the end of the year they had several divisions in France.
On the Home Front 1917
As Christmas 1917 approached, Lord Northcliffe handed out more sound advice to the public about sending gifts to the men at the front. He said, "Such necessaries as soup, toothbrushes, writing‑paper and envelopes are apt to be very welcome. At all events, sent from Home, they are likely to be of better quality than any that can be bought in the area of the war...The best sweets are chocolate and bull's‑eyes. Chewing‑gum should certainly not be forgotten. It is not easy to buy in France. The bull's‑eyes ought to have plenty of peppermint in them, for it is the peppermint which keeps those who suck them warm on a cold night."
Northcliffe also suggested that wrist watches would be welcome "particularly those with luminous hands". The 'Tommy Cooker' ‑ a tiny solid fuel stove ‑ would be a useful gift for trench fighters, so too would electric torches "with plenty of refills". They were much better than candles, he said,"'though, these are at times worth their weight in coin", For instance, "When a squad is settling into a barn or a outhouse for the night, a dark might and a long night, from five o'clock in the evening perhaps till next morning, the men who have candle ends in their bags are envied by all their fellows."
On the top of this sepia coloured postcard is
the badge of the Royal Army Medical Corps. In 1917, Queen Mary's Military
Hospital in Whalley, Lancashire, produced the card for a member of the RAMC on
duty there. His name was Pte. A. Nield and the hospital personalised the card by adding his photograph.
Cards From the Battle Fronts
Unlike the aforementioned cards from the four series, the greeting cards were not numbered or dated. however, there were at least twelve in the set and probably released in 1917. One card is a superb watercolour of an 'Old Bill' type character sitting in a trench before a blazing fire ‑ with his mug of tea raised in Christmas greeting. On the back of this watercolour illustration by F. Makain, is printed "Imp. G. SA VIGNY, Paris. P. G. ‑ Visa Paris 713." There are no printed details of the year of publication, but "Xmas 1917" is written in pencil on the back and It is illustrated below on the right..
Another, captioned "GREETINGS From Somewhere in Franc", depicts a Tommy with a sack of rations and as he struggles along a snow‑filled trench he looks up and says, "I feel like father Christmas without the whiskers."
The finely detailed 1917 card on the left, "WITH SEASONS GREETINGS FROM ELEVENTH CORPS SIGNALS", was mailed from FIELD POST OFFICE/ H. 5 to an address in Grimsby. The 1917 pen and ink drawing on the card on the right, by F. W Illingworth, was the Christmas postcard of South Lancashire Regiment, 16th (T. W) Battalion and depicted some of its activities on the Western Front.
The Tank Corps produced a festive card for 1917. The card on the left was a
drawing of a close‑up view of a tank in action and beneath the Corps emblem is
a list of its battle honours. Below the caption 'Christmas greetings 1917', a
tank commander is seen raising his cap in greeting to the crew of a distant
tank. "The Last Round". The card on the right was offered to members of XI Corps in the run up to Christmas 1917.
In 1917, just as he had done in 1915 and 1916, John Beadle illustrated a Christmas card for the 7th Division. It showed two trench fighters and a continuation of the list of battle honours from the previous year, which indicated that in 1917 the division had fought at The Ancre, EcouslCroissilles, Bullecourt and Passchendaele Ridge.
During the Salonica campaign in 1917, No.8 Survey Company RE,
printed a coloured card which carried an equestrian design by Lieut.‑Col.
George Armour (One‑time commander of the Remount Depot in Salonica). Below the
picture was a caption, "A HAPPY CHRISTMAS FROM THE BALKANS". On 6th December
1917, this card was mailed by `Harry' from "ARMY POST OFFICE S.X.1" to an address in
Huddersfield and carried a message, "This is one of our Xmas Greeting cards.
What do you think of it?"
The war in Mesopotamia ‑ against the Turks ‑ was another so called 'Side‑show Campaign'. In December 1916, Lt‑General Sir Stanley Maude left Basra with an Anglo‑Indian force of 50,000 men ‑ the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force (MEF). The plan was to occupy Baghdad. The force spent eight successful weeks fighting Turkish units south of the Tigris River on its way up to kut‑al‑Amara. On 17th February 1917, the MEF attacked the fortress at Kut and forced the Turks to evacuate a week later. On 4th March the Anglo‑Indian force reached the Turkish defenses on the Diyala River and after fierce fighting forced the enemy to the north of Baghdad. On 1th March the British took the city and 9,000 prisoners. By Christmas that year, the "Women of the Bombay Branch" (Of the British Red Cross Society?) had produced and given to members of the occupation force a set of festive postcards (in vertical format) featuring views of Baghdad.
The set of 'Baghdad' cards is thought to have been six in number and although rarely seen postally used, they are sometimes found with a message written on the back ‑ perhaps indicating that most of them were simply mailed in envelopes. An example of a 'message' card is the one shown on the left. It was sent by William' ' a member of the Allied occupation force in Baghdad who mailed it under cover just before Christmas 1917 ‑ to 'Annie'. William wrote "This is the first card of Baghdad 1 have been able to get. The old walls that you see here are only mud walls, as are all the buildings." The card was "PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY THE TIMES PRESS, BOMBAY."
"ENGLANDERLAGER, RUHLEBEN, GERMANY, XMAS, 1917." Civilian internee Sidney Hall of number 3 barrack, Ruhleben, mailed this card from there in December 1917. There were several designs of Christmas postcards published by The Ruhleben Camp Magazine. On the back of this one was a 'FREIGEGEBEN/RUHLEBEN/F.a.' censor mark and a 'London F. S/PAID/Jan 2 18' receiving mark. In peacetime Sidney lived near the Old Kent Road, London.
The card on the left was designed by A. Goodall for members of the Army Postal Service. It wished a happy Christmas to "AP04 CALLERS, OLD AND NEW." On the left hand side of it was commemorated an incident which occurred in January 1918, when a German air‑raid on Calais completely destroyed the buildings of Base Army Post Office 4. The right hand side of the card celebrated 'Victory & Peace' and 'Christmas 1918'. On the back was a hand‑written message, "Wishing you the best of luck and happiness in the coming years." The card on the right depicts a tug from the Inland Water Transport (IWT) service of the BEF. With a strength of nearly 11,000 officers and men and almost 1,000 tugs, transport barges, ambulance barges and other craft, the IWT service operated on the canals and waterways of Northen France. The progress of the barges was about ten miles a day when horse‑drawn, and about 25 miles when pulled by tugs. Although progress was slow, the ambulance barges were ideal for transporting 'serious cases'. By the end of the war 70,000 casualties had been moved by this means.
These two cards were from a set of six presented by "The Women of
the Bombay Presidency" to members of the "Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. The
caption below the picture on the card on the right reads, "TURKISH "PRISONERS MARCHING THROUGH BAGHDAD." The one on the left reads "PERSIAN FRONTIER MESOPOTAMIA."
A 1918 prisoner of war Christmas postcard is illustrated below. It had obviously been printed before the signing of the Armistice on 11th November and was mailed not from a German prison camp, but from England ‑ by a returned Prisoner of war.
This 1918 Christmas greeting postcard produced for the prisoners in Brandenburg camp was postally used ‑ but it was not sent from there. 'Ralph'. a prisoner in the camp, took the card home with him after the Armistice. He arrived in Harrogate on 30th December and the next day sent the card with 'belated greetings', to a Miss Robinson in London. But before he did so, he must have noticed the printed phrase on the back of it (See below) and it is not difficult to imagine his feelings as he ran his pen straight through the centre of the printed words 'Kriegsgefangenensendung'‑ 'Prisoner of war letter.'
The last card in this small collection of Great War Christmas postcards was printed in Paris and sent from France to England by a member of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. On the front, it carried a long awaited and heartfelt greeting which obviously echoed the thoughts of millions of people "CHEERIO! ALL'S WELL."
"CHEERIO! All's Well. FRANCE, CHRISTMAS ‑ 1918." This Christmas postcard illustrated by Nora Howard, announced the end of the war. It was dedicated to members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) on active service in France. The first draft of WAACs arrived there in March 1917 and took over jobs (for example as drivers, mechanics, clerks and storekeepers) to release able‑bodied men for the front. By the end of the war 57,000 women had been members of the Corps and 172 of them had given their lives ‑ as a result of accidents or enemy action, before this Christmas card was distributed among them.
The Great War was over. At the beginning, in the late summer of 1914, people had been told the conflict could be, "all over by Christmas". But no one had told them which Christmas. In 1919, Sir John French, (commander of the BEF in 1914) made this rather extraordinary statement,"I am not sure that had the question of the agreement upon an armistice for Christmas day 1914 been submitted to me, I should have dissented from it."