Picture Postcards from the Great War

            WW1 Comic Postcards 

         Tony Allen


Fred Gothard ww1 postcard

Published by E. Mack and illustrated by Fred Gothard this card was mailed from Lincoln to Aberdeenshire on 6th April 1917.

The Great War of 1914-18 was certainly not one of the funniest events to be recorded on picture postcards, especially for those men fighting in the mud-filled trenches of France and Belgian. However, there were artists - both military and civilian - who were willing to inject a little humour or satire into their postcard drawings and paintings – even when depicting the gloomiest of situations.

The sense of humour, often displayed by the British in the face of hardship or adversity, played a major part in maintaining the moral of troops and civilians. It was a common bond and was usually good-natured and simple, while German or French humour was often vindictive. The British could laugh at themselves and at each other with sardonic sayings such as this one: "Dear Mother, this war's a bugger. Sell the pig and buy me out. John.   Dear John, pig's gone. Soldier on."

The Great War

Soon after the outbreak of hostilities on 4th August 1914, postcard publishers and their artists seized the opportunity to increase sales of their cards, by recording and commenting on, both military and civilian events as they unfolded. Comedy and humour were popular themes and just as in peacetime - people found themselves in funny situations, or said or did amusing things, which would have been splendid subject matter for postcard artists. For instance, in 1915, a private in a reserve trench wrote home, "I have not long ago finished my tea and it took me nearly an hour to get a biscuit with butter and jam on it down me. I was finishing the last bite when I found I was chewing one of my false teeth. That makes the third one I have had, gone west. If I loose anymore I am afraid I shall have to go in for an Army issue of upper ones. I hope they fit better than the lower ones the Army gave me - I am wearing those in my pocket. Still I shan't complain, as we are here to kill Germans not to eat them."

Another potential comic postcard involved a carrier pigeon. Pigeons were often the only means of sending a dispatch from the front line when trench telephones were damaged by artillery bombardment or troops were rapidly moving forward. One message flown from the front, turned out to be very different to that expected.

During the Somme offensive of 1916, Major Bernard Montgomery was at Brigade Headquarters when a long expected messenger pigeon - from a motor cycle dispatch rider -  was seen on the horizon, bringing what was hoped would be important news of the British offensive. Monty said, "At last the cry went up; 'The Pigeon', and sure enough back it came and alighted safely in the loft."

As the soldiers rushed to get the news the Brigade Commander brushed them aside and roared out, "give me the message." This is what it said; "I am absolutely fed up with carrying this bloody bird about France."

Fortunately, there were many popular comic artists whose work did appear in the postcard racks between 1914 and 1918. For example,  Donald McGill, Fred Spurgin, Reg Maurice, Doug Tempest, Reg Carter, Archibald English, Dudley Buxton, T. Gilson, Lawson Wood, Bert Thomas, Fergus Mackain and Bruce Bainsfather - to name a few. Brief details of some of these artists and their work is mentioned below.

Donald McGill

Donald McGill - one of the best known of all comic postcard artists - had a career which spanned 54 years. Born into a middle-class family in 1875, he was one of seven children and as a child attended a private school in Blackheath. At the age of sixteen, McGill lost a foot in an accident while playing rugby and was fitted with an artificial one. After attending art school he worked as a naval architect for some time and then as an engineering draughtsman.

In 1908, he became a postcard artist working from his home in Blackheath, Kent. During his long career making people laugh, his jokes covered almost every subject imaginable. Including drunks, seaside, politics, transport, sport, fashion, children, vicars, fat ladies, romance - and many social and military topics during the Great War.

It has been estimated that during his career, McGill produced around 10,000 different postcard designs and with a mischievous sense of humour, illustrations and comments about women's undergarments was one of his favourite subjects for saucy postcards.

It was not only women's underwear which fascinated McGill. The Scotsman and his kilt was another favourite, and never more so than during the Great War. Prior to the outbreak of war, 'Joseph Asher & Co.' released a card illustrated by this great comic artist. It depicted a donkey with its head over a fence tugging the kilt of a Scottish soldier, while his girl stood behind him. In the distance, an officer approaches and the soldier standing to attention says, "LEAVE GO, LASSIE - DINNA YE SEE HERE'S TH' COLONEL COMIN!"

Pre ww1 Magill postcard
ww1 Magill comic postcard

The card on the left is the pre-war 'Joseph Asher' card - mentioned above. The card on the right is similar to it, but was published several years later by the Inter-Art Co. as number 286 in its "TWO-EIGHT-ONE" series and was postally used on 17th November 1916. Although both cards are of similar design, there are obvious differences, the wording of the caption is slightly different too. However, the girl is still wearing her blue dress and the timber fence remains. 

Who else but Donald McGill with his sharp and inventive mind could have solved the problem confronting a large lady and her equally large soldier friend - who simply wanted to share a kiss, but were unable to do so because of their size? 

The card above was published by the Inter-Art Company, Florence House, London, as card number 1620 in its "COMIQUE" series. The company was proud to announce that the card was of "British Manufacture Throughout."
Four years after the war had finished, McGill visited the couple again and found that despite their problems, they were still finding ways to steal a kiss.
This card was sent from Reigate & Redhill to Sheffield - on 14th August 1922. Again, the Inter-Art company produced it and was number 3864 in its "COMIQUE" Series. The company were still proud to announce the card was of "British Manufacture Throughout."
ww1 Magill consiencious objector postcard
This card is another in the Inter-Art "COMIQUE" series, number 2331 and depicts a man appearing before a tribunal to plead his case against being conscripted into the army. The tribunal's brief was "to get as many men for the army as possible." The panel usually included a Military Representative, a Magistrate and two "upstanding citizens of the community." Even the man's reply of "…helping to make airyplanes." would probably not have saved him, as most men engaged in this work were soon released for army service and their jobs took over by women. The card was posted on 3rd February 1916, with this message for 'Emma', "I hope your man wont get into a muddle as this. From an old pal."

 Probably released at the time of Kitchener's recruiting programme in the late summer of 1914 (but certainly by April 1915) the inter-Art Company produced a set of six comic cards titled "RECRUITS". Illustrated by the master of comedy, Donald McGill, these distinctive cards with their red and blue borders, depicted the volunteers performing a variety of tasks - accompanied by an amusing comment. For instance, number 920 showed a recruit receiving a vaccination jab and saying; "I shan’t come back without a scar anyway!" Number 922 depicted a man heaving a bag of coal to 'Kitchener's Recruits Coal Store' and saying; "Well, I've done my bit if I never see a German!" Three from the set are shown below. 

Recruits by donald magill ww1 postcards

The card on the left displaying a box containing tins of cocoa and captioned  "KITCHENER'S"?  - NOT HALF!! was No.925 in the set and was postally used on 16th June 1916. The card on the right, depicting an exhausted recruit saying, " - AND THEN WE HAVE THE REST OF THE DAY TO OURSELVES !" was number 923. The centre card depicting two soldiers and a handcart inscribed 'Kitchener's Recruits', was No. 921 and was posted in Lurgan on 23rd April 1915.

three MaGill ww1 postcards
Left: Another McGill card in the "COMIQUE" Series - number 1806. Centre: Number 1987 in the "COMIQUE" Series. Right: This was card number 174 the the Inter-Art "K.A." Series. It was sent from Aldershot to Leith on 21st June 1915, by a soldier who wrote, "Dear Peg, This is just it. I marched 347 miles like this without a feed or a drink & I don't think. Yours Dad."
Donald MaGill ww1 postcards
Left: This card was sent from Blackpool to Leek on 3rd September 1918. The writer talked about "...just going into Yates for a glass." It was number 164 in the Inter-Art "ONE-SIX-ONE." series . Centre: This bi-lingual card was number 1728 in the "COMIQUE." Series. Right: Another card in the "COMIQUE" Series - number 2283. 'Mildred' asked 'Connie" -  "Hope you like this card."
Left: Another McGill card in the "COMIQUE" Series - number 2194. Sent from Plymouth to Birmingham on 21st September 1918. 'Ben' told 'Rose' "Just a card to let you know that I am going to hospital tomorrow to see the Medical Board." Centre: This McGill card was number 2051 in the Inter-Art "COMIQUE" Series. The card on the right was Inter-Art number 2396 and was posted from "Army Post Office A.31" on 1st July 1918 and also carried a censor mark '2961'. Walter wrote, "Dear Mother & Dad, A few lines to let you know that I am in the pink...I wasn't aware that Lenny Thomas had joined the aristocracy. Looks like it on the reverse."

Fred Spurgin

Born Izydor Spurgin in 1882 and of Latvian origin, Fred Spurgin came to Britain with his parents and two brothers in 1900. Success in his chosen career soon came with advertisements, magazine and book illustrations and postcard designs.

Between 1906-08, at least twelve postcard publishers were happy to use Fred's artwork, including J. Beagles & Co., and The Regent Pub. Co. In 1908 Spurgin began placing his work with the ‘Avenue Pub. Co.,’ but by 1911 it seems that the ‘Inter-Art Co.’ had became exclusive publishers of his postcard designs.

In 1916, his brother Maurice established the ‘Art and Humour Pub. Co.’ as an outlet for Fred’s work and like Donald McGill, many of Fred’s wartime comic postcards were a reflection of contemporary attitudes and tastes. There were cards on patriotism, politics, women at work, comments on government policy, and a host of other topics.

Fred Spurgin
Spurgin ww1 postcard the Derby Armlet

The card on the left, titled "GETTING STOUT AND BITTER, AS USUSAL." was a comment on the Governments increasing control of the liquor trade. It was thought that munitions workers were drinking far too much and "seriously retarding the work of production." In some areas 'opening hours' were drastically reduced or licenses withdrawn altogether. The first of the two 'things' the card on the right referred to was the Derby Armlet. In 1915, it was obvious that volunteers alone would not be enough to fill the army's needs and in the near future some form of conscription would be necessary. Men who wore the armband (it was a voluntary scheme started by Lord Derby) promised to join the Army when called upon to do so.

Three Spurgin ww1 postcards
Left: Mailed from Sheffield to London on 7th November 1917, this card was number 359 in the "OUR MUNITIONS" Series. It was released by the Art and Humour Publishing Company, 27 Chancery Lane, London. The message reads: "Dear Alf, Just a P.C. hoping it finds you A.I. I am just of to work to do a little bit more for the boy's. Well Alf this is some P.C. but don't you believe a word of it. For it's not official. Yours with love, Mary."  Mary was probably a munitions worker. Centre: "KHAKI  - THE STYLE FOR MEN" says Spurgin on this card. It was number 1056 in the "KHAKI" Series by the Inter-Art Company of Red Lion Square, London. Right: Another card in the "OUR MUNITIONS" Series. It is number 362 and was mailed from Bognor to Chiswick on 21st August 1917. 'Charles' wrote to 'William' "I arrived back A.I. Everything is bright and breezy, especially at night time. It's too creepy then. Bombing is quite interesting. We have some sports [sic] to display next week, so I had better get in some practice."

Doug Tempest

Doug Tempest, born in Norfolk in July 1887, was the son of a schoolmaster. After leaving school, Dougie went into office work but soon gave it up and went to study at the Leeds School of Art, where he impressed his teachers and won several prizes. When he left art school, he worked as a freelance artist for several fashion magazines and in 1912 joined Bamforths the postcard publishers.

When war broke out and unable to join the army because of a heart defect, Tempest decided to help the war effort in the best way he could - he used his artistic talent to make people laugh.

His wartime comic illustrations capitalized on the British ability to laugh at themselves in times of hardship and he produced cards to encourage recruitment, made jokes about food shortages, made fun of munitions work and poked gentle fun at convalescent soldiers.

3 doug tempest ww1 postcards

These three cards display typical Doug Tempest humour. The card on the left was published by 'Bamforth & Co. Ltd.' and was number 627 in its 'WITTY Series.' Centre: Another Doug Tempest card published by Bamforth - number 666. The card on the right was another Bamforth one and was number 386 in its 'COMIC Series.' According to the notice on the fence, munitions workers were not allowed to take any holidays - but the shells they made went to France.

three ww1 Tempest postcards
Left: This was number 202 in the "TOPICAL KID" Series by Bamforth & Company. Centre: This card was number 396 in Bamforth's "WITTY COMIC" Series. Right: This was number 499 in Bamforths "COMICS" Series..
The card on the left was published by Bamforths and was number 290 in its "WITTY COMIC" Series. The centre card number 483 in the same series, was mailed from Nuneaten to Hinchley on 10th August 1918. The writer asked his sister to "Send me the strap." The card on the right also published by Bamforth and was number 400..
The Tempest card on the left was number 487 from Bamforths "WITTY COMIC" Series. It was mailed for Blackpool to Selby on 14th August 1917. Someone was missing Miss Nelson. Centre:  Another Bamforth card - number 695. Right: This is also a "WITTY COMIC" card by Doug Tempest - number 402 and posted in August 1917.

Dudley Buxton

When people at home looked through the postcard racks, what did they think of the numerous pictures there, which made fun or joked about the discomfort and miseries of trench life? Most people, no doubt, would smile, but others perhaps would think of their loved ones fighting at the front in conditions, which in truth, were often very similar to those depicted on 'comic' cards, and perhaps would not be too amused. Dudley Buxton illustrated such scenes perfectly and two of his laconic illustrations are shown below.

Three Dudley Buxton ww1 postcards

The card on left displayed Buxston's whimsical sense of humour as two Tommy's momentarily forget the danger and discomfort of their own situation and comment on that of someone else. The card was number 2158 in Inter-Art's "COMIQUE" series. The card in the centre is another Buxton one from the popular "COMIQUE” series and depicted a soldier just out of the trenches and in safer surroundings. As he sewed a large patch on the seat of his trousers he said, with a one-eyed smile, "DON'T WORRY!  I'VE GOT A JOB AT THE BASE!"  It was card number 1774.  The card on the right was another depicting trench life and was also from the "COMIQUE" series. As the soldier writes to his mother an empty tin of plum pudding floats by.

Reg Carter

Reg Carter was born in 1886 in Southwold, Suffolk, where he lived for most his life. He was a member of the North British Academy and contributed to magazines like The Sketch and The Tatler. A versatile and prolific comic artist, his postcard work was produced by a number of publishers - including himself. Below are two comic cards by Reg Carter, both were published by J. Salmon of Sevenoaks.

Reg Carter illustrated this ww1 postcard
This ww1 postcard was illustrated by Reg Carter

The reference to submarines on the card on the left was Reg Carter's comic reaction to a German menace, which was taking its toll on British shipping. The U-boats were gaining a stranglehold on the country and forcing food prices to rise and according to the old lady in the fishmongers - even the North Sea fish were looking depressed. The card was number 1426. The card on the right with the boy's comic response to the old man's question, was number 652.

Reg Maurice

Before conscription into the army was introduced, a certain class of young men existed, for whom everything was "to much bally trouble" or "too much fag." They were the "Nuts". Some artists in their comic postcard illustrations attempted to persuade these young men to do their duty and join the army. Reg Maurice thought that if any of the Knuts refused to become soldiers, then at least they should be willing to could join the munitions workers instead, as a card shown below demonstrates.

This ww1 postcard was illustrated by Reg Maurice
The card on the left  refers to the young men known as Nuts. It was Number 2251 in ‘The Regent Series’. A 1917 account of the activities of a Nut described him as "…the finest flower of youthful male fashion. He was an elegant idler…smoked incessant cigarettes…cultivated a manner almost effeminate. He made harmonies of neckties and symphonies of socks…His chief attitude to life was to be "fed-up" with everything that imposed any strain, physical, moral, or mental." But as the war intensified the Nut vanished and "the young Britain leapt to life and the call of his race was answered in his blood, and his fripperies dropped from him. He now lies under many a white cross in the fair land of France." The card on the left was Maurice's comic interpretation of a soldiers daily ablutions in water filled trenches and was 2569 in ‘The Regent Series’.
Three ww1 comic postcards
The Reg Maurice card on the left was number 2507 in 'The REGENT Series' - released by the Regent Publishing Co. Ltd., London. The centre card was number 2569 in the same series. The card on the right was number 2645 by Regent Publishing and was sent from Bradford to Bingley on 21st June 1917
Archibald English
Archibald English was another prolific ww1 artist and signed his work simply AE. Some of his postcard illustrations are shown below.
Three Archibald English ww1 postcards
Left: This card by C.P.C. of London was from Series 411. Centre: Card number 104 in the 'H.B. Series.' Right: This Archibald English card, published by 'W. & R.' London, was number 3614C in its 'E.C. Series'.

Fred Gothard

Born in Holmfirth in 1882, Fred Gothard went into banking after he left school and with an interest in art, began working part-time on postcard illustrations. His first commercial card appeared in 1904, it ridiculed the upper-classes and was titled; "The Flower of the family, the blooming idiot." Gothard began working for the publisher Thomas Hind of Huddersfield and as well as signing his work “F.G” he also used the alias “Spatz” - probably to protect his job, which at that time was a junior bank clerk. (At the end of his working life he was manager of a large city centre bank in Manchester.)

Whilst working for Thomas Hind, Gothard produced two series of humorous cards. The first consisted of 85 and the second 45 and poked gentle fun at many aspects of life in the first decade of the 20th century. Typical “F.G.” postcard humour depicted a diner in conversation with the waiter at dinner, “Where’s the lamb?” “Under one of the peas, Sir.” - “Which, this one?”“No Sir, The other one.” The captions on the cards usually appeared in Gothard's own distinctive handwriting - but not always.

During the Great War, Gothard put his artistic talent to good use and in 1916 produced a series of postcard illustrations for the company of E. Mack. Examples are shown here. Gothard was conscripted into the army in 1917, but nevertheless continued with his drawings.

ww1 postcard by Fred Gothard

This card, published by E.Mack displayed typical Fred Gothard humour in his distinctive style.

three cards by Gothard
The card on the left was number 1324. The Gothard card in the centre, was printed and published by both Salmon of Sevenoaks and E. Mack of King Henry's Road, Hampstead, London, . It was number 1399. The card on the right, printed by E. Mack and mailed from Lincoln to Scotland on 16th April 1917, was number 1282.

Here are four more cards initialed by Fred Gothard. They were produced in the typical bright colours which he frequently executed his work.

Four ww1 postcards by Gothard
The card at top left was number 1191 in the Gothard series. A message on the back says "Even if you get your wish you'll never be able to look like the gentleman on the other side." Top right. Mailed from Matlock on 17th June1917 - this card was number 1085. The card at lower left was mailed to West Hove on 29th December 1917  with this message, "Dear Daisy, Just a few lines to let you know that mother received your letter quite safe. So I thought I would send you this motor to bring you home all the way to save you having to catch the train..." The card at lower right was mailed from East Molesey to Berkshire on 23 August 1915 and was number 814.
published by E.Mack this card displayed typical Fred Gothard humour

The above card was mailed to Eastbourne on 8th November 1918 - three days before the end of the Great War!  It was number 1400.

Three comic cards by Frank Gothard

The card on the left was number 127 in the Fred Gothard series and posted to Aldershot on 15th June 1917. The recipient was Gunner A.G. Trevillian who was billeted on "Line 1, Room 6, 401 Siege Battery R.G.A., Martinique Barracks, Bordon Camp." The message on the reverse reads, "My Dearest, Just a line to let you know we are all safe after the raid thank God and hope you are the same...what lovely weather we are having. I wish we could block out this terrible war..." Centre: Mailed from Skegness to Boston this card was number 1290. Right: Card number 1398 posted on 23rd July 1918 from Tiverton to Tunbridge Wells. The writer was "Having a good time in Devon."

Three ww1 postcards by Gothard
Left: This was number 1697. The card is postmarked 9th December 1918 and the message perhaps gave an indication of the great world-wide flu epidemic about to start. "Just a few lines from Scotland to say that I am still living. I have had 3 days in hospital with the 'Flu'" Centre: Card number 1396. Right: Posted in Newport to a local address on 12th March 1918, this was number 1301.

Verse and illustrations laughing at the Army

Comic verse cards that poked fun at the military were popular both with soldiers and the public. So too were those carrying limericks and three are shown below.
Three ww1 limerick postcards
The card on the left was released by an un-named publisher - but signed 'T P' by the artist. It was posted to Sussex on 4th March 1916. The message reads, "Have just had Averys post card and I thank her for it...No need to hurry about my clean clothes as I shall not change before next Sunday. It is very frosty here with lots of ice my dear." The centre card carried no printer or publishers details only that it was of 'Entirely British Manufacture.' The card on the right was a "M.P.P.C.Co, LONDON" publication and printed in Holland. It was number 951 and 'Nellie' mailed it to 'Flo' on 10th February 1913 to a local address in Norwich. She wrote, "Just a card to let you know I am going with Ch- to the Electric Theatre tonight so will see you Thursday night all being well. What about last night AI ?"

 Lawson Wood

Lawson Wood was born in Highgate in 1878 into a wealthy family already well established in the art world. A private education and then training at Calderson’s School of Animal Painting, gave him a grounding for his intended career. His first job was with the publishing company of Arthur Pearson, where he stayed until 1902 and then went freelance. By 1906, his comic style was at its height and his sense of humour biting and witty. Between 1906 and 1909 many of his postcard illustrations were published by Valentine's, most in sets of six - including the superb "Rules for Rollers".

When the Great War broke out, Lawson Wood joined the Royal Flying Corps and served with gallantry in the Kite Balloon Wing.  In 1915, his illustrations appeared on a set of patriotic postcards in the "St. Clair War Series", which praised the stoicism and devotion to duty of the British soldier. The following year, the Inter-Art Company published a series of comic cards bearing the artist's work and although they depicted only mildly humorous wartime themes - the artwork was superb!

This ww1 postcard was painted by Lawson Wood
Lawson Wood painted this ww1 postcard
Wood's contribution to the 'ARTISTIQUE' seri

The card on the left captioned "After you Mother !" was number 1596 and one of Lawson Wood's contributions to Inter-Art's 'ARTISTIQUE' series. The card on the right was another of Wood's contributions in the 'ARTISTIQUE' series. The centre card depicted a rather confused and short-sighted elderly lady approaching a sailor in uniform and asking him why he was not in the army yet.

During the Great War, humour was frequently aimed at diffusing tension and satirising fears. Humorous picture postcards provide an insight into the ways in which soldiers dealt with their fears and the ways in which they tried to cope with the situation around them.

The cartoon postcards of the front-line soldier Captain Bruce Bainsfather, are a good example of this - he countered fear by making light of it. Good morale was essential to the troops and comedy was an outlet through which frustration, anger, fear, and even terror could be expressed.

Soldiers serving in the trenches desperately needed something to laugh about and in addition to postcards, several humorous publications were started to cater for their needs. For instance, on 20th March 1915 a magazine called The Passing Show was launched. It was a cheaper version of Punch and cost one penny. A popular trench publication was The Wipers Times.

On 31st May 1916, another publication appeared - it was Blighty. Subtitled 'A Budget of Humour from Home.' Blighty was distributed free to members of the forces and subsidised by private firms. It carried cartoons reproduced from magazines and newspapers and original contributions from servicemen who were advised by the art editor to "be as funny as you can, but do not ridicule Fritz too bitterly; you might be captured with a copy of the paper in your pocket." A contribution to Blighty showed an exasperated N.C.O. and his disdain for raw recruits, when he bawled; "Why, I've seen hofficers what 'ad more brains than some of yer."

Some comic picture postcards depicted recruits and members of the Territorial Force as fit and robust specimens of British manhood; but some cards showed them as been just the opposite and were splendid examples of the ability of the British to laugh at themselves in the hardest of times. For instance, a card mailed from Accrington to London on 11th March 1915 and numbered 2229R in the ‘National Series’ depicted an extremely lanky and weedy looking cavalry officer complete with spurs, a whip in one hand and a ‘fag’ held between the fingers of the other. At the top of the card were these words; "IF YOU'RE THE COUNTRY'S HOPE!" and at the bottom these; "God Save the King!"

In times of adversity the British could laugh at themselves and were not afraid to do so and these three postcards make the point perfectly. The centre card was by the artist Archibald English and was his comic interpretation of the fearlessness of one of 'Kitchener's Men.' Posted on 5th August 1915, it was number 156 in the 'H.B. Series.' The card on the right was printed in Saxony before the outbreak of the war - for an unnamed British publisher. The picture was unsigned by the artist but was No. A415 in the series "Our Terriers" and was mailed from Cricklewood to March on 7th January 1913. Would the picture of the territorial soldier displayed thereon and the words he said, have instilled fear into the German printers? - probably not! The artist did not sign the card on the left.

 Humour was vitally important during the Great War in bringing groups of people together and although the conflict was really no laughing matter, comic and humorous picture postcards played an important role in achieving this and could therefore be considered as significant historical documents.

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