Picture Postcards from the Great War

Download The Daily Mail War Postcards eBook

"For they depict scenes in the great Battle of the Somme..."

The above announcement appeared in the Daily Mail on 8th August 1916. The newspaper had just paid £2,500 to army charities for the right to produce a number of picture postcards from images taken by the small band of official photographers on the Western Front. The Mail said, "The first selection of pictures numbers 40, and these represent all phases of the new warfare. They are up to date, for they depict scenes in the great  battle of the somme, which began on July 1. They will form a precious record of the gallantry and devotion of our soldiers in the great advance."

The Daily Mail card shown below was No.56 from series 7. The title thereon,  reads, "The Glorious First of July, 1916. - our first prisoners." and attempted to turn the tragedy of the first day of the Somme offensive into a victory. The caption on the back of the card reads, "A great flow of German prisoners into the British camps began immediately with the Great Advance and the picture shows the first batch marching in." This was one of the few pictures taken, not by the official war photographers, but by a member of No.1 Printing Company of the Royal Engineers.


daily mail card No. 56
As mentioned above, there was no 'Great Advance'  by the British Army on 1st July and this picture was first released as card No. 43 - four weeks after the start of the offensive.  Moreover, the picture and the title would have been a gift to the British propaganda service, as would a number of other cards in the Battle of the Somme WW1 collection. 

The Battle of the Somme

For the Daily Mail to speak of a ‘Great Advance’ was misleading, to say the least. The Somme offensive, scheduled to start on 29th June, was put off for two days. It raged from 1st July to 18th November (officially), and consisted of several battles and actions in the Somme area. It was intended primarily to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun, and to break the stalemate that was trench warfare. British and French troops took part, with the former north of the Somme River, attacking with 18 Divisions on a 15-mile front.

The British objective was Bapaume, nine miles behind the German lines. En-route to Bapaume were villages whose names became all too familiar in the weeks that followed the start of the battle – La Boisselle, Ovillers, Pozieres, and Le Sars for example. Prior to the battle, many of these had been saturated by the British artillery.

The British began a prolonged bombardment of the German lines on 24th June, with over 1,500 guns of various calibers. (Several examples of the ‘ big guns’ can be seen in the Daily Mail collection.) Originally intended to last five days, the bombardment was extended to seven, because of bad weather conditions and reports that the German wire was not cut everywhere.

The British believed that there would be no resistance after the week-long shelling, and at 7.30 am on 1st July 66,000 men went ‘over the top’ to find that the optimistic predictions were appallingly wrong. German dugouts and shelters were deep, most of their inhabitants were unharmed and they rushed up to man their machine guns. The result? Over 57,000 casualties were, suffered by the British on that day, including almost 20,000 killed, amongst whom were 993 officers. The ground gained was a maximum of 1,000 yards.

The ‘Somme’ offensive was persisted with and, in September, the British used a new weapon. This was the tank, which surprisingly is not featured in the Mail collection. There was a delay in revealing to the world what a tank looked like, but photographs of (for example) Creme de Menthe were published in December.

The Battle of the Somme ground to a halt in the mud of November. In the four and a half months since 1st July, British casualties had risen to 340,000. The first day’s objective – Bapaume – had not fallen. The British were still over two miles away. Ironically, in a few months time, the Germans would voluntary give up that place (and many others) and retreat to the so-called Hindenburg Line.

The Somme cameramen

The first stages of the Somme battle were filmed by two well-known cine-cameramen - G.H. Malins and R.B. McDowell. They collaborated on two famous ''Somme' films (The Battle of the Somme and The Battle of the Ancre). Accompanying Malins and McDowell was the official stills-photographer Ernest Brooks. Brooks was a well-known 'society' photographer; who had worked in pre-war times for the Daily Mirror and the Graphic. He had gone to the Somme in May 1916, after having worked for the Admiralty "covering the Gallipoli operation from H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth." Brooks hardly gets a mention in Malins' book How I filmed the War, but he took stills of some of the same incidents that Malins did - including the blowing of the famous Hawthorn mine at Beaumont Hamel on 1st July 1916, Malins returned to England with the film, while Brooks stayed at the Front taking many of the shots that are in the Daily Mail series.

This card, featuring Ernest Brooks famous picture of a “BRITISH MINE EXPLODING AT BEAUMONT HAMEL.” was No.13 from the second series in the Daily Mail collection. At 7.20 a.m. on 1st July 1916, ten minutes before zero hour, the British exploded the huge mine that had been placed under the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt - which dominated the approach to Beaumont Hamel - The Hawthorn mine contained 45,000 Ibs. of high explosive. Eight minutes later another eleven mines were fired. At precisely 7.30 a.m., whistles blew along the British front line and the first wave of assault troops climbed out of their trenches. The caption on the reverse of the card says, "The preparation and explosion of immense mines have been a feature of this war of high explosives. The great smoke cloud pictured is from a British mine."

A new Somme information guide

As the Battles of the Somme raged on the Western Front, the Daily Mail newspaper secured the rights to print and publish a long series of picture postcards. The images thereon, were of scenes and incidents, which occurred during the Somme offensive.  A guide is now available with new information about this remarkable collection of Great War picture postcards. It consists of more than 80-pages (as a downloadable PDF file that can be printed-out) and looks at the photographers, the selection, printing, publication and distribution of these popular WW1 picture postcards.  The information contained in The Daily Mail Official War Postcards eBook, make it essential reading for anyone interested in the Battle of the Somme 1916.   A number of FREE WW1 eBooks are included - when you download the guide.


    The eBook Guide comprises of...

  • More than 80 pages - which can be printed out and read as a physical book.
  • More than 160 images, including postcards, newspaper clippings, photographs, maps and other items.
  • A number of photographs depicting the official war photographers at work on the Somme.
  • Contemporary 'cuttings' from the Daily Mail newspaper which kept the public informed about the production and release of the cards.
  • Coloured maps showing the position of British and German troops on 1st July 1916 and later.
  • Illustrations of many of the cards in the collection.
  • Examples of several cards from the collection showing how easy it can be to misinterpret an image.
  • A list of the 176 cards in the collection and the series number in which each one appeared.
  • A chart showing the distribution of the 105 photographs on which the collection was based and the format(s) in which each photograph appeared, on any individual card.
  • Notes on the production and distribution of the collection.
  • Notes about the official war photographers.
  • A brief outline of the Battle of the Somme 1916 and witness accounts of the first day.
  • A brief look at fake photographs and one or two other topics


PLEASE NOTE: The Daily Mail Official War Postcards is not a physical book, but a digital one, (eBook). However, it is very easy to convert into hard-copy - once you have downloaded it. Simply print out the pages as A4 and then insert them into a folder with plastic pockets - then read as a normal book.

These are the eBooks in the package 

Daily Mail postcards eBook
Inside the Daily Mail postcards eBookk
How I filmed the war eBook

FREE: HOW I FILMED THE WAR. by Lieut. Geoffrey Malins O.B.E. (1920) When it was published the book was billed as "a record of the extraordinary experience of the man who filmed the great Somme battles." Even though Mallns was sometimes described as 'Vain glorious", nevertheless, he was a pioneer of war photography and left a fascinating account of his work. The book comprises of 392 pages..

THE SOMME Illustrated Michelin Guide Vol.1

FREE: THE SOMME Illustrated Michelin Guide Vol.1. (1919) A classic post-war guide to the Somme battlefield and still relevant today.  Lavishly illustrated with maps and photographs and splendidly informative text. The book comprises of 144 pages.

THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME by Philip Gibbs (1917)

FREE: THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME by Philip Gibbs (1917) As a news reporter Gibbs was arrested early in the war for refusing to leave the Western Front when asked to do so by the military. However, he was a popular newsman and along with four others, he was soon officially accredited as a war correspondent.This book is a collection of articles he wrote beginning with his report on 1st July 1916 - the start of the Somme offensive. The book comprises of 414 pages.


 The Package Consists off.....

The Daily Mail Official War Postcards


      HOW I FILMED THE WAR - Geoffrey Malins

  THE SOMME - Mitchelin Guide Vol. 1



 Buy the Guide £9.99

You can make this payment via PayPal - using either a PayPal account or a credit card. Both types of transactions are completely secure.


A special "WAR PICTURE DEPARTMENT" was set up at the Daily Mail offices to issue the cards. On 6th September the first series were released and by all accounts proved extremely popular and the Mail may well have benefited by the amazing success of the Somme film. It had been released in London on 21st August 1916 and the rest of the country a week later. The film had achieved over 2,000 bookings and was eventually shown to huge audiences all over the world. At one time, it was showing at 30 London cinemas simultaneously.

On 29th July 1916 the Daily Mail commented on the Somme war postcards and said,   

"...the photographs are works of art, and will in them- selves make a precious historical record of the great war..." 


Daily Mail postcard No. 5

HELPING AN AMBULANCE THROUGH THE MUD.” was No.5 from Series 1. The caption on the reverse reads, "Heavy rains have often made the British front a quagmire, and our ”Tommies” have had to put their shoulders to the wheels of ambulance and other wagons." The image has also been described as the "16th (Irish) Div ambulance in difficulty, Somme 1916." In a larger version of this photograph,  a shamrock sign is visible below the Red Cross.

Daily Mail card 169

"AN ATTACK: AWAITING THE SIGNAL." Card number 169 from Series 22 in photogravure. The caption reads "Scenes in a British trench on the Western Front before an attack. Time is nearly up and every man is alert." The photograph has also been described as "British troops waiting to attack on September 25th 1916...one of the most successful days in the great Somme advance."  On this day began the Battle of Morval 25th-28th September.

Daily Mail postcard No.148 from Series 19
Daily Mail postcard card number 113 in colour.

In the New Year (1917) two new series of Daily Mail cards appeared. They were titled "ANZACS IN FRANCE." On 27th January the two series got a mention in The Times when it said "They are numbered 19 (Australian) and 20 (New Zealand) respectively and each contains eight photographs in photogravure." The above card  sub-titled "Hot Work in hot weather." was No.148 from Series 19. The caption on the reverse reads: "Hot weather and hot work at their big guns have induced these splendidly built Anzacs to strip to the waist." This was the same Australian gun-crew that appeared with their backs to the camera on two versions (a photograph and a painting) of card number 113 in colour. There the picture was also described as "Australian gunners at Fricourt.They are supporting the attack on Pozieres, which fell on 7th August at the cost of 23.000 Anzac casualties." 

About the Somme cards

The Daily Mail Official War Pictures are well known to collectors of British military picture postcards and too many people with an interest in the Great War 1914-1918. Nevertheless, although freely available and easy to find, it seems that up to now, very little information about these cards exists.

However, a 'guide' is now available with new information about this remarkable collection of Great War picture postcards. It consists of more than 80-pages (as a downloadable PDF file - which can printed-out)) and looks at the photographers, the selection, the publication and the distribution of these popular WW1 picture postcards.  

Also known as The Daily Mail Battle Pictures the collection numbered 176 cards (in 22 series of 8 cards each) and was based on 105 photographs taken by members of the small band of official photographers that were located on the Western Front. Most of the cards depicted scenes and incidents from the Battle of the Somme 1916. (The 'battle' was not a continuous one, but rather a series of battles and actions that raged from July until November).

The cards were produced in three 'finishes' or formats, colour, silver-print and photogravure. Some of the images were in one format, some in two and a few in all three. .

In addition to a checklist of the complete collection of 176 cards, a special chart also appears in The Guide. It lists the105 photographs in the collection, their title and the format(s) and card number in which each image appeared.



Daily Mail card no. 19

"FIRING A HEAVY HOWITZER IN FRANCE." This card, No. 19 from Series 3, also appears as numbers 32 and 79 in photogravure and silver-print respectively. It has been described as, "June 1916: one of the British 8in. howitzers which took part in the bombardment of the Somme, sending a 200lb. high explosive shell out to a range of up to 10,500 yards." Another source described the photograph as, "British 8 inch firing. The gun layer is holding the lanyard which is still connected to the gun's firing lock in the breech."


The Daily Mail entrusted the production of the collection to four printing companies who - it seems - had their own ideas about how some of the finished images - featuring scenes and incidents from the Battle of the Somme - should look. This resulted in a number of cards carrying  the same number, and appearing either as a photograph or as a 'painting' copied from a photograph. In addition, some cards (with the same number) displayed the original photograph as taken by the official photographers, or as sometimes happened; the image appeared as a 'cropped' version of the original.

Below are examples of two cards from the collection - bearing the same number. However, one is a photograph and the other a painting based on the photograph.


Daily Mail postcard No. 111 a photograph

"A WIRING PARTY GOING UP TO THE TRENCHES." Card No.111 from Series 14. The caption on the reverse reads, "Every British trench has its own post-office, with telephone and telegraph wires, A wiring party is here going forward to its special work." However, the caption writer has surely made a mistake. The wiring party is more probably going forward to fix screw-in pickets and barbed wire somewhere along the trench line. A case of the caption writer getting his wires crossed. This image was also described as, "British wiring party Beaumont Hamel, France, July 1916. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment putting up barbed wire in front of their trenches during the Battle of Albert."  Note also the water-pump in the foreground. This image also appeared as a painting (with the same number and shown below) and as card No.135 in photogravure.

Daily Mail postcard No. 111 a painting

Considering the repetition of the images in different formats and the anomalies mentioned above, the Daily Mail postcards can at times seem to be a 'confusing' and 'disorganised' series to collect, even though the cards are numbered from 1 to 176.

The new Guide however, attempts to make some 'sense' of the Daily Mail collection by mainly grouping the cards by theme or topic, rather than studying them in the series they were released.

Since they first appeared in 1916, the cards have been briefly mentioned in several books and publications about the Battle of the Somme 1916 and the Great War in general. The guide book - The Daily Mail Official War Postcards -  is an attempt to show how studying a 'set' of picture postcards produced during the 1914-1918 conflict, often gives rise to fascinating and complex questions, which make collecting them both challenging and more interesting.

The Daily Mail cards are still reasonably priced (£1 - £5) and easy to find, (except maybe some of those in the later series 20-22, which sometimes attract the higher price) however, as already mentioned, it seems that this extraordinary collection has not been looked at before (in print at least) in any detail - until now !

Among the cards in the second half of the collection is a famous photograph of a soldier caressing a huge shell on which is chalked "To Willie with Compliments". An identical shot appears in the Malins/McDowell film The Battle of the Somme, At first it was thought that this was either a still from the film, or more likely a still shot taken by a cameraman with one of the operators. It is now known it was a still shot taken by Ernest Brooks.

Daily Mail postcard No.l98

"A PRESENT FOR THE KAISER.” Card No.98 in colour. This picture - taken by Ernest Brooks in July 1916 - is also seen as card No.122 in photogravure. The caption on the reverse reads, "Our grand artillerymen like to address a shell before they fire it. This shell, being of the largest size, is addressed to the Biggest Hun." The picture of the sergeant and the shell also appeared in The Illustrated London News on 12th August 1916.


The work of the image 'Improver'

An interesting feature of several of the Daily Mail Somme cards is that 'improvements' were made to the original images. This is noticeable when two similar postcards are compared side by side.There are a number of such examples in the guide to The Daily Mail Official War Postcards and the two cards illustrated below - are a splendid example of the image 'Improver' at work.

After the release of the first ten series, a press announcement said that the next ‘set’ would be of special interest.

“On Monday, a magnificent new set of The Daily Mail Official War photographs will be on sale all over the country. It illustrates the King’s recent visit to the front, and will be a unique memento of the great world-war.”

Series 11 was devoted entirely to depictions of the King’s August visit to the front and were produced in the coloured format. Series 12, for some extraordinary reason, was an exact repetition of the eight pictures of the king’s visit in the proceeding series,  except that this time they were in photogravure. A comparison of the two series shows that some of the colour reproductions had been ‘touched up’ or ‘improved’.


"THE SMILE OF VICTORY." Cards 81 (below) and 89 (above) showing the art of the 'improver' at its most notable. The door in number 89 is closed in 81 (the coloured version). The lower step has been extended in card 81 and even the greenery behind Haig has changed. The location of the meeting is Sir Douglas Haig's chateau at Beauguesne. It was here that he had his HQ  while on the Somme. The occasion is the King's visit to meet Allied leaders. From L. to R. General Joffre, M. Poincare, King George V, General Foch and Sir Douglas Haig. The date is 9th August 1916. This well-known photograph was taken by official cameraman Ernest Brooks .

As mentioned above - a number of cards in The Daily Mail Official War Postcards collection depict the work of the 'Improver', some of the changes are obvious and some are less so. Moreover, although there are more examples in the eBook, where the 'improver' has been at work, I am sure there will be other 'improved' cards in the collection which I have not commented on or even noticed. 


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The illustrated guide and the free Somme eBook package, is a compact and inexpensive way to learn more about and research (with primary sources) the Battle of the Somme 1916.
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