Picture Postcards from the Great War

To the best of my knowledge, there are no publications about charity flags of the First World War, although they occasionally get a mention in books on the conflict. This page is not a definitive account intended to fill the gap, nor is it a listing or price guide. It is simply an attempt to describe and illustrate a few of the fascinating small pieces of coloured paper, which were once common everyday things. Some of the flags here are illustrations of items from a collection put together during the 1914‑18 war by Rene Dale of Leeds.

Introduction

During the Great War millions of British working‑class women were employed in munitions and agriculture, tens of thousands from the middle classes became nurses or joined the women's army services and thousands of upper‑class and titled ladies looked for ways in which they "could also be useful". Some became involved in 'welfare' and 'social’ work, many became involved in Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) and some put their organisational skills to use by setting up and running their own war charities. For them, raising money was a major task and one method  - which is well-known - was that of selling themed fund‑raising postcards. Another scheme was the 'flag day', when small colourful paper flags. emblems and badges were sold for a penny or more each. Today, fund-raising cards are easy to find, paper flags - which were produced in much larger numbers - are relatively scarce.

The first official flag day is thought to have been organised by Mrs Brysson Morrison, daughter of an Edinburgh lawyer. Before the war she had been involved in ‘philanthropic and social work’ and for some years was president of the Glasgow Branch of the Scottish Children’s League of Pity. During that time she organised numerous charity matinees, the first in March 1900 in aid of the ‘Fund for Sufferers in the South African War’.

What inspired Agnes Morrison to establish the Flag‑day movement which would raise over £25 million for ‘worthy causes’ before the Great War was over?

Soon after hostilities commenced, the Prince of Wales launched an appeal to aid dependants of the Reserve and Territorial Forces about to embark for France. Mrs Morrison wanted to help and it occurred to her “that if a street collection was held it would raise a large sum of money in the least possible time with a minimum of expense and from the magnificent manner which the whole Empire has responded to the call of the Motherland” she said, “I decided that no more suitable emblem could be sold than the Union Jack.” She placed an advertisement in the Glasgow Herald, announcing a forthcoming ‘Union Jack Day’ and asked readers to “Help those fighting for the colours, by wearing the Colours.” She needed volunteers. The response to her appeal was overwhelming and within two weeks she had “interviewed and enlisted the help of over 3,000 ladies.”

Mrs Morrison employed a local firm ‑ William Lyon ‑ to produce half a million paper flags, and at one stage production almost ceased “when the whole stock of pins in Glasgow became speedily exhausted and further supplies had to be obtained from the Midland”. During this time excitement was high, as "the German advance on Paris had been checked and our spirits had been rising in proportion” she said.

In the early days of the war the flags of Britain and her Allies were displayed everywhere, on buildings, on the streets and on numerous patriotic postcards, hurriedly put out by enthusiastic publishers. An example of some are shown below

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