Picture Postcards from the Great War

WW1 Fund-raising postcards

Tony Allen


This fund-raising card for blinded soldiers was issued by St Dunstans. The organisation issued a number of similar cards in its fund-raising campaigns.

The sale of fund-raising postcards during the 1914-18 war, often resulted in providing large sums of money for some of the 18,000 charity and relief organisations which sprang up during that period.

 Cards from official and semi-official sets and series are quite easy to find today at specialist postcard fairs and may vary in number from five to 500. On the other hand, cards produced by small organisations or private individuals are obviously quite scarce - but are certainly worth looking out for.

 A number of notable ‘help organisations’ which are in existence today have their origins in the Great War period. Their development can often be followed by the study of their postcards, proving both fascinating and informative, as well as a record of some of the social history
of the period.

"There was terrible confusion..."  Sylvia Pankhurst.

On 7th August 1914, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales made an urgent appeal in The Times:

"Buckingham Palace - all must realise that the present time of deep anxiety will be followed by one of considerable distress among the people of this country least able to bear it. We must earnestly pray that their suffering may be neither long nor bitter, but we cannot wait until the need presses heavily upon us. The means of relief must be ready in our hands. To ally anxiety will go some way to stay distress. A National Fund has been founded, and I am proud to act as its Treasurer. My first duty is to ask for generous and ready support, and I know that I shall not ask in vain. At such a moment we all stand by one another, and it is to the heart of the British people that I confidently make this earnest appeal. Edward."

Prince of Wales ww1 postcard
Why did the Prince make this extraordinary appeal? The answer lies in the momentous events of three days earlier. On 4th August, Germany had invaded Belgium. Britain, treaty bound, declared war on the aggressor. The army was mobilised and the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) was assembled. With a war strength of well below the required 160,000 men, army reservists were called back to the ‘colours’. The speed with which this was carried out (sometimes at one hour's notice) caught thousands of families unaware and often caused massive difficulties for dependents. Sylvia Pankhurst, working among the poor in London’s East End, recalled; "There was terrible confusion, masses of women did not know how or where to apply for their [separation] allowances, and waited long and vainly for them to come through automatically."

The desperation and uncertainty of the reservists spread to other sections of the civil population as those involved in the manufacture and sale of goods to Germany lost their jobs almost overnight, many mill-workers were put on short-time working and several East Coast fishing ports were thrown into chaos. Mrs. Pankhurst was to later write,

"The purchasing power of large sections of the people had dwindled to zero; to be work-less then meant literal starvation. The small unemployment benefit obtainable under the national insurance applied only to a few trades. It was an axion of then poor law practice that relief, save the shelter of the workhouse, must not be granted to the “able-bodied” and their dependents...Even had poor law procedure allowed it, the guardians had not the funds to cope with this great wave of unemployment."


On 6th August Will Crooks, Labour M.P. for Woolwich, asked in the House of Commons; "I desire to ask the Prime Minister...as to what provision is being made for the Reserve men’s wives and children, both navy and army."  Mr. Asquith replied simply; "a full consideration will be given to it." However, it seems that no extra government funds to help the distressed were forthcoming. Instead, the burden would fall upon the public via the Prince of Wales appeal. Fortunately, the Prince’s confidence in the public proved to be fully justified. By midnight the Palace had received £250,000. On 8th August The Times further reported all the money would be used in the best way; "both for the distress arising from the war among the families of soldiers and sailors...as well as from industrial distress."

Within a week the National Relief Fund (N.R.F.) had reached £1,000,000. (A staggering amount of money, when you consider that £1 in 1914 is the equivalent of about £54 today - 2012.)


The National Relief Fund

Before August 1914 was over, the first series of official fund-raising postcards was released under the direction of Joseph Clarkson. They were advertised as "the only authorised postcard in aid of [the] National Relief Fund." Produced in a black and white format, the cards feature single portraits of royalty, military and naval leaders and statesmen. The cards were not numbered but there were probably twelve in the series. Personalities included: Earl Kitchener, Sir Edward Grey, Lieut. Col. E. Martineau, Gen. Joffre, H.R.H. Prince Albert, H.M. Queen Mary, Admiral Sir J. Jellicoe, H.M. King George V, H. M. King Albert of Belgium, H.R.H. Princess Mary, Field Marshall Sir John French, and H.R.H. The Prince of Wales.

"NATIONAL RELIEF FUND." The card on the left was the first official National Relief Fund postcard from series 1 of the ‘authorised postcard’ series. It featured the Fund’s treasurer, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. The prince was eager to get into khaki as soon as possible and although eventually he did, he was never allowed anywhere near the battlefronts.  Field Marshall Sir John French, a soldier of considerable battle experience, was featured on the card on the right. French was a veteran of several pre-1914 wars and was Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914-15. He resigned after been criticised as indecisive and was appointed as C-in-C of Home Forces instead. The centre card carried a portrait of the popular Earl Roberts.

Another postcard contribution in aid of the N.R.F. came from the publisher Raphael Tuck, after it commissioned the popular artist Harry Payne to submit a design in support of the appeal. The result was the colourful and distinctive "Defenders of the Empire" card. However, it seems that the artist based the design on an earlier one.

Raphael Tuck & Sons published the sepia-coloured card on the left as ‘Empire’ postcard no.1282. It was entitled "Sons of the Empire" and was after the painting by Harry Payne produced in December 1899. The card was mailed from Haywards Heath on 29th March 1902. The card on the right was in colour and entitled "Defenders of the Empire 1914-15". It was also painted and signed by Harry Payne. Sold in aid of the National Relief Fund, it was obviously a repainting of the 1899 one produced in photogravure. The earlier card was published during the Anglo/Boer war 1899-1902, while the second card was released during the first months of the Great War. At first sight the cards look almost identical, but a closer inspection reveals at least seven distinct changes and additions. 

The Belgian Relief Fund

The German invasion and occupation of Belgium continued throughout the early weeks of the war. From Ostend, a steady trickle of refugees arrived in Folkstone, and the War Refugees Committee (W.R.C.) was brought into action to help them. On 24th August national newspapers carried the Committee’s first public appeal. The response was overwhelming, and within two weeks the organization was in a position to offer hospitality to almost 100,000 displaced persons. Every place that could be obtained for these unfortunate people would be needed, for by the middle of September they were streaming into London at the rate of 500 a day. The fall of Antwerp then turned the stream into a flood, and in one day alone, 1,000 were processed through Folkstone. Similarly, 26,000 Belgians arrived at the port in the week which followed the fall of Ostend.

With the approval of the Local Government Board, the W.R.C. set up over 2,500 local reception centres to find homes for the refugees. It was not always an easy task, particularly when large families (often twelve or more) did not want to be split up.

English goodwill towards the refugees was to continue and The Times announced that a fund-raising campaign would be launched to help those who remained in Belgium and named it "The Belgium Relief Fund."

Joseph Clarkson of Manchester again answered the call to help the victims of war, and released a second series of postcards (similar in design to the first series) under the title of "BELGIAN RELIEF FUND. They carried the printed message; "Will you kindly use the cards as long as they are needed?"

These three cards are from the second series of "authorised postcards" by Joseph Clarkson. Again, like the first series, they are thought to have been twelve in number and Belgian and British relief funds benefited from sixty per cent of the gross sale of them. The card on the left featured H.M. Queen Mary, who did much fundraising and charitable work during the war. The card on the right featured Lord Kitchener, who was appointed War Minister on the outbreak of the conflict and immediately took steps to raise a volunteer army. Later it was said that his "magnetic personality and indomitable spirit roused the nation to great endeavour, and he was a tower of strength until his untimely death in 1916." The centre card is a photo of the 'Rt. Hon. W. S. Churchill.'

Belgian Relief Funds - 1915

Was Mr. Clarkson's appeal to the public to use the Belgian Relief Fund cards for as long as they were needed - successful? Perhaps not immediately, for funds continued to be ‘needed’ well into 1915. By mid-summer the number of displaced Belgians living in Britain had increased considerably, and Joseph Clarkson tried to help by issuing a third series of appeal cards. They were entitled, "BELGIAN RELIEF FUNDS -1915 - OFFICIAL SOUVENIR." and, just like the first and second series, the third one also featured portraits of allied kings, queens, generals and admirals. Two cards which depicted the King and Queen of Belgian are shown below.

These three cards were from the third series - of what again is thought to have been 12 cards - by Mr. Clarkson and were captioned "BELGIAN RELIEF FUNDS", and appropriately carried portraits of the King and the Queen of Belgium. King Albert assumed leadership of the Belgian army at the outset of the war. However, although brave and resourceful, his army was no match for the military might of the Kaiser and after several weeks of heroic resistance, almost the whole of the country was under German occupation. "Remember brave little Belgium" became a rallying cry of the Allies and it was not until 22nd November 1918 that Albert was able to re-enter Brussels in triumph.The centre card features King George V.

British and Belgian Relief Funds

In the autumn of 1915, it seems Mr. Clarkson directed and issued his fourth and final series of "Authorised Postcards". As there were now well over a quarter of a million refugees in Britain, funding was still desperately needed. Released by arrangement with the Belgian authorities, the cards were again similar in content and format to the previous three series. Entitled "BRITISH AND BELGIAN RELIEF FUNDS", two of the cards are shown below.

ITISH & BELGIAN RELIEF FUNDS." These three cards from the fourth and final series by Mr. Clarkson, were released in late 1915 in aid of British and Belgian relief funds. Each card proclaimed that "five shillings on every hundred cards sold go to these funds". The card on the left featured "THE LATE EARL ROBERTS" who in November 1914, as commander of the Indian Expeditionary Force in France, had died at the age of 82 while visiting his troops there. The card on the right featured Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, who on 4th  August 1914, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet. In March 1915, he was promoted Admiral, a post which he held until November 1916, when he became first sea lord and organised retaliatory measures against the German U-boat campaign. The centre card is a photo of Sir John French.

At Birtley, in the North East of England, an experimental town was built to house Belgian refugees. Named Elizabethville, it accommodated about 6,000  people and soon became a thriving community
with a munitions factory at the centre of it. Governed according to Belgian law, the town was protected by Belgian gendarmes, its streets were given Belgian names and people lived in rows of prefabricated houses with inside toilets. A post office, church, hospital, general store, licensed premises, restaurant, butchers and a hairdresser served them. Belgian currency was used and both Flemish and Walloon were spoken. The Belgian munitions workers were set a target of producing one million shells - they turned out one and a half million.

Joseph Clarkson's fund-raising postcards and the money they raised for Belgium refugees surely contributed towards the amazing success of Elizabethville.

Contributions from British Children  

British school children composed verses to help various funds and at least one fourteen-year old boy saw his efforts appearing in print on a postcard. His name was Harold Huntbach and his poem was titled ‘RETRIBUTION’. The poem called for Germany to be severely punished for starting the war. Profits from the card went to the ‘Guardian’ Shilling Fund.


Another method used by British schoolchildren to raise funds for good causes was to paint a patriotic scene - usually a display of the flags of the Allies and a rousing slogan - on a blank postcard and sell it for a penny.

The card on the left has this message on the reverse "How do you like the P.C. a little friend of mine at Rochdale is painting and selling them for a 1d. various designs. She is of course giving the proceeds to charity."

British schoolchildren were eager to help their young Belgian counterparts who were in desperate need, and through the medium of the picture postcard, found a way to show their support. Most of these once plain postcards, embellished with the flags of the Allies were produced in 1914 and sold at bazaars, fetes, jumble sales and even on street corners - for the benefit of Belgian children. The colours on the cards are as brilliant as the day they were painted by small hands - almost 100 years ago!


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