Picture Postcards from the Great War

Real Photographic Postcards from WW1

Tony Allen

Today, in the United Kingdom, anyone with an interest in the Great War 1914-1918 and seeking original photographic material to add to his collection - or even start a new one - and also  for example, family historians seeking to illustrate their ancestor' involvement in ww1, need look no further than a local or national postcard fair. At a large event, the collector will find tens of thousands of ww1 Real Photographic Postcards (RPPC) on offer in the 'Military' section of dealer's stocks and most will be reasonably priced, say £1 - £5.


Printed Photographic v Real Photographic Cards

Photographic postcards were produced in one of two formats. First, the Printed Photographic Post Card (PPPC). These were produced in huge quantities by printing machines. The image was made up of small dots of different shades or colours and therefore did not have the sharpness and quality of the real photographic postcard.

ww1 Printed photo card example
The enlargement of the image of the soldiers face, clearly shows the various coloured dots which make up the image on this printed photographic postcard. The card titled "GEE UP", BACK FROM THE FIRING LINE was from the Canadian Official series.

Second, was the Real Photographic Post Card (RPPC). During the war commercial companies such as Beagles and the Rotary Photo Co. and even some national newspapers, used mass production methods to turn out millions of quality real photographic postcards including sets and single cards featuring for example, military and naval leaders, royalty and battlefield scenes.

real photo postcard
Even enlarged several times this image of the soldier with a bandaged nose, clearly shows the real photo quality of this postcard as opposed to printed photo. "VICTORIOUS BUT TIRED." This card was number three in the 'Daily Mirror Canadian Official Series.' These cards were mass produced and popular. The scene depicts battlefield casualties been taken on a trench trolley to the comparative safety of an advanced dressing station.

The first trench tramway was built in May 1915, during the battle of Festubert and consisted simply of wooden rails and basic wooden trolleys. It was used by the Meerut Division to convey wounded from the regimental aid posts to the advanced dressing stations. On the way up to the front - the trolleys were loaded with fresh water and supplies. On the return journey - up to six injured men were either pushed along by field ambulance medics or if available, the trolley was pulled by a horse or mule.

Local High Street Studios

Although the large commercial companies churned out tens of thousands of RPPC's during the conflict, it was mainly local high street studios and roving photographers who were responsible for the majority of 'personalised'  ww1 real photographic cards that we see today. The images were printed directly from a negative onto photographic card with a 'postcard' back. Each image was printed by hand and usually in small numbers. For example, a portrait study of one man in uniform would merit perhaps half a dozen copies at most, which he would send to friends and relatives. Nevertheless, an image depicting a small group of men - perhaps from the same billet or unit - would obviously put a little more money into a photographers’ pocket.
ww1 postcard

A high street photographer's shop and studio. A number of postcards are on display on the back of the doors and in the windows The proprietor was 'B. C. Flemons and the location was 91 High Street, Tonbridge.' Written on the back of the card was this - "Trooper A.E. Wright & Pals. 2/1 Lincoln Yeomanry, Tonbridge, kent. 1917."

On the reverse of some Real Photographic Post Cards were details of the photographer or studio that produced the card and an address. (Like the card shown above.) But having these details printed on the reverse was an extra cost and not all studios did so.

Alternatively, information was scratched on the negative before printing - with various degrees of success. Occasionally, an embossed mark was put on the card after hand printing, or the firm’s rubber stamp was applied. Perhaps, around fifty per cent of ww1 studio and ‘street’ portrait postcards carry these details - the rest remain anonymous.

British Army Uniform

In August 1914, the British soldier went to war wearing the khaki 1902 Pattern Service Dress tunic and trousers. There were two breast pockets for personal items and the soldiers AB64 Pay Book and two smaller pockets for other items. There was an internal pocket sewn under the right flap of the lower tunic where the emergency field dressing was kept. Rifle patches were sewn above the breast pockets to prevent wear from the webbing equipment and rifle. Shoulder straps were sewn on and fastened with brass buttons with enough space for a brass regimental shoulder title. Rank insignia was sewn onto the upper tunic sleeves, while trade badges and Long Service and Good Conduct stripes were placed on the lower sleeves. A stiffened peak cap was worn, made of the same material, with a leather strap, brass fitting and secured with two small brass buttons. Puttees were worn round the ankles and calves and ammunition boots with hobnail soles on the feet. Normally black, they were made of reversed hide, without toe-caps and with a steel plate on the heel.

An Infantry Man's Personal Equipment

ww1 postcard The Pattern 1908 Web Infantry Equipmen
The Pattern 1908 Web Infantry Equipment. The British were the first European army to replace leather belts and pouches with webbing, a strong material made from woven cotton, which had been pioneered in the United States by the Mills Equipment Company. The 1908 Pattern Webbing equipment comprised a wide belt, left and right ammunition pouches which held 75 rounds each, left and right braces, a bayonet frog and attachment for the entrenching tool handle, an entrenching tool head in web cover, water bottle carrier, small haversack and large pack. A mess tin was worn attached to one of the packs and was contained inside a cloth buff-coloured khaki cover. Inside the haversack were personal items, knife and when on active service, unused portions of the daily ration. The large pack could sometimes be used to house some of these items, but was normally kept for carrying the soldier's greatcoat and or a blanket. The full set of 1908 webbing could weigh over 70 pounds.
ww1 postcard 1914 Pattern Leather Equipment.

1914 Pattern Leather Equipment. At the outbreak of the conflict, it soon became clear that the Mills Equipment Company would not be able to keep up with the sudden demand for webbing. Therefore, a version of the 1908 equipment was designed to be made in leather. Two cartridge pouches replaced the smaller web ones and a narrow leather belt with a 'snake' buckle replaced the 1908 wide web belt. The leather was coloured with either a brown or khaki finish, and the packs and haversacks were made from canvas. It was originally intended that the leather equipment would be used by units in training or on home service, and that it would be exchanged for webbing before going on active service. However in practice, reinforcement drafts and sometimes whole battalions would arrive at the front line still with their leather equipment.


This 1917 postcard depicts a British infantryman
This 1917 postcard depicts an infantryman wearing the 1914 Pattern Leather Equipment. The 'snake' belt can be clearly seen. He also carries a gas mask in the satchel slung over his left shoulder. Gas masks went through several stages of development during the war and the one in use by 1916 was the 'PH helmet.' This was a mask connected by a hose to a tin can, which contained gas absorbent materials. An outlet valve reduced the carbon dioxide build up within the mask. A Lee-Enfield rifle, the SMLE Mk III, is slung over the man's right shoulder. The rifle was introduced into the army in January 1907, along with a Pattern 1907 Sword Bayonet. The fast acting bolt action and large magazine capacity enabled a skilled rifleman to fire a minimum of 15 aimed shots a minute. The soldier also wears a protective steel helmet (the Brodie helmet) which although was available in small numbers in 1915 and designated 'trench stores', did not come into general use in the British Army until the Summer of 1916.

Soldier Portraits               

During the period 1914-1918, local photographers in British towns, villages and training camps took hundreds of thousands if not millions, of portraits of soldiers in uniform. The photographers were simply responding to the demand of these young men who wanted their picture taken before leaving England for the Western Front and elsewhere. The collector will find ww1 photographs taken in 1914-15, of proud young volunteers - ‘Kitchener’s Men’ - looking pleased to be in their new uniforms and soon to be doing their duty for ‘King and Country’. And there are ww1 photographic postcards from 1916 onwards, showing not volunteers but conscripts now, who also look happy to be photographed in khaki - but not always!


Uniform Identifying Features

Many portrait-type cards were close-ups, so identifying a man’s regiment should be reasonably easy in most cases. Soldier portraits may display any of the following - cap badge which denoted the soldiers regiment or his shoulder title which did the same. Overseas Service Chevrons on the right cuff - one for each year served. Wound stripe on lower left sleeve, one stripe for each wound received. Rank indicators on the upper arm.  For example, Lance-corporals, corporals and sergeants had one, two or three stripes respectively. 

Trade and proficiency badges of which there were many, would indicate a soldiers expertise or specialty. A man wearing a bandolier or spurs, would usually indicate his involvement with horses, perhaps cavalry or artillery driver. 

The 49-page "Rank at a Glance in the Army and Navy." is a guide to cap badges, rank indicators, proficiency badges and insignia, and is a useful introduction to the subject.
Rank at a Glance in the Army & Navy (c.1917) This fascinating 49-page Guide explains the origin and history of British Army and Navy badges and uniforms. The Guide also looks at "Rank and what it means." and "Regiments and their mottoes." There are also over 300 illustrations of badges, rank indicators, proficiency badges and insignia -  all useful clues in identifying a soldier - and in full colour too.
Here is a preview of the contents page and index
 Price £1.99

Item code: M - 016      
The Pattern 1908 Web Infantry Equipment.(1911) eBook
The Pattern 1908 Web Infantry Equipment.(1911) 

This informative 17-page eBook contains detailed text and illustrations featuring The Pattern 1908 Web  Infantry Equipment.

Price £1.99

Item Code: M - 037

The war-time 49-page "Rank at a Glance in the Army and Navy." guide to badges, rank indicators, proficiency badges and insignia, is a useful introduction to the subject.

Below is an example of the type of information that you can glean from a Great War photo-card using a reference guide such as the one offered above.

The group depicted on the ww1 photograph shown below are members of a field ambulance unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

A Field Ambulance Unit ww1 postcard

A Field Ambulance Unit

What was a field Ambulance unit? The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) crossed to France between the 9th and 17th August 1914, and consisted of about 90,000 men. By the 20th it had completed its concentration near Maubeuge and started its march towards the Belgian frontier. French people shouted and cheered and waved small Union Jacks, as the BEF marched though towns and villages on its way north-east.

With the BEF were field ambulance units of the  Royal Army Medical Corps. A Field Ambulance (FA) consisted of ten officers and 224 other ranks including several Army Service Corps personnel. A field ambulance column comprised of ambulance wagons, water-carts and forage-carts for carrying medical stores, a cook’s wagon, and GS wagons for stores and baggage, and 52 riding and draught horses. In addition, a soldier on a  bicycle carried orders and messages within the unit. Each field ambulance was divided into three sections, designated ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’, and there was also a Bearer Division and a Tent Division. In battle conditions the tent division formed a main dressing station, at the same time, men from the bearer division brought in the wounded from front-line Regimental Aid Posts (RAP). During a big offensive, field ambulance units formed a chain of medical posts between the aid-posts and Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS).

Kitchener’s Men

On 6th August 1914, Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War. On the same day, Mr Asquith asked the House of Commons “to sanction an increase of the army by 500,000 men”.  

Day after day, recruiting posters and advertisements appeared and as a surge of patriotism swept the country, the recruits came forward. On 25th August, Kitchener informed the House of Lords that the first 100,000 were “already practically secured.”

On 28th August, (while the regular British Army was involved in fighting as it retreated from Mons) Kitchener launched a second appeal for ”another 100,000 men”. The response was again dramatic. On one day alone over 35,000 men enlisted. And the recruiting posters continued appearing.

Numerous posters and advertisements appeared encouragiing men to join Kitchener's New Army. The call for men was unrelenting. It must have seemed that Kitchener's pointing finger was everywhere.
At first, many of the eager recruits spent several months without proper uniforms or weapons and spent their time in civilian clothes or a cheap blue uniform and a piece of shaped timber pretending to be a rifle. Even though many of these men were still not in khaki, nevertheless, they wanted to have a photograph to send home as a record of their commitment to 'King and Country'.

The collector may find cards depicting groups of these young men (and sometimes not so young) posing in a local studio or outside their tents on some bleak camp or common, some still in civilian clothes or wearing a cheap blue-serge uniform with no pockets and a side cap and known among other terms as “Kitchener Blues”. Such a ww1 photographic postcard is illustrated below.

This ww1 postcard  depicts a group of 'Kitchener's Volunteers.'
Back of Kitcheners' volunteers postcard
The above card postmarked 23rd November 1914, 'Tidworth Barracks, Andover,' depicts a group of 'Kitchener's Volunteers.' It carries a message on the back from 'Fred' to his sister 'Ruth.' in Coventry. "Just a few lines to let you no [sic] how I am going on alright. But the mud in camp is a good way over shoe tops. We thinking of being Billeted at Torquay anyday so dont send. This is a photo of some of the clothes that we have been given us till the khaki is ready."
Kitcheners New Army. ww1 postcard
ww1 postcard Kitcheners New Army.

 Left:  This photographic card carried no details of the group pictured on it or their location - other than the year '1914', written in pencil on the reverse. However, it is probably safe to assume that they are recruits to Kitcheners New Army. All the men in the picture, except the 'bugler', have rifles and only one has some resemblance of a uniform. There are twelve men on parade and the bell tent behind them would have been their sleeping quarters.The recruits would have lain like the spokes of a bicycle, on a circular wooden board with their feet almost touching in the centre.  Right:  These men were in a better position than those depicted on the card on the left - at least their accommodation was more substantial. More then half of the men were still in civilian clothes, although some were in possession of 'military' items including rifles. This real photographic card bears proof of the shortage of khaki uniforms - due to the massive surge of men who responded to Kitchener's call.

Studio Backgrounds and Props

The most common background found on soldiers’ ww1 photographic postcards was a plain sheet or a simple drape. Other backdrops were painted canvases which varied from simple moonlight or romantic effects, to woodland scenes with perhaps a long winding road disappearing over the horizon. However, there were some quite elaborate backdrops too. One for example was an skillfully painted English cottage sitting in a large flower‑filled garden; the soldier had positioned himself directly in front of the cottage porch and the the result was quite realistic. Another backdrop was an array of drapes, tapestries and intricate fretwork screens. Below are three typical 'woodland' studio backdrops.

postcard of a member  the Royal Regiment of Artillery.
Studio postrait of ww1 soldier
ww1 postcard depicts a member of the Machine Gun Corps.

Left:   Card by 'Leslie, Lion Arcade, Huddersfield.' This Lance-Corporal was a member  the Royal Regiment of Artillery. The bandolier across his chest indicates horses. Above his stripe is a 'Saddler' proficiency badge Right:  This card does not name the studio in which it was taken. The portrait depicts a member of the Machine Gun Corps. On his left upper sleeve is a badge of an Armourer or Machinery Artificer and Smith.

A popular backdrop scene sometimes found on soldiers ww1 photographs depicted an army bell-tent or even a row of them to pose in front of. In 1916, an enterprising studio proprioter, Hugh Penfold, introduced an interesting and reasonably accurate backcloth that featured a new invention. It portrayed a new battlefield machine ‑ the Tank.

ww1 soldier postcard and detailed backdrop of the  deck of a ship.
ww1 postcard of soldier and tents in background
ww1 postcard of soldier and tank backdrop
Left: A fine and detailed backdrop of the  deck of a ship. However, there are no studio details on the reverse of this card. Neither are there any clues that indicate anything about the soldier - unlike the next card!  Centre: Postcard by 'M Bennett, Bulford Camp Studio, Salisbury Plain.'This soldiers cap badge and upper sleeve patches tell us he was a member of the Royal Army Medical CorpsRight: Card by 'Hugh Penfold, 100 High Street, Ashford, kent.' This soldier was a member of the Machine Gun Corps. The studio backdrop would probably have been a firm favorite with tank crew' members and soldiers from the machine‑gun corps - from which many crew members came. Because of the 'tank' backdrop the card has to be 1916 or later.
It was not only ‘other ranks’ who posed for the camera, officers too, wanted their picture taken and their real-photo postcards were frequently of better quality than those taken of 'rank and file' members. Below are three ww1 photographic cards depicting second lieutenants -  each from a different regiment. Their cap and lapel insignia are crisp and clear making their regiments easily identifiable.
Left: This officer was in the Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment.) Centre:  Photo-card by 'J. Campbell Harper. 132 Leith Walk, Leith.'  This man was an officer in the Machine Gun Corps. A message on the back of the card reads, "With best wishes, Wm. J. Beaton, May 1917."  Right:  This man was a member of the Royal Regiment of Artillery.
Below is another ww1 photographic card depicting a second Lieutenant. His name is not given. However, he was obviously known to the person who annotated the back of the card.
"16th Manchesters (30th Div.) Missing." Although the writer did not name the young soldier, he did speculate on his possible fate at Delville Wood in 1916.
Some real photographic postcards that were produced during the conflict as single cards, frequently have interesting details or even a story behind the image.  Here are some examples.
Rats in the Flour-mill
During the Great War, troops in the front line had to endure many discomforts besides the danger of shell-fire and the sniper’s bullet. In the trenches, vermin were a constant irritation. The soldiers’ loathing of lice was only second to his hatred of rats. Surrounded by discarded scraps of food and corpses, the rat population increased with amazing speed. Men spoke of trenches and dug-outs which were plagued with ‘rats as big as cats’. In the interests of health, regular 'rat hunts’ often became an essential past-time for troops.
The rat was sometimes difficult to drive out from its place of hiding, but the fumes from a few lighted sticks of cordite would often be enough to dislodge the most determined rodent. However, this dangerous practice was stopped after several cordite sticks were put down a rat hole and detonated an unexploded German mine. Twenty soldiers were injured.

It was not only the front-line trenches which were plagued with vermin. In France in 1915 for instance, near the village of Meaulte, Private Donald Hodge of the 7th Battalion, Royal West Kents, was on guard duty at Brigade Headquarters. The HQ building was a large house located next to a bridge and behind the HQ was a flour-mill where the staff were billeted. Private Hodge said, “Our chief enemy was the rats from the flour-mill”.

One day with the co-operation of the mill owner, “The signalers, grooms and off-duty guards decided to have a try to reduce the rat numbers”. The creatures were located under a pile of logs, “and so” said Hodge, “we unearthed them gradually, smiting them hip and thigh, until we had totted up 97”.

After an official inspection the carcasses were gathered up and buried and as far as the men were concerned that was the end of the matter. However, the following day, “…the divisional CO turned up…and we had to dig the bodies up again for verification” said Private Hodge.

The mill-owner produced a camera and placing his children in front of the ‘ratters’ and their ‘kill’, he took a souvenir photograph of the scene. The resulting picture was made into postcards and distributed among the group. At least three of the cards are known to have survived and one of them is shown above. Written in pencil on the back of it are the words, ‘Meaulte 1915’.

"They Shall Not pass"

ww1 postcard

"They Shall Not Pass" says the caption on this photo-card. The men are at an unknown army camp and although they are 'play-acting' for the camera, one at least (but probably all) has already seen action. The corporal on the ground has two wound stripes on his right lower sleeve.

Written on the back of the card is this:

"Taken just outside my hut. Don't you think it is rather a good make up."

The writer then goes on to identify the 'actors'.

Corporal Wilks - Bayonet fixed.

Corporal Lawrence - Wounded,

Corporal Cottenham - Tying the handkerchief round Lawrence's forehead.

The steel helmets date the card to 1916 or later.

    Was this Terrier a 'Ratter'?

ww1 postcard Was this Terrier a 'Ratter'?

 The Volunteer Training Corps

After war had been declared in August 1914, there was an immediate demand to find a way for those men who were over military age - but still wanted to 'do their bit' for King and Country. Combined with the perceived risk of a German invasion, this resulted in the almost spontaneous formation of non-official volunteer defense associations around the country.
By September 1914, a central committee had been formed and on 19th November, a  Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps was recognised by the War Office. Units had to be financially self-supporting and members had to provide their own uniforms, which could not be khaki. Lovat green was recommended. All members were required to wear a red arm band, bearing the letters "GR" for ‘Georgius Rex.’ No weapons or equipment were provided.  Membership of the Corps was open only to those who had "genuine reasons" for not enlisting in the regular armed forces.

Left is a member of the Volunteer Training Corps. (V.T.C.)

Below is a member of the volunteer Training Corps.
ww1 postcard showing a member of the volunteer Training Corps.
Postcard by 'Garrison & Deakin,
Artist Photographer, 14 St.
 George Gate. Doncaster.'

Each local or regional branch of the V.T.C. had its own design of cap badge. The one on this soldier is indistinct however, an example of a corps cap badge is illustrated on the left and was that of the Barrow and North Lonsdale V.T.C.

Each member of the corps wore an armband with the initials 'GR', on his left upper sleeve.

This man also had a 'Marksman' insignia on his right lower sleeve.

In August 1916, the War Office decided to include the V.T.C. Battalions into the County Infantry Regiment system and they became numbered "Volunteer" battalions of their local regiment.

During 1917, members were given rifles and machine guns and were tasked with roles such as line of communication defense and forming the garrison of major towns; 42 battalions were to defend London. Volunteers undertook a wide range of other tasks including; guarding vulnerable points, munitions handling, digging anti-invasion defense lines and transport for wounded soldiers.

The style of uniforms worn by the volunteers seems to have been varied as seen by the photographic postcards shown below

Men of the Volunteer Training Corps. Left: this card was produced by 'SEAMAN'S STUDIOS, 44 Prospect Street, 89 Holderness Rd., Hull, & 43 Toll Gavel, Beverley.'  Centre: This card was produced by photographer 'S. H. Greenway of Northampton and Daventry.'  Right: Although not wearing a ' G.R.' armband this man is possibly a member of the V.T.C. also.
ww1 VTC cartoon postcard
In 1918, 13,000 Volunteers undertook three-month coast defense duties in East Anglia. The force was sometimes ridiculed by the public; there were jokes that the initials "GR" on their armbands stood for "George's Wrecks", "Grandpa's Regiment", "Genuine Relics", "Gorgious Wrecks" or "Government Rejects". Nevertheless, by February 1918, the corps boasted 285,000 members. Photographic postcards of V.T.C. members are not common.

This comic postcard making fun of a member of the V.T.C. was from Bamforths "TOPICAL KID" Series and was number 214. It was posted to Devon on 5th March 1916.

As well as single portrait studies, ww1 photographs depicting groups of soldiers are quite common. Those taken at the end of basic training can often be interesting, particularly if they show members of a specialist army unit. For example, a card may show machine-gunners or bandsmen or perhaps bridge builders and often their weapons, musical instruments and bridging equipment are in evidence. Cards depicting soldiers taking part in parades, on route marches and in training can often be of interest too.

Army Bridge Builders

ww1 postcard showing  various types of timber bridges
Two types of military bridges postcard

Left:  Card by 'J. Clark, Artist, Photographer and Picture Fame Maker, 13 High Street, Brecon.' A group of officers and men pose outside a School of Instruction along with classroom models of the various  types of timber bridges they construct. Right:  There are no photographer's details on the back of this card which depicts a unit of Royal Engineers in their work-a-day uniforms constructing two types of pontoon bridge. The one in the background is being constructed on a number of small boats, while the construction in the foreground is lashed with rope to floating barrels.

                                           Cavalry Units

Cavalry units were intended to be deployed on the battlefield in an exploitational role, charging through gaps in the line opened by the infantry.  Despite waiting for the opportunity, the role was never realised. During the early part of the conflict, cavalry units had engaged as the two sides "Raced to the sea". But as the conflict turned to one of stalemate and trench warfare, cavalry units were withdrawn behind the lines to await their chance again. It never came. Just as ww1 photographic postcards of infantry soldiers are easy to find - so too are those of mounted troops.
Left: The basic weapons of the cavalry man were the .303 Lee Enfield rifle, the SMLE Mark 1 and the traditional cavalry weapons - the lance and sword - which were retained. The sword was the 1908 pattern cavalry sword Mark 1. Right: This man carries his rifle in a 'bucket' while the soldier on the card on the left carries his in a scabbard. The horses tack consisted of a bridle and around its neck a tethering rope for tying it up at night or at stand down. A blanket was worn under the saddle and a feed bag or meal sack was also carried. The troopers' greatcoat and bed roll was placed over the front of the saddle and a mess tin and a haversack completed his kit.
ww1 postcard cavalry
Cavalry ww1 postcard
ww1 postcard cavalryman

As the conflict settled down to trench warfare, many cavalry units were forced to dismount. Major Reg Hancock, a veterinary officer, said that in 1915, he "ran across [one of my friends] trotting by the mess with a troop of the 10th Hussars. They had been patiently waiting for the breakthrough that never came. For the next three years I ran up against them from time to time, still waiting, still doing spells in the trenches now and then, but progressively realizing that the cavalryman and his horse were not fitted for the warfare of the twentieth century."

 The Derby Scheme

It was not only members of the armed forces who were given markers to identify them, civilians too wore badges, insignia or armbands to indicate the war work they were engaged on or had given an undertaking to do so - in the near future. One such undertaking was The Derby Scheme.
Derby man ww1 postcard
Derby armband

The Derby Scheme was a British voluntary recruitment initiative started in 1915 by Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby. The concept behind the scheme was that men who voluntarily registered their name would be called upon for service only when necessary. Married men had an added incentive in that they were advised they would be called up only once the supply of single men was exhausted.

Again, like many others who volunteered to do their duty for 'King and Country', the Derby Men wanted a photo postcard to keep as a record of their commitment and the one on the left was a typical example.

The Derby Scheme was also referred to as the "Group System" as men were classified in groups according to their year of birth and marital status and were to be called up with their group when it was required. Unfortunately, the scheme proved unsuccessful and was abandoned in December 1915, in spite of the fact that the execution of Edith Cavell by the Germans on 12th October 1915, was used in recruitment rallies by Lord Derby. It was superseded by the Military Service Act 1916, which introduced conscription.

One or two artist-drawn postcards appeared which encouraged men to join the Derby Scheme.
ww1 the armlet i like
ww1 armband
The card on the left was one of Donald MaGill's efforts to encourage men to join the Derby Scheme. The card was mailed on 26th June 1916 and was number 1450 in the Inter-Art "COMIQUE" Series. The card on the right by Fred Spurgin, was his contribution to promote the Derby Scheme.

Two hundred and fifteen thousand men enlisted while the scheme was operational and another 185,000 attested for later enlistment. However, 38% of single men and 54% of married men who were not in 'starred' occupations failed to come forward.

Soldiers Portraits from the Western Front

An army dispatch rider ww1 postcard
An army dispatch rider waits outside a French photo shop, perhaps waiting to pick up a postcard order. It can be seen that British soldiers were billeted there. A notice on the left of the door reads, "BILLET No. 6 MEN,"  On the back of the card is this: "Jerrie. Sept. 1st. 1916."
It was not only in the United Kingdom that British soldiers had the opportunity to have their photograph taken and transformed into a personal postcard. In France too, wherever British and Empire soldiers were based or billeted, photographic studios quickly sprang up. Sometimes, as in the U.K., it was a fully equipped studio/shop, but more often it was simply a back street with a cloth or drape thrown over a wall and perhaps a chair or a potted-plant as a prop.

On the obverse of most ww1 photo cards will be a clue to whether the card originated in the U.K. or France and Flanders. The former will carry the legend ‘Postcardand if it originated on the Continent it will say ‘Carte Postale’.
ww1 motorbike postcard


ww1 same location


ww1 postcard These two soldiers wear the cap badge of the Coldstream Guards
ww1 postcard this man wears a sheep-skin jacket
ww1 postcard  Regimental Stretcher Bearer
Left: These two soldiers wear the cap badge of the Coldstream Guards. They are wearing the soft service cap issued after 1914 and known as the 'Trench cap' or 'Gor' blimey'  - in recognition of its shapeless form. They both appear to be wearing the 1915 'economy jacket' which had no pleated breast pockets.The man seated on the left, is wearing boots which Incorporated a gaiter with a laced front.  Right: "Somewhere in France" proclaims the notice at the bottom of the pot-stand. This soldier wears an armband bearing the initials 'SB' which stand for ''Stretcher Bearer'. As he is not wearing a circular Red Cross patch on his upper sleeves and his cap badge - although indistinct - does not look like the badge of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), he is most likely to be a Regimental Stretcher Bearer. Those most at risk during the evacuation of wounded from the immediate battle zone - were Regimental Stretcher Bearers (RSB). A regimental bearer was not a RAMC man, but a battalion man, usually a bandsman or pioneer and sometimes a Quaker or even a conscientious objector, who unarmed, and with great courage, followed the infantry into battle and was often known to some of the men personally. The uniform of a regimental bearer was the standard khaki field service uniform and the only thing which identified him from an infantryman was a white armband bearing a red cross or the letters ‘SB’.

Photo Cards of Women Engaged in War Work

Less common than the categories already mentioned, are ww1 photographic postcards of individuals and groups from women’s army units and the woman's Land Army. However, real photo-cards of nurses - both army and civilian - are still around in good numbers and cards depicting groups of convalescent soldiers in their blue hospital uniform - often accompanied by the nurses who looked after them - are quite common too.

WAAC Badge

 Women's Army Auxiliary Corps 

In 1916, an acute manpower shortage in the Army, forced the government to think of the possibility of putting women into uniform. It had estimated that up to 12,000 men serving in the back areas could be sent into the line and their places taken by females. In late 1916, a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was established.
Recruiting for the corps began in March 1917, and as large numbers of women volunteered, posters appeared naming some of the jobs they could choose from.
ww1 WAAC posters
The uniform for the rank and file - or ‘members’ as they were officially known - consisted of a gabardine coat frock with a brown collar, brown shoes, stockings, gaiters and an army greatcoat, a round broad-rimmed felt hat completed the uniform. Senior women - or ‘officials’ - also wore a felt hat, and a military-style jacket, full skirt, shirt and tie and a greatcoat. On the front of the hat all personnel wore a corps badge - bearing the letters WAAC -  bronze for officials and gilding-metal for members. A soft peaked cap was used for overseas service and additional uniforms was issued to members who carried out some specialist duties - like drivers for instance.
postcard 4 members of the WAAQC
ww1 postcard a member of the WAAC
Member of the WAAC ww1 postcard
Left:  These women wear a two-tone armband which was white and blue indicating that they were probably engaged on signals work. Centre:  This card shows the basic uniform of a typical  'member'.  Right: This woman, although not displaying the WAAC badge, is wearing a soft peaked cap worn by members on overseas service. She could be a motor ambulance or lorry driver.
ww1 postcard group of WAACs

The Women's Land Army

In 1916, the German U-boat campaign against merchant shipping and the disappearance of large numbers of agricultural workers to the Front, led to a serious problem with Britain’s food supply. In the autumn of 1916, country women in 24 localities in the UK formed Women’s Institute groups to help the war effort by engaging in poultry-keeping, fruit-preserving and vegetable growing. (By 1918 there were 760 such groups). But in 1916, the need to produce more home grown food was urgent, and had to be tackled on a much larger scale.

In January 1917, the Minister of Agriculture started to recruit a Women’s Land Army (WLA). The volunteers served in one of three sections - Agriculture, Timber-cutting and Forage. To enroll in the ‘agriculture’ section, recruits signed on for six months and their work involved tending sheep, ploughing, helping with the harvest, potato-picking or working on market gardens. The contract period for ‘timber-cutting’ was also six months. Work in the ‘Forage’ section consisted of providing fodder for army horses and was closely associated with home army camps. The contract period was a minimum of 12 months - and the rules of employment were strict. A number of posters soon appeared which encouraged women to join the Land Army. Three of them are illustrated below.
Land Army posters
One girl involved in forage work in Gloucester went "absent from work without leave," and was sentenced to 14 days hard labour. Some recruits did part-time work and lived at home, others went wherever they were needed - but not overseas.
A studio portrait of a land girl ww1
ww1 A studio portrait of a land girl
ww1 postcard A studio portrait of a land girl
Left:  A studio portrait of a land girl by an unnamed photographer. The land girls uniform was free and consisted of a smock, breeches, boots, leggings, jersey, mackintosh and a hat. Her pay was 18/- or more a week, whereas before the war a male agricultural worker got 14/-. The girls spent six weeks training at an agricultural centre or farm and then joined their ‘section’. Centre:  A studio portrait of an unnamed Land Army girl. Each member of the WLA received a handbook which carried this message, "You are doing a man’s work and so you’re dressed rather like a man, but remember just because you wear a smock and breeches you should take care to behave like a British girl who expects chivalry and respect from everyone she meets." Right:  Card by 'T. B. Larchmore, Photographer, Hitchin, Surrey.' From the start the press and postcard publishers treated the land girl and her uniform with kind amusement. It was usually her breeches which caused the most comment. "Is this the way to Wareham?", asked the land girl, to which the reply came, "Well they look alright to me Missy."
ww1 three land army cards
ww1 postcard group of Land Girls

 A group of land girls about to set out for work.  Those wearing a lighter uniform were dairy workers and a darker uniform would usually indicate a land worker. The photographer and location are unknown.

 Women in Munitions

In May 1915, a shortage of shells on the Western Front led to the setting up of the Ministry of Munitions. At its head was Lloyd George, who asked Mrs Pankhurst to recruit as many women as possible for munitions work. In London on 17th July - with a Government grant of £2,000 - she staged a huge publicity procession over two miles long. It included 90 bands, uniformed contingents of women including nurses and other war workers and 400 young women "dressed in white and carrying crooks with red roses." 

Also there, were women who had registered for war work - but not yet doing it. There were office and shop girls, soldiers wives ‘out for a jaunt’, all of them "fell in behind the banners and bands and sang the popular war-songs, 'Tipperary' and all the rest."   It was proof, said Sylvia Pankhurst, of the "enthusiasm of women for the national cause." The procession wound its way through the streets until it reached the Embankment. There, Lloyd George delivered a speech to 60,000 people and the publicity gained that day had a "great effect on recruiting women for munitions work."

Few photographic cards seem to exist that show the munitions girls at work. Nevertheless, local photographers visited the factory's and snapped the workers in both single and group studies. A room was frequently provided for this, but occasionally the girls (and sometimes male workers) would be photographed outdoors instead.
ww1 postcard group of munitions girls

A group of munitions girls pose for the camera at an unnamed location. A message on the back of the card reads, "A group of munitions tabbies, who work in a factory not far away from the hospital. Some girls eh?"

By 1917, 700,000 women were employed in the industry and the Munitions Minister told the House of Commons that "between sixty and eighty per cent of all machine work of shells, fuses and trench warfare supplies were carried out by women." Mr F. Kelloway, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Munitions, went even further in his praise of them, he said that without the services of the women "the Germans would by now have won the war."

Real photographic and artist-drawn postcards were produced which depicted those who worked in munitions and their work was sometimes displayed with them too.  
ww1 postcard two munitions girls
ww1 postcard munitions girl
ww1 postcard three munitions girls
Left: This card featuring two munitions girls was produced by "The Tasma Studios, 99 Wellington Street, Woolwich." The girls are wearing what appears to have been the shiney fire-resistant one piece coat sometimes worn by munitions workers. Centre: The card was "Produced & Published by E.W. SAVORY Ltd. BRISTOL."  Dorothy in Coventry sent it to Betty in Devon - on 13th November 1917. The card was commercially produced in thousands and hand coloured with little care been taken. Right: Three munitions girls posing for a photographer at "Taylor Brothers Swanswell Studio, 20 Primrose Hill Street, Coventry."

The so-called female 'munitionettes' earned good money, although they worked hard for it and for the "first time, women in industry were getting breadwinners wages - enough money to support themselves wholly, and enough for someone else". For example, projectile girls could earn £3-4/-2d a week which was five times higher than the wage they had been used to before the war - enough to buy a favorite meal everyday if they wished at the works canteen. A popular dish was ‘two Zepps in a cloud’ - sausages and mash, which cost them less than three pence.
ww1 postcard munitions girls and men
ww1 postcard men and munitions girls
Another photographic postcard taken by the photographer from 'TASMA STUDIOS, 99 Wellington Street, Woolwich.' on his visit to the Arsenal. The women are wearing several different styles of uniform.
ww1 postcard munitions workers
This ww1 photograph - by 'Heawood, Leicester, Hanckley & Melton Mowbray,' - depicts workers at a munitions factory. The location is unknown. The women are wearing the tri-angular 'ON WAR SERVICE' badge and the men, the '1915' on war service badge. Between them, the women wear four different styles of uniform - perhaps indicating the different departments in which they worked. Some wear 'mop-caps' and some do not. Some of their work is proudly displayed in the foreground.

British Army Nurses

Army nurse postcard ww1
World War 1 army nurses are usually well represented in dealers stocks of WW1 postcards. At the beginning of hostilities there were just under 300 army nurses - members of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) - available to look after the wounded. In the reserve, 200 more were ready to be called up at 24 hours notice and a further 600 trained nurses were on standby in civilian hospitals. In addition, nearly 9,000 trained and part-trained nurses belonging to the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) were detailed to serve under and with the QAIMNS's.

The QAIMNS nurses - commonly known as QA's - were a unit of the British Army. The corps was first recognized as an arm of the forces, though it existed for some years previously, when in came into being by Special Warrant in March 1902. Members ranked with officers, and were required to be of "high social and educational standing", and to have completed at least three years training in a civil hospital.

The force consisted of a Matron-in-Chief, two Principal Matrons, 27 Matrons, 50 Sisters and 150 Staff Nurses, who had ample opportunity to travel abroad to wherever British troops were serving. Its royal patronage and social standing made the service an attractive occupation for women and members were easily recognized by their distinctive scarlet capes. In 1908, - to meet the needs of the new Territorial Army - another unit, the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) was created.

ww1 postcard convelesents and nurses

 Produced by the BROMO STUDIOS of Cheapside, Reading, this ww1 photographic postcard depicts members of the Army Nursing Corps, including a sister and five staff  nurses. Also in the group are Red Cross and St. John VAD helpers and convalescent soldiers in their blue hospital uniforms. The soldiers in khaki are probably orderlies. In the background more convalescent soldiers look on.

When the war started, QA's were still wearing the familiar short scarlet cape, "with its stiff Alexandra rose at the back between the shoulder blades". It was said, "the rose was there to prevent Sisters falling asleep on night duty", and the cape had been designed "to keep the sisters warm and the officers cool". Members of the QA Reserve wore a short grey cape with a scarlet border and a scarlet rose at the back. The cape of the TFNS nurses was a blue-grey with a scarlet border. A ankle-length grey dress and a white apron with a square bib completed the QA's uniform.  
ww1 army nurses
Three postcards of QA nurses. The card on the left depicts an army nurse wearing the badge of the Territorial Army Nursing Service and a badge in the form of the letter 'T'. The photographic card in the centre depicts three army nurses - each wearing a different official badge, indicating which section of the army nursing service they belonged to. The sister on the left was a member of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service. The nurse in the center position served with the Territorial Army Nursing Service.The nurse on the right was a member of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve.
When the British Expeditionary Force landed in France in August in 1914, the First General Hospital staffed by QA's were with it. 
Voluntary Aid Detachments

In 1909, a Secretary of State ordered the establishment of a new organization, it was the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). In 1911, responsibility for the VAD passed to the British Red Cross Society. The object of the VAD organisation was to provide an outlet for, "those members of the civil population, who, from motives of patriotism and sympathy for the sick and wounded and [were] desirous of offering their services for performance of various duties...in the event of war occurring in the home territory."

 By January 1914, the British Red Cross had raised and registered with the War Office, 1,903 detachments, comprising  of 55,156 men and women. In the event of war the women’s duties would consist of staffing: "complete hospitals...offered by private individuals; attending to patients in certain beds set aside for the reception of military cases; and staffing private houses [which would be] transferred into hospital establishments".

In August 1914, as the BEF was preparing to cross to France, the St. John Ambulance Brigade decided to pool its resources and medical staff with the British Red Cross Society and together they became known as the Joint War Committee (JWC).

ww1 St John Ambulance Brigade nurses
Three postcards of St John Ambulance Brigade nurses. Left: This ww1 photographic card was produced by W. J. Neville, The Pier Studio, Felixstowe.
ww1 Red Cross nurses
Three postcards of Red Cross nurses. Centre: Printed on the back of this card is 'Photo by Hamilton, Staple Hill.' The male Red Cross worker has written this on the reverse, "Nurse, Black-House,  Mangatesfield, Near Bristol, England." and "Another Sister of 'Cleave Hill' Hospital, She writes to me at times. 7.5.18." Right: This card was by A. Renaie, Donald's Court, 16 Schoolhill, Aberdeen.
In a uniform of a long blue cotton dress and white apron emblazoned with her organizations emblem, the Red Cross nurse and the St. John nurse (whose uniform was a grey cotton dress, a plain white apron and an armband with the brigade emblem on it.) became familiar figures during the war. Many artist-drawn postcards sang their praises, and many more real photographic cards recorded their dedication in caring for the wounded.
On Thursday 13th October 1914, as casualties mounted on the Western Front and military hospitals in the U.K. struggled to cope with the vast numbers of wounded arriving each day, a telegram was dispatched from VAD HQ to detachment commanders, "Mobilize all your hospitals at once. Notify names of places, stations and numbers of beds available at each, to Transport Offices, Folkstone Harbour. Large numbers of wounded arrive tonight."

Ninety-six detachments were mobilized and in addition to hospitals, "church and village halls, chapel schoolrooms and empty dwelling-houses, all somewhat desolate-looking in the dawn hours, were transformed into cheery, warm, and comfortable wards". Just before noon the following day, 3,000 wounded British and Belgian soldiers "were in bed in the hospital mobilized and prepared by the Voluntary Aid Detachments". A feat which was recorded in 1915, as being "a unique record in speed and efficiency". 

ww1 postcard of  Red Cross and St. John Ambulance Brigade V.A.D. nurses
The image on this ww1 real-photographic postcard was taken during Christmas 1914. It shows evacuated wounded Belgian soldiers being cared for by Red Cross and St. John Ambulance Brigade VAD nurses at a Red Cross hospital in England. The men are dressed in a variety of attire. Some are wearing Belgian Army uniform, others are dressed in civilian clothes and yet others are wearing a mixture of both. The card had been sent through the mail and the message on the back reads, "Wishing you all as happy Christmas as possible in the circumstances. These are the three shifts of nurses & the soldiers minus the ones too ill to be there. The two redheads and Dr. Crawford & Ernest Peron have become heroes in the way they have worked".
VAD nurses often worked alongside regular trained nurses in hospitals in the UK and in France, and as already mentioned, alongside army nurses in various military hospitals up and down the country. At first, the VADs were resented by the professionals who looked upon them as amateurs, (which many of them were) but soon their worth became appreciated, not just by the wounded, but by civilian and army nurses too.

ww1 photographic postcards can be found depicting nurses from these organizations and occasionally one will turn up showing a nurses from all three.  

ww1 postcard  From left to right the nurses are Red Cross, Army, and St. John Ambulance Brigade.

This picture was taken at Craigleath. The notice on the wall says ‘RULES for Patients as to smoking etc.’ From left to right are Red Cross, Army, and St. John Ambulance Brigade nurses.

ww1 postcard depicts Red Cross V.A.D. nurses and soldiers

 The ww1 photograph depicts Red Cross VAD nurses and soldiers who had suffered injuries to their arms. Three Red Cross male helpers are also in attendance. The notice behind the group reads ‘NORFOLK. No.54., WBK. VAD.’

Turning Black and White Photo-cards into Colour

Although real photographic cards were developed in the darkroom as sepia toned or black and white images, occasionally attempts were made to give a ww1 photographic card a more interesting and 'natural' look by applying colour to it. If you find such a card that has been 'improved' in this way, the quality of the colouring and the appearance of the finished product will often be poor. But not always.
ww1 postcard colourised
ww1 postcard colourised from black and white
colourised black and white postcard the 'colourer' has made a neat job
Left:  The tones on this card were quite dark. Softer or mellow tones were much better to lay colour over. Centre:  Two convalescent soldiers wearing the hospital uniform of blue suit, white shirt and red tie, Blue paint has run off the edge of the uniform jacket of the man on the left. Right: On this card, dated  9th June 1916, the 'colourer' has made a neat job and attempted to make the back cloth and uniforms look as realistic as possible, but did not finish the work on the right hand side of the card.
ww1 postcard which has been has been hand coloured was a good effort
This original sepia or black and white card which has been hand coloured was a good effort - the colours are quite subtle and care was taken by the 'colourer' when he/she applied them.
ww1 colourised postcard photo
On the back of this hand coloured real photographic card is written "Sept./1918" . The colourer has given the soldier in the centre of the group - blue fingernails. But really, not to bad an effort.

Ambulance Transport

The collector of WW1 photographic postcards should be able to find cards depicting both horse-drawn and motor ambulances, similar to those illustrated below.

ww1 horse ambulance postcard

This card depicts a Mark V horse ambulance wagon. It was introduced into the British Army in the 1880s and was built at a cost of £136 and accommodated 12 sitting or four stretcher cases.

During the first weeks of the war, there were no motor-ambulances available for the army medical services in France and Belgium and the only means of transporting the sick and wounded from the battle areas was by horse-drawn ambulance wagons and a few commandeered motor-lorries.

Ambulance-wagons Mark V and Mark VI were the ones in use at the time and a smaller version - the Mark I light ambulance wagon - was also available. These three types of medical transport were pulled by two - but sometimes four - draught horses and were used during the retreat from Mons and up to the battle of the Aisne in mid-September 1914.

ww1 ambulance postcard
On 12th September 1914, Lord Kitchener informed the British Red Cross Society that, "I see no objection to parties with Motor Ambulances searching villages in France that are not in occupation of the Germans,  for  wounded,  and  to  obtain  particulars  of  the  missing  and  convey them to hospital".

On 16th September the first 50 motor-ambulances arrived on the Western Front and gradually replaced the horse wagons, although a number of the latter were retained for use over rough ground where it was impossible for motor transport to go and proved invaluable during the Somme offensive in 1916, when roads were broken by shell-fire or impassable due to the mud.

Again in April 1918, when there was a shortage of petrol, the horse-ambulance came into its own again.

Tanks in the Great War

ww1 photographs of tanks that show the machine going into action and others depicting its destruction can also be found as photographic postcards as depicted below and here.
postcard moving tanks
These tanks and their crews are probably waiting for transport to a railhead near the Front. There are no publisher's details on the reverse of the card.
ww1 postcard damaged tank

 This card of tanks - one with a broken track - was not of British origin but German. There are no publishers details on the reverse, but simply the number '137' on the front.

Army Motor Vehicles

Army vehicle ww1
ww1 postcard british army vehicle

Machine and Lewis Gunners

Units belonging to the Machine Gun Corps were photographed by professional civilian photographers who visited the training camps on a regular basis.

Military Musicians

ww1 postcard British military band
postcard British military band pow camp

Left: This ww1 photograph was taken by 'M. A. Kirkpatrick.' photographer. Right:  British N.C.O.s Orchestra Minden 1917. On the back of this card is written the following "8742 Sgt. E. J. Laird, 1st Scottish Rifles, Block 2. Poy 3, Minden, Westf." There is also a PoW camp censor mark.

Prisoners of War

Seeking out ww1 photographs of prisoners of war and scenes of PoW camps in both Germany and Britain can also be worthwhile.

ww1 postcard marching British pows
British pows postcard
Left: Marching into captivity. There are no details on the back of the card of either the photographer or publisher. However, in the bottom left corner of the card is the word 'Lille' and it is probable the photographer was a local man from there. German soldiers escort French and Scottish prisoners through the ruins of the town.  Right:  A group of British officers and men arriving at a German prisoner of war camp.

Looking at the Small Detail on a WW1 Photo-card

On some real photo cards the interest to the collector is often in the small detail. Today, it is a simple matter to scan a card into the computer at say, 300 dpi and then zoom-in to look at the detail. This is also a useful method for example, when looking at soldiers cap, rank and proficiency badges. It was used for picking out the detail displayed on the side of the hut on the card featured below.

Looking at the detail on a WW1 Photo-car

This photo card shows an anti-aircraft unit. Many of these units were placed around London from 1915 to protect the Capitol from attack by Zeppelins and later, warplanes. Men are seen playing croquet while others watch. One soldier stands on guard near the entrance to a wooden building which has on the side of it a number of illustrations of various Allied and enemy aircraft. 

Hospital Ships

ww1 photographs of British and Anzac hospital ships are also found on real-photo postcards, although more appear on printed-photo cards than real photographic.

ww1 postcard H.M.H.S. Garth Castle

H.M.H.S. Garth Castle Barclay, Curie & Co. of Glasgow built the Garth Castle in 1910. In 1915, the Royal Navy requisitioned the vessel as a supply ship and to move navy personnel to places such as the Royal Navy anchorage at Scapa Flow to join their ships. Garth Castle later became a hospital ship and was numbered ‘YA.2’. Her title was ‘Hospital ship to the fleet.’

ww1 postcard The Anchor-Donaldson Line built the Letitia in 1912
The Anchor-Donaldson Line built the Letitia in 1912. She went into medical service in November 1914, with a medical staff consisting of eight officers, 12 nurses and sisters, and 60 Royal Army medical Corps and St. John Ambulance Brigade personnel. There was accommodation for 38 wounded officers and 6 W.O.s. For other ranks, there were 161 cots and 344 berths. Letitia, carrying wounded Canadians from the fighting in France was lost on 1st August 1917, when sailing from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia, she attempted to enter the port there, but got her bearings wrong and ran aground just south of Portuguese Cove. A message on the back of this card reads,
"You remember me telling you about seeing one of our hospital ships that had tried to climb ashore...this is the photograph of her. Add it to the collection of pictures that I have collected, dear.
When years have passed and we are looking back from happier times than these are, it will be interesting."
The Consequence of War

The Wound Stripe

On 6th July 1916, ‘Army Order 249’ introduced a new ‘distinction in dress’ for both officers and men. Known as the ‘wound stripe’, it was a narrow strip of gold Russian braid two inches long and could be worn on the service jacket of any man who had been wounded after 4th August 1914.

To qualify for the award the wound had to be recorded on a War Office casualty list. (Perhaps it was no coincidence that five days before the announcement of the new award, the British Army launched its Somme offensive and suffered its worst defeat ever - by the end of the day 20,000 men were dead and 40,000 wounded.)

Officer casualties wore the stripe on the left sleeve above the cuff, other ranks had it sewn onto their left sleeve three inches from the bottom.

A stripe was issued for each additional wound a man received and was placed half an inch either side of the original one. Accidents, self-inflicted wounds and injuries resulting from shell-shock or gassing did not qualify as a wound.

 Disabled Soldiers

On arrival in England a battle casualty was sent either to a hospital specialising in his type of wound or to one of the numerous convalescent establishments scattered throughout the UK. There, he was issued with a special hospital uniform consisting of a blue single breasted-jacket with a white lining - worn open at the  neck, blue trousers, a white shirt and a red tie. To complete the outfit he wore his own khaki service cap with its regimental badge. The suit was also known as the 'blue invalid uniform', 'hospital suit' and 'hospital blues'. Usually it had no pockets.

Numerous ww1 photographs survive today which depict British soldiers wearing hospital uniforms.. High street photographers in the U.K. visited both military and civilian voluntary hospitals and snapped pictures of single and group gatherings of the convalescents there. The pictures were reproduced as postcards and each man would usually buy a few copies to send to friends and relatives.
postcard group of convelescent soldiers
A group of soldiers in hospital uniform. For them the war was over! The picture was taken in the grounds of a Manchester hospital. The photographer was a local man - John Porter.
ww1 postcard group of amputees
"Crippled Soldiers as Skilled Embroiderers..."

In November 1916, an article in the Daily Sketch carried this headline, “Netley Hospital: Crippled Soldiers as Skilled Embroiderers”.

The piece went on to tell how “the embroidery frame [at Netley Hospital] is not a mere tool of leisure, but a distraction from pain” and told how the “devices were wrought by the rough hands of fighting men – often maimed hands at that.”

Needlework at Netley Military Hospital had been “a recognized institution for many months now", said the paper, "and half Hampshire went the other day to see an exhibition of finished work in the handicrafts room behind the towering central building of that great house of pain." It was a preliminary exhibition, “for the work is all being brought to London to be sold on Friday at Mrs. Casalet’s house in Grosvenor-square.”

On this postcard Private Brand proudly poses with his display of embroidery work

On this ww1 photograph Private Brand proudly poses with his display of embroidery work which includes both a Dutch and a Japanese themed design, a regimental badge, a pillow case with a border of butterflies and a depiction of a peacock. A box of silk threads lies at his feet. There is also a notice displayed on the left, but is difficult to read. The name of the photographer and location are unknown

The type of embroidery exhibited by the men, ranged from regimental crests and cushions to slipper bags and trays. At the time of the Daily Sketch visit, a cushion was being worked by “a one-armed man, Private Everett of the South Wales Borderers…who had only three fingers on his remaining hand. He has to burn the ends of his silks with his cigarette, because he cannot use scissors.”

“The first thing a man wants to work” said the paper, “is his regimental crest. After that he turns to something pretty - a flower piece, or a dainty figure. There is no need to give out kindergarten work, for the men have… tackled petit point and Jacobean work quite successfully.”

The work the men were engaged on not only contributed towards their keep it was also therapeutic too. “Needlework and other crafts are not mere amusement for the wounded”, said the Sketch, they also “have a distinctive creative and mind healing effect.”

ww1 postcard convelescent soldiers
On the above real photographic card are displayed pin-cushions, cushion covers, flat pieces to frame and regimental badges. During the war and after, embroidery work was considered a useful therapeutic pastime for soldiers suffering from ‘shell-shock’. The lady in white, was probably the convalescents instructor on the art of embroidery. The photographer and location are unknown.
On 16th November 1917, a year after the Daily Sketch report appeared, The Times newspaper commented on “Skilled Needlework by wounded soldiers” at Endell-St Military Hospital.

The day before the report, there had been an exhibition and sale of work by the soldier embroiderers there. The paper said, “The standard of work done by the men was very high. The first stitching they do is the making of badges of their own regiment, which they are allowed to keep.”

In the previous twelve months, 1,120 crests had being made by the convalescents at Endell-Street. The present rate was 60 a week. The second piece of work each man embroidered was later sold - to pay for the materials he used. Some of the work on display “was of exceptional merit and all of it suggested delicacy of touch and a sense of colour.” said The Times. One piece was a cushion worked in a stitch of his own invention by a soldier who was a butcher before the war.

“The pride the men took in the work and the friendly rivalry amongst them was very human, and they enjoyed the swiftness with which their guests bought up everything. Some of the men can accept orders for their work,”
Convalescent embroiderers postcard
There are three pieces of finished work in this display and two of them depict peacocks. The subject seems to have been a favorite among the soldier embroiderers. The finished pieces would have made a colourful and vibrant display. Again, the name of the photographer and the location are unknown.

Netley Military Hospital, said The Times, with its quarter-mile long corridors and population of wounded men was at times full to overflowing and along the corridors  "were beds on which are men who raise their eyes from their bright pieces of embroidery to look out on the silver streak of Southampton Water, where the hospital ships sail down {with] their tragic cargoe.”

ww1 postcard soldier embroiderers

This ww1 photographic postcard was by Mr. W. R. Moor who had a studio at 236 Langsett Road, Sheffield. A large variety of mainly finished embroidery work is displayed. On the back row three men are holding a large piece that was perhaps a joint effort.

 After the Great War had ended, a charitable organisation named the Disabled Soldiers Embroidery Industry was set up to aid the rehabilitation of severely disabled ex-soldiers. Some attended organized workshops while others went on to work from home. Many of the men had learned their basic embroidery skills during their time at a convalescent hospital during the conflict - Men like those on these real photographic postcards.

For King and Empire : Services Rendered Badge

The Silver War Badge was issued to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness. The badge, sometimes known as the ‘Wound badge’ was first issued in September 1916, along with an official certificate of entitlement.

The sterling silver lapel badge was worn on civilian clothes. The badge carried the royal cipher of GRI - Georgius Rex Imperator  and around the rim "For King and Empire; Services Rendered". Each badge was uniquely numbered on the reverse. The War Office said it would not replace a Silver War Badges if one was lost. However, if one was handed into a police station then it would be returned to the War Office and if the original recipient could be traced at his or her discharge address then the badge would be returned to them.
blue leaf badge

This was the Disabled Sailors & Soldiers blue leaf badge worn by members of the Federation.  In April 1917, the newly formed Nation Federation of Disabled and Discharged Sailors and Soldiers (NFDDSS) held its inaugural meeting at the National Liberal Club. In a bid to attract new members and funds, it published a series of black and white photo-cards. The illustrations were the now almost obligatory 'battle scenes', and on the reverse were printed the Federations aims which were,

"To promote and safeguard the interests of discharged and disabled men, and of those who have fallen; to DEMAND FOR THEM JUSTICE and CHARITY; to SECURE PROMPT STATE PENSIONS for all discharged men and for the dependants of those who have made the great sacrifice."

Killed in Action

The next group of real photographic postcards shows images of men killed in action. It seems that German publishers were allowed to depict such images on their cards and some had no hesitation about doing so, particularly if the bodies were those of the enemy. ww1 photographs of this genre usually displayed nothing more than simple 'address-lines' on the reverse. 

ww1 postcard dead soldier near tank


ww1 tank and body
Community Street Shrines
ww1 postcard community street shrine

This real photographic postcard depicts a communal street shrine. Not often seen on postcards, they were a common sight in 'working class' neighborhoods during the 1914-1918 war.

Street memorials were erected as a communal expression of remembrance of local men who had died on active service.

Above the tablet there was usually an array of Allied flags and below, a shelf where grieving relatives and friends could place their flowers. Above the names of ‘The fallen’ were the words "For God, King and Country". Local clergymen blessed the shrines and generals and admirals toured them.

There are no publishers’ details on this card and the location is also unknown.

As the battles on the Western front and elsewhere became more frequent and the death toll rose, one of the most dreaded sights in any street was the appearance of the telegraph boy.

Mabel Bell, who was a young girl during the war and whose father and brother were away fighting said, “I can remember my mother going pale one afternoon as she saw a telegraph boy coming towards the house. She turned to me and smiled as he cycled past.” The ‘Death Telegrams’ coldly stated, “Regret to inform you that…was killed in action on…Lord Kitchener sends his sympathy”, Kitchener was drowned at sea in 1916, after that the Army Council sent its sympathy instead.

The soldier depicted on the above card was one of the lucky ones. He had been in battle - note the wound stripe on his lower left arm – and survived. Did he return to the trenches - if so, then hopefully his name was not added to those on the local street memorial.


The foregoing, are just a few of the many categories of interesting and informative real photographic postcards from the 1914-1918 conflict - that are still available in postcard dealers' stocks today.

The field is vast.

Finally, here is a sobering thought. That sepia or black and white WW1 real photographic postcard that you hold, could well be the only surviving copy of a moment captured in time - a hundred years ago.


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