Picture Postcards from the Great War



At the outbreak of the Great War ‑ the 'tank' did not exist. It was invented by the British and first used in battle in 1916 and in the final battles of 1918 and played a major part in bringing victory to the Allies. On 2nd October 1918, General Erich Lundendorff reported to the German government "there is no longer any prospect or possibility of compelling the enemy to peace. Above all two facts have been decisive for this issue; first the tanks..." Picture postcards recorded the development and early history of the tank and its battlefield capabilities.

A rum jar held 1 gallon - enough for 64 men. Each man got approximately one third of a pint each week. On the side of the jar were stamped the intiials "S.R.D." thought to stand for “Service Rations Depot” or “Service Reserve Depot”. Soldiers however, said they stood for “Seldom Reaches Destination”, “Soon Runs Dry” and ”Seldom Rarely Delivers”.

Introduced in the winter of 1914, the rum ration was initially given to soldiers to combat the chill and damp  of the trenches.  In the winter of 1914-15 a war correspondent wrote, “Rum rations are by now probably served out to all sections of our Flanders troops. They were started in some divisions, I know, in November. Some people at home feel very uncomfortable about the small rum ration that the troops receive. Almost every man I have met who has served during the winter is in favour of it. A few convinced teetotalers use it to rub their feet ! To most men the drink comes as a glow of light and warmth.”


Perhaps the following card and the description of the picture thereon may give some insight as to why some British soldiers at Mons believed Arthur Machen’s tale The Bowmen to be fact.  E. Le Deley, Paris, published the card, which was printed in black and white. The captions are in French and English. The English version reads, "AERIAL WAR – A shower of arrows, Gunners of a German battery decimated by our aeroRAMCThe most peaceful and tranquil method of transporting wounded men from the battle areas of the Western Front - was by hospital barge. The system was introduced by the French in the first week of the war and in the autumn of 1914, the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C.) began to do the same, and "soon a regular fleet of these useful little hospitals sprang into being and passed along the quiet waterways of France from the front, right back to the base", said The Ti


During the Great War, as any number of popular magazines demonstrated, the arrival of letters, parcels and postcards was looked forward to with tremendous enthusiasm. Private Noakes, a front‑line soldier, summed up the feelings of expectancy. "Out here news of home is like food and drink to us, however trivial. Indeed, this life is like a dream and the old life is the only reality. We live on memories".

The authorities obviously thought that the regular receipt of mail was a morale booster, and this page describes some of the activities of the Army Postal Service and the comfort it brought, that people like Private Noakes so clearly wanted.

During the 1914‑18 war, men on active service received many gifts and 'comforts' from friends, family and even from people unknown to them. However, the most important comfort of all was communication with home ‑ the sending and receiving of letters and postcards from family and friends.


After the outbreak of war in 1914, the hospital came under the auspices of the Red Cross. Cavell and her staff aided the sick and wounded but she also gave sanctuary to escaping Allied soldiers.  In August 1915, Cavell was arrested by the Germans for "harbouring aliens and helping them to escape". In due course she was sentenced to death, and despite efforts to save her by neutral diplomats, at dawn on 12th October 1915, she was shot by a firing squad. Just before her death  she said "Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone".

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