Picture Postcards from the Great War

ww1 British Wartime Leaders on Picture Postcards

Tony Allen

During the Great War 1914- 1916, most leading British wartime leaders - both military and political - were featured on picture postcards and some examples are reproduced here. Some of these sets were on sale in the postcard racks within weeks of the start of the conflict.

In the early part of the war, probably the most famous personality after the King - was Lord Kitchener. During the first two years of the war it was the image of Kitchener which represented the Nation's fighting forces.

On 6th August 1914, Kitchener was made Secretary for War and took complete control of the war effort and began a recruiting campaign - which was superb. The famous poster by Alfred Lytte depicting Kitchener with pointing finger and eyes that looked at the viewer and his stirring appeals to the public, brought 100,000 men to the recruiting stations in the first three weeks of the war. Three early picture postcards featuring the great man are illustrated below.

ww1 postcard
ww1 postcard Bravo Kitchener
Superb ww1  postcard of Kitchener

The card on the right is a superb painting of Lord Kitchener - by an unknown artist. The card on the left bears the title "K of K" which stands for "Kitchener of Khartoum".  We are told on the back of the card that it was from "KEEPERS OF THE EMPIRE" and was "The 'Classic' all British Series - No. 12" and published by W. N. Sharpe Ltd., Bradford & London. Kitchener was given the title "K of K" after he won fame for winning the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, and securing control of the Sudan. Prior to the Great War Kitchener had served in other colonial wars, including the Second Boar War (1900-02) where he held the position of Chief of staff. Between 1902-09 he was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in India.The centre card was published by Bamforths of Holmfirth and was Number 1021 in its "PATRIOT" Series.

The men of Britain's regular army - who formed the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) -  went to France in August 1914, and were later described by the Kaiser as "…very exceptional soldiers."  Before they set off for France, every soldier in the B.E.F. had pasted into his active-service-pay-book an instruction from Lord Kitchener. It detailed the expected behavior of every soldier when he landed in France. Within days of Kitchener's advice to his army, a portrait of him and the notice appeared on a Rotary picture postcard. It is illustrated below.
ww1 postcard Thr King's message mto his army
ww1 postcard Lord Kitchener's Counsel to Soldiers
On the right is the postcard carrying "Lord Kitchener's Council to Soldiers" in which he outlined how British soldiers should conduct themselves when they arrived on the Continent. It was number  ' 68 D'.  The card on the left, was another by 'Rotary' and was number '9577 U'. It was "THE KING'S MESSAGE TO HIS ARMY." before it left for France in August 1914'
A number of cards published in the "Rotary Photographic Series" were superb images of military and naval leaders. Produced in a sepia finish, each card depicted a leader in dress uniform and a chestful of medals - won in previous colonial campaigns. However, if you are lucky you may find among a dealer's stock the cards illustrated below. They offer good value for money - 12 or 10 portraits of military and naval leaders for the price of one! 
ww1 postcard nine portraits of military leaders
ww1 postcard seven portraits of leaders
ww1 postcard twelve portraits of leaders

Representations in miniature featuring military and naval leaders, some of whom were also featured in the "Rotary Photographic Series" in full postcard size. The card on the left was captioned "Soldiers of the King." and was number 'H86A'. The card on the right was captioned "Men who,are making history." and was number '7121S'. The centre card titled "For king and Country" featured "Our Defenders on Land and Sea."

Early in the war the publisher 'VALENTINES' released a short set of cards featuring military and naval leaders. The cards were produced in colour and consisted of an oval portrait of a leader set against a union jack background and on a scroll below the portrait was the legend "Men of the Moment'" Among of the leaders featured was Field Marshal Sir John French one-time commander of the B.E.F. in France and Admiral Sir John Jellicoe.
ww1 card men of the moment John French
ww1 postcard Churchill
ww1 postcard Jellicoe
The card on the left was from VALENTINES "MEN OF THE MOMENT." series and depicted Field-Marshal Sir John French who was Commander-in-Chief of the B.E.F. in France in 1914-15. After being criticised as indecisive he resigned the post and became C-in-C home forces.  The card on the right featured Admiral Sir john Jellicoe - who was a popular choice for depiction on this type of postcard. Winston Churchill was the man featured on the centre card.
A superb set of cards titled "Generals of the British Army." carried portraits by the famous artist Francis Dobbs. In December 1916, Dobbs was appointed one of the official war artists and n February 1917, went to France and spent eight weeks there producing more than 30 charcoal and watercolour portraits of general officers and others whom he met at various headquarters. Twelve of the pictures were reproduced as postcards and six from the set are illustrated below.
ww1 card Gough
ww1 card Plumer
ww1 postcard Douglas Haig
The card on the right was Francis Dobbs charcoal and watercolour picture of Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig - who went to France in 1914, as commander of First Corps. In December 1915, Haig took over from Field-marshal Sir John French as Commander of the B.E.F. when the latter was relieved of his post. The card in the centre was Dobbs likeness of General Sir Herbert Plumer.  Plumer served in the Sudan in 1884, was present at the Second Matabele War in 1896 and served in the Second Boar War. During the First World War, he commanded V Corps in 1915, and then led the Second army in Flanders and won an overwhelming victory against the Germans at the Batttle of Messines in 1917. The battle started with the simultaneous explosion of 17 mines laid by the Royal Engineers tunneling companies under the German lines. It was described as "the "loudest explosion in human history." Herbert Plumer was very popular with the men who served under him and was affectionately known as "Old Plum". The card on the left portrayed General Sir. Hubert Gough.
On his return to England, Dobbs toured various ports and did a number of sketches of Admirals. Twelve of these appeared on picture postcards. Dobbs resigned from his post in March 1918. The publisher of the two sets of 12 cards each - is not known.


BIRN BROTHERS published an attractive set of six cards that honoured all ranks, including sailors and territorial soldiers. One famous leader the set featured was "Field Marshal Earl Kitchener."
card Sir John Jellicoe
card General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrian

The card on the right was BIRN BROTHERS tribute to "Field-Marshall Earl Kitchener." We are told on the back that it was "Manufactured in their London Factory." and was from "Series K." Several other cards appeared in the same format but with pictures of different people and sometimes a different verse. This card was postally used on 24th December 1914. The card on the left was the ever popular Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. The centre card featured General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrian who commandered the BEF Second Corps, which stopped Von Klucks army at Mons in August 1914 and then (with General Sir Douglas Haig's First Corps) successfully disengaged and began the legendary 'Retreat from Mons.' Smith-Dorrian was well liked by those who served  under him, one soldier said "It was good to see Smith-Dorrian smile. It put heart into many a man."

Another set of cards featuring British generals appeared in the postcard racks, with the captions in both English and French. Although the publisher and the artist are unknown, we are told on the back of the cards that they were of  "All British Manufacturer." Three examples from the set are shown below.
General Smith Dorrian
Postcard Field-Marshal Sir John French
postcard General Sir Douglas Haig

Three cards from Series No 237-C. The card in the centre features Field-Marshal Sir John French. Prior to WW1, French had served in several of Britain's colonial wars. In 1884, he took part in the Sudan expedition to relieve Major General Charles Gordon and took part in the Battle of Abu Klea the following year. He served as a major-general in the Second Boar War. Just before the Boar siege began, French was ordered out of Ladysmith to take command of a new cavalry division. He and Haig escaped on the last train out of Ladysmith. During his time in South Africa French saw much action, causing his Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Lord Kitchener to say of him, "His willingness to accept responsibility, and his bold and sanguine disposition have relieved me from many anxieties." By June 1913, French had risen to the rank of field marshal. During the 1914-18 war, French served as the first C-in-C of the British Expeditionary Force, but in December 1915, returned to England were he was appointed C-in-C of the British Home Forces

Early in the conflict, a set of postcards appeared which featured as well as British military leaders, a number of French ones too. All were framed in a red and blue three sided border. The set was suitably titled "OUR HEROES".
postcard General Joffre
ww1 postcard K of K
Postcard Sir John French

Three cards from "OUR HEROES" Series. Published by the 'Inter-Art Co., Kinofilm House and 7, Red Lion Square, London, W.C.' they were from Series 824. This set included several French military leaders - in addition to British. The card on the left featuring General Joffre was mailed from Newcastle on 21st November 1914. Field-Marshall Sir John French appears on the right, while the ever-popular postcard hero "K of K" appears in the centre. There were probably 12 cards in the set.



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