On Remembrance Sunday: a commemoration of soldiers’ writing during the Great War

After 40 years of research Andrew Brooks has produced a wonderful book which is particularly timely to look at today: Postcard Messages from the Great War 1914-19.

book cover

It is a magnificent achievement and a unique and immensely touching book.  Brooks has not merely compiled and shared a huge collection of postcard messages, as interesting that would be, but has also gone to an immense effort to find out as much as he can about the soldiers and their circumstances.  His understanding of military postal history is immense, so he can interpret a great deal about from postmarks and censor marks.   The book is arranged loosely chronologically, and the reader is led from the optimism of the early volunteers through to terrible losses and some fortunate survivals.  The book is centred on postcards sent from and to British soldiers, often telling us a lot about their lives and families before and after their service.

postcard

 

From the Edwardian Postcard Project we know that many cards of the early twentieth century were commissioned from a photographer, to show a family, friendship or other group.   This is a ‘Pals’ battalion, volunteers recruited locally and promised they would serve with other men from the same region.  Here are men from  the 18th The King’s Liverpool Regiment, during their initial training while based at Hooton Park Racecourse.  The men are still in their civilian clothing.  The card is sent to Miss R Hazelwood, 126 Thornton Road, Bootle, Liverpool on Friday 6th November 1914.  The message reads,

“Dear Miss H,

Many thanks for Chocolate received this morning.  We are going for a 20 Mile Route March round Birkenhead tomorrow that is if I get my uniform

Best M”.

Another such group postcard from the 19th (‘Pals’) King’s Liverpool regiment was sent in 1915 by John Anderson Henry Downie to his mother at 67, Carisbroke Road, Walton, Liverpool.  The message reads:

“Dear Mother,

I duly received both parcels in good condition.  I thank you very much for them, they will provide extras for some time to come.  On the other side you will see some of competitors lined up for a 41/2 mile event at sports.  I am No. 231. In the background a large sports ground is seen.

Yours John.”

P59

In this case Andrew Brooks has been able to trace his fate in the 19th King’s Liverpool War Diary.  The 22nd January 1916 entry describes an event near Carnoy: “Bombardment on both sides. Minnenwerfer wrecked a dug-out, with the following casualties.  17322 L. Cpl. Downie killed.  17496 Pte. Whitehead seriously wounded…..”  Brooks has also traced Downie’s grave at the Carnoy Military Cemetrery on the Somme, row H grave 11.

Evidence of losses at such major battles as the Somme is also shown in postcards by others involved, occasionally revealing some involvement by women.  This card was sent to Miss Robertson, Union Bank House, George Street, Perth, Scotland from a French Auxiliary hospital on 31st July 1916 (the year of “The Big Push”):P83

“Dear Mary, Are you still at Rosebank: We are leading a very strenuous existence here and do what we can.  Can hardly copy with the rush – at least this was so till the last two days.  Things have quietened a bit but we rather think it is the lull before the storm. I love the life and the work.

I heard from Willie two days ago.  He is in the thick of it but safe and well.  Are your folks alright? Much love from Norah.”

This card by the well known postcard artist Donald McGill was sent on 12th February 1917 from Farnham, Surrey, by Arthur to his father Pte. A. Blackman, 37706, 7th Battalion Queens R.W.S. ‘D’ Com. Machine Gun Section, BEF France. P112

The message reads:

“Dear Dad just a line to say I hope you are all right glad to say I am feeling a bit better but don’t go to school yet Floss and Eeyore better hope you will be able to come home heaps of love and tons of kisses your loving boy Arthur.”

Brooks writes: “Sadly Lance Corporal Arthur Blackman, aged 39, the husband of E. Blackman of 12 Red Lion Square, Farnham, Surrey was killed in action on Saturday 23rd March 1918. He is buried in Chaumy Communal Cemetery, British Extension on the Ham to Chaumy road, Plot 4, Row B, Grave 14.”

Finally, another touching card from a training camp, this one from the 1st (Service) Battalion of the Guernsey regiment.  This was sent to Mrs Sophia Durnmont, Grande Rue, St. Saviour’s, Guernsey from her grandson then, Brooks deduces from the marks, from a camp near Canterbury.  The message reads:

“Dear Grandmother,

I am dropping you these few lines to let you know we have arrived safely at our new camp after one day and one night’s travelling, and a very dirty camp Dear Gran compared to those we had in Guernsey, but we’ll get used to it little by little I suppose.  Cheer up my little wife dear Gran when she’ll come home and tell he since it’s the call of duty it must be the will of the Almighty, hoping you are keeping quite well, as I am at present.  God keep us all till we meet again

With love to all From Walter.”P119

Andrew Brooks’ beautifully produced book: Postcard Messages from the Great War 1914-1919 is available from ebay for £20 and £2.80 postage.

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