Browsing a flea market in East Berlin many years ago I came across an old postcard, with a pretty painting of forget-me-nots. Turning it over I found, to my surprise, that the message was in English. It was dated 19.6.17 and was sent from BEF France – the British Expeditionary Forces.
My dearest Lill
Just a line hoping this finds you quite well. Pleased to have your lovely card. I am quite fit at present. I had a splendid day on Sunday. I kept in woods all afternoon + evening. The heat is something terrible, if you are getting it in Blighty like what we are getting here then [illegible] simply splendid weather. I had a long letter from Ned last Friday morning. I am very busy at present but will try to send you a letter tomorrow. As regards your holidays I hope you have a good time. Ned + Jennie are going to St Leonards I think this weekend. I hope your Father + Mother are still keeping in the best of health. I must now close. With Best Love
Several things struck me about this card: the formality of the language between husband and wife; the interest Rodger is able to show in the details of life back home; and the total absence of any reference to what he must have been going through in France. I was fascinated and bought it.
Over the following years I sought out more examples of postcards from the First World War period and amassed quite a collection. I always sought cards that had something written on the back; I was intrigued by the brief windows the messages opened into the relationships of that time, and also by the stresses placed on them by the war.
Although I no longer buy them, I have kept those that I acquired over that period and have scanned a selection of the most interesting to share for this week’s Lens Artists Challenge theme of Postcards, as set by our guest host, Ana Campo.
Some, like the one in my featured photo, have the place names scratched out; although many of these are legible if you look closely enough.
The sender of the above card mentions that he ‘would like a stroll tonight but feel a little tired having been on guard’.
The card above is from the same writer. On both cards he signs himself simply ‘F’ and addresses the recipient as ‘My dear C’. In this one he mentions that he may be moving again soon; but of course there are no clues given as to his present or future location. Both cards are stamped as having been passed by the censor.
Some are romantic images:
‘At Duty’s Call’ was sent by a soldier stationed in Ireland and he is allowed to send his full address, unlike those on the front line in France.
‘Loving Greetings’ was sent as a birthday card by the recipient’s brother. It seems an odd choice of image although I assume choice was somewhat restricted.
‘Soldier Lad’ was sent by Nellie to her uncle and aunt, advising them that a parcel was on the way.
And ‘Messageres d’Amour’ has a long message in French. The combination of a language I once spoke but have partly forgotten, and the old fashioned handwriting, make it difficult for me to decipher in full, but it is clearly very affectionate. It is dated 10 April (‘Avril’) 1917 and sent by Louisette to Gaston. She signs herself ‘ton petite fiancée qui t’aime’ – ‘your little fiancée who loves you’
Some reflect on the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers:
‘Nous tiendrons’ was sent from the Champagne region in 1916. It is another that is densely written in French, but I can clearly see that it was sent from a father who signs off, ‘Je t’embrace de tout mon coeur, ton Papa’ (‘I embrace you with all my heart, your father’)
Most of the others are also in French and are relatively brief. One is sent to a niece, while another is addressed to ‘Chers Madame et Monsieur’, with a message about a dinner they seem to have treated the sender to.
‘Vive l’Italie’ has a simple message: ‘”Somewhere in France” May 31st 1916 To My Darling Wife with love and xxxxxx Fred’. I do hope Fred made it home from ‘somewhere in France’!
I’ll leave you one that completely astounded me, as this distressing image was sent by Bert to his mother as a birthday card. I wonder how his mother felt on receiving it? Was she happy to hear from him, or appalled to see what Lille had become and the impact of the fighting he had, presumably, been engaged in?