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Postcards and the Music of the Great War: Seeing the Dear Old Home Again

The First World War was among the first to be fought in the era of the popular song, which had been born in the music halls and came of age with the phonograph. Sentimental, romantic, humorous and religious tunes form a significant part of the war’s cultural legacy and are well known to collectors as the themes of countless series of postcards that were sent by and to the soldiers.

Typically, early twentieth-century “song” postcards were produced in series of three or four, with a different verse of a popular tune (or well-known hymn) printed and illustrated on each. The foremost publisher of these cards was Bamforth & Co. of Holmfirth in Yorkshire. This source estimates that 600 sets of song postcards were published by the company between the early 1900s and the end of the war. As the linked article notes, once war was declared, Bamforth reissued some of its song sets with new military-themed illustrations.

In this post we’ll look at four complete song sets.

I Want To See The Dear Old Home Again

In the first scene, the soldier dreams of his home, his young children and the faithful family dog.

English village life is emphasized in the second stanza, complete with thatched cottage and chiming church bells.

Finally, with all that out of the way, we come in the third postcard to the most heartfelt loss of all, experienced most strongly when he wakes “a soldier still”.

The first song, “I Want To See The Dear Old Home Again”, dates from around the year 1900, although no recordings of it appear to be online. It was written by Frank Dean (1857-1922) under the pen-name “Harry Dacre”. Dean/Dacre is well remembered today for his 1892 composition “Daisy Bell”, one of the most enduring pieces of early popular music, with its famous refrain “But you’ll look sweet / upon the seat / of a bicycle built for two”. For its part, “I Want To See The Dear Old Home Again” is in the voice of a soldier off on some Imperial sojourn, and recounts his dreams of home and postponed love. The final line, “Then I wake — a soldier still”, would have resonated with most of the soldiers in the seemingly interminable conflict.

The three Bamforth postcards are numbered 4800/1, 2, 3 and were produced, as noted, with the permission of Frank Dean & Co. in London.

This set of postcards — like the other sets we will look at — was sent by a soldier, likely a Canadian in France. They are apparently from the First World War period although no specific mention is made of any dates or wartime events. Unfortunately, information about the soldier and his experiences was apparently left for the letters that accompanied the postcards. Without the letters, it hasn’t been possible to identify the sender.

The message the anonymous soldier has written on the backs of the three cards is as follows:

(1) This card for mother — more to follow. This card speaks my sympathy and the set will follow in future letters so be learning and singing this one till more comes; they are very nice if you … set a air at [to?] sing them by. DADIE. (2) Dear Mother, my sentiments are in this card. In my dreams I can see it all — home sweet home, but smile smile all the while — it’s some trial, but the Better will come and I’ll be going to my dear old friends at home. DADIE to MA. (3) For mother. This is the last of this series and I am a soldier still. There is more of these series. I send more for a change. Hope you enjoy my silly ways. But if I stay for years my love is for my dear old home and last of all MOTHER, only mother. From DADIE. Over the mighty deep.*

(*Note: I have added some punctuation and made other minor typographical and wording changes for the sake of clarity in the extracts from this soldier’s letters in this post. The original has virtually no punctuation, as was common in postcard messages of the day, and contains a number of abbreviations and many idiosyncratic spellings.)

Fight the Good Fight

The second Bamforth series includes four postcards, numbered 4870/1, 2, 3, 4, each illustrating a stanza of the Victorian hymn “Fight the Good Fight”, with words by the Rev. John S. B. Monsell (1811-1875), an Anglican clergyman in Ireland. The first card, shown below, depicts soldiers standing before a priest near to the front lines, as a biplane passes above them. There are explosions in the distance, presumably at the front line. These are the evidently the final words of spiritual encouragement that the men will hear before entering the fray. The remaining three cards focus on just one of the soldiers, depicted first in prayer, then in great despair, and at the last (see below), in the arms of Christ — the artist leaving it somewhat unclear whether our subject has been struck and is dying, or whether he is only in need of religious comfort on account of what he has had to endure. 

The same serviceman sent the “Fight the Good Fight” set to his family, but in this case he wrote only the names of his wife and (presumably) children on the backs of the cards: “Ma” (2 cards), “Albert” and “Cecilie”

The men at an informal service prior to entering the fight that rages behind them.

The fourth postcard, interpreting the hymn’s closing lines.

A modern interpretation of the piece, which is set to the tune “Pentecost” (1864) by William Boyd, is provided on YouTube by the choir of Brigham Young University‘s Idaho campus. A simpler version, together with the sheet music, is available via hymnal.net

God Keep You Safe

In contrast with the previous examples, “God Keep You Safe” appears to have been composed during, and with specific reference to, the First World War. Only a little information is available online about this piece, and unfortunately there is nothing to give us an idea of how it sounded. This catalogue entry from Australia’s national archives, which presumably hold a copy of the sheet music, says that it was written by one Kate Hill Salter, with music for piano accompaniment by Edward Cuthbertson. An online catalogue that is selling a copy of the score gives the name as Kate Hitt-Salter (not “Hill”), and a check of ancestry.com does reveal an Alice K. Hitt-Salter being married to a John C. Wood in Dover in 1931. Whether “Alice K.” is Kate or a relative is hard to say, but at least we now know that there was someone with the unusual surname “Hitt-Salter” out there, even if she seems to have made no mark on history other than this half-forgotten composition (half-forgotten but for deltiology, that is!). Nothing at all turned up online for Edward Cuthbertson. 

Unlike the others, this song takes the point of view of the soldier’s wife, left at home to worry about the fate of her “dear heart”, lamenting: “The hours apart from thee / Drag by on leaden, lifeless wings”. This was undoubtedly a sentiment shared by millions of family members across every one of the combatant countries. The three postcards are numbered 4960/1, 2, 3, and sport fancier lettering than is found on the other Bamforth series discussed here. Card 3 is particularly beautiful, with the soldier’s round portrait cleverly placed on the wall by the artist in place of a “thought bubble” (as appears on Card 1, also shown below).

Imagining the battlefield.

The conclusion of “God Keep You Safe”, by Kate Hitt-Salter.

The sender again writes a long letter across the backs of all three cards, concluding as follows: “This is the last series. Don’t you think it’s nice and very appropriate to its calling? I have about 30 or so of “odds and ends” cards to send anything I write on [i.e. that he can use anytime he needs to write something]. The cards can be raffled off. These cards have come from all across the Dominion — a very large collection.”

Little Grey Home in the West

The final song set consists in four cards illustrating the ballad, “Little Grey Home in the West”. Of the songs presented here, “Little Grey Home” has the most tenuous thematic connection with war. It’s really just a sentimental piece. The lyrics were by one D. Eardley-Wilmot (a member, it appears, of an aristocratic family by that name but about whom little else is known), with the tune by the famous British composer Hermann Lohr (1871-1943). Recorded as early as 1912 by Peter Dawson (and also by John McCormack and others) it appears in newspapers across North America and the U.K. as a massively popular recital piece in 1914 and afterward. The Dawson version as it appears on YouTube uses the four Bamforth postcards as illustrations. Since the song isn’t really about a soldier, the illustrations on the cards simply show the soldier thinking of the sentimental scenes that the song recalls. Much like “I Want To See The Dear Old Home Again”, “Little Grey Home in the West” works its way up to the thing the singer misses most: his true love — or, here, “the two eyes that shine just because they are mine”. 

There are lips I am burning to kiss … And a thousand things other men miss.

The fourth and final card in Bamforth series 4871.

 

Card no. 3 seems to have hit home with our anonymous soldier, who writes on the back: “Dear Mother, This shows the mental telephone working between the soldier and the friends at home and the other thousand things he misses, but we must all keep smiling — no coldness out here –, and our wives at home and everybody smile. There is no use getting disordered as it is no use and only makes matters worse, don’t you think so? DAD”

Not all soldiers were quite so enthralled by the sometimes mawkish sensibilities of the songs. Parodic revisions of lyrics were common as the Great War servicemen creatively attempted to “keep everyone smiling”. On 22 April 1915, the Montreal Gazette reported on a version of “Little Grey Home” of which the librettist was a Captain Frost of the 14th Montreal Battalion. In his possibly somewhat more realistic take, the song went as follows:

There’s a little wet home in the trench,
That the rain storms continually drench,
There’s a dead cow close by,
With her heels in the sky,
And she gives off a beautiful stench.
Underneath us in place of a floor,
There’s a mess of cold mud and some straw,
And Jack Johnsons tear,
Through the rain-sodden air,
O’er my little wet home in the trench.

(Andrew Cunningham)

 

The Canadians Are Coming! Postcards of Our Great War Soldiers

As the hundredth anniversary of 11 November 1918 — the end of the Great War — approaches, we will take a look back at what postcards of the time tell us about the four long years that took such a toll on the people of Canada, Newfoundland and many other countries. Coincidentally, the war years brought down the curtain on the “Golden Age of Postcards”; while the medium continued to be popular, the postcard industry as a whole no longer exhibited the vitality and variety of its pre-war heyday.

Keeping the old flag flying

Postcards mailed in the summer of 1914 can provide us with insights into how ordinary people in the sedate turn-of-the-century world responded to the sudden intrusion of war into every aspect of life. Exhibit 1 is the Stedman Bros. “patriotic” shown below, which depicts departing Canadian soldiers while assertively proclaiming: “Canada Will Do Her Duty To Keep The Old Flag Flying”.

Stedman Bros. no. 2539, with an added photographic image.

On turning the postcard over, we find that it was posted at Toronto on 13 September 1914, barely a month after the state of war officially began. In fact, things had unravelled so quickly that the Canadian National Exhibition had no opportunity to re-think its 1914 theme of “PEACE YEAR”, neatly incorporated into the special CNE “slogan cancel” that we see here.

Verso image of the card as posted to Wimbledon, Surrey on 13 September 1914.

One might wonder how Stedman Bros. managed to print up World War I cards such as this so quickly. The answer is that they didn’t, really — this example, numbered S.B. 2539, was in fact an old Stedman card on which the small photograph of the departing soldiers was pasted (the card originally featured a coloured illustration of an R&O ship). To complete the metamorphosis, the caption about “doing her duty” was overprinted on the image in silver lettering. (Indeed, since Stedman Bros. are thought to have exited the postcard trade in 1914, it is possible that the refurbishment of these cards as World War I souvenirs was someone else’s handiwork.)

The message itself is, of course, another place where we might hope to find  reference to the big news from Europe. However, even though her words were destined for England, the writer didn’t acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary was going on. By the end of her note she had apparently run out of things to say — or so we might surmise, given that she filled the rest of her space in the time-honoured way, with bland observations about the weather!

The 79th Cameron Highlanders

The story of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada is well told on the regiment’s own website. The Camerons, from Winnipeg, were the first Highland regiment in the West, having been founded on 1 February 1910. It is unlikely that the original members would have anticipated the sacrifices that they and their mates would be required to make within just a few short years. Even at the Decoration Day festivities on 10 May 1914, as depicted in the Maurice Lyall real photo postcard below, it is unlikely that the kilted marchers imagined that before the summer was out, some of them would be halfway across the country, and then halfway around the world, fighting for real.

10 May 1914. The building in the background was the University of Manitoba. The Broadway Armoury stood directly across the street, on the site of what is now the Manitoba Legislature.

We encounter the Camerons again on the Valentine & Sons postcard below (106,330), which may well have based on a photograph taken the same day (and perhaps by the same photographer) as the postcard above. Posted on 22 September 1914 by a Royal Bank of Canada employee to a colleague who had evidently been transferred to the Bank’s Vancouver branch, its message does refer, indirectly, to the War:

To Mr. J. A. Noonan, Royal Bank, Campbell Ave., Vancouver, B.C.:

“Hello Mr. Noonan, Just to remind you we have not quite forgotten you in the exciting times we have been having. Glad to hear you have not much to do but don’t get too fond of doing nothing and forget all about Winnipeg. Every body happy in the R. B. of C.”

Valentine & Sons card showing the soldiers standing on Broadway, looking out from the Drill Hall.

The 79th trained first at Camp Sewell, near Brandon, and were then sent out to Valcartier, Quebec, just outside the city of Quebec. The following “John E. Walsh” postcard was acquired simply as a handsome Quebec “patriotic” but turned out to have some interesting Cameron Highlanders content on the reverse:

Grande Allée, Quebec City. Patriotic postcard published by John E. Walsh, a Quebec stationer.

The first thing to note about the back of the Grande Allée card is that it is cancelled with a slogan cancel for the Quebec Provincial Exhibition (31 August – 5 September 1914). Unlike Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition, the 1914 theme in Quebec was not “peace” but “health” (“l’année de la santé”).

Back of the card, with a message from “R. M.”, then in training at Valcartier. The message is transcribed below.

As the Camerons’ website notes, only a limited number of the 79th’s members were sent to Valcartier and then on to England in the summer of 1914. At Valcartier, the Camerons were merged with others from across the country as the 16th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. While it is brief, the card’s message provides at least some information about the Highlanders’ life at Quebec:

“E Company,
79th Cameron Highlanders
Valcartier Camp, Quebec

Sunday

Having a good time down here up at 5:30 in morning. Drill all day. Getting quite thin. Remember me to Overseas bunch if you see them on Tuesday. R.M.”

As the sender is identified by initials (“R. M.”) only, the only significant clue is the recipient, J[ohn] France Hughes of the Great-West Life Assurance Co. of Winnipeg, who turns out to have been an actuary with Great-West. Hughes was born in England around 1885, had emigrated around the turn of the century, and by the time of the postcard was married and living at 609 Spence Street, a house that still stands at (what is now) the corner of Cumberland Avenue. The “Overseas bunch” sounds as though it might have been an informal weekly gathering of British immigrants — as R. M. probably was (although, given his regimental affiliation, he may have been a Scot rather than an Englishman like Hughes). From the handwriting and the fact that his social circles included a well-paid insurance professional, one might also conclude that R. M. was likely well educated.

In any event, this is a good example of what we can learn from postcard messages about the very earliest days of the Great War.

Canadian soldiers in other countries’ cards

Canadian First World War collections often include postcards from other countries that depict the Canadian war effort. One scarce example is this collotype showing the 48th Highlanders — cousins of Winnipeg’s 79th — as they leave “Torento (Canada)”. One supposes this scene to be somewhere in the vicinity of Union Station, with the departing men parading in the pouring rain. Produced by Le Deley, imprimeur et éditeur (printer and publisher) at 127, boul. Sébastopol in Paris, this particular example was not used.

A rainy day in Torento.
“And very good reason to be” … indeed!

Our final example is a British card celebrating “Canada’s Men”, poetically, as “the Bravest Men — we’ve seen of late / That have crossed the Atlantic Sea”. The quality of some of the verse suggests that the poet may have been working to deadline, but overall the expression of Britain’s appreciation comes through clearly enough and, I’m sure, was much appreciated by its recipients. The card — the British publisher of which is not identified — was posted within the U.K. on 26 December 1916.

Future posts

We’ll try to post some other World War I postcards over the next few weeks, as the hundredth anniversary nears. 

Andrew Cunningham

L. B. FOOTE’S POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

Approaching early twentieth century photography from the (oblique) angle of postcards can sometimes twist the established hierarchy of photographers out of its usual shape. Many of the top photographers of the era did not sell much (or any) of their work in the form of postcards — while, conversely, the leading lights of postcard photography are often barely acknowledged outside postcard-collecting circles. So it was in the city of Winnipeg, where the iconic public photographer of the first half of the 20th century, Lewis B. Foote (1873-1957), would definitely be quite far down on anyone’s list of memorable postcard photographers. Indeed, the books that have been written on Foote’s work — including the most recent, Imagining Winnipeg (University of Manitoba Press, 2012) — mention Foote’s postcards only in passing, if at all. 

As a Manitoba-focused collector, I have nonetheless discovered Foote postcards here and there, every so often, unexpectedly and always with great excitement. For perspective, there might be two or three Foote postcards for every hundred published by his equally talented Winnipeg contemporary Maurice Lyall (1887-1966), who is unknown except to a few postcard collectors and about whom no books have been published. This blog post looks at some of the Foote cards in my collection — a bit of a ragtag and random set, with the important exception of the 1919 General Strike examples.

Lewis Foote

By way of biography, L. B. Foote was a native of Foote’s Cove, a tiny outport on an island off the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland. The standard biographical story is that he discovered a talent for photography in the 1890s, whilst on the staff of the Summerside (P.E.I.) Journal. By 1902, Foote had established himself in Winnipeg, where he was one of the busiest and best-known local photographers for nearly half a century. As noted above, he died in 1957.

Pre-Strike Postcards

Most of Foote’s postcards are real photos (RPPCs). One exception, shown in Figure 1 below, is a promotional card (one of several, I am sure) that depicts the Winnitoba. The Winnitoba was the grandest excursion vessel on the Red River between its launching in 1909 (which is possibly when this card would have been produced) and its demise in a fire at the docks of its owner, the Hyland Navigation Co., in the autumn of 1912. Its sister ship, the Bonnitoba, which one sees much less frequently in postcards, is said to have been crushed by the river ice the following season. Hyland Park, the company-owned destination of the ships, still exists as a small public park just off Henderson Highway a little to the north of Winnipeg.

Figure 1. Forward Saloon on Hurricane Deck (Lewis B. Foote photo, published by the Hyland Navigation Co., Winnipeg, c. 1909)

While undated, Figure 2 most likely also comes from the earliest stage of Foote’s career in Winnipeg. This rather curious image of an anonymous farm family posing in the midst of a row of tall cornstalks hints at some of the whimsicality that characterized Foote’s photography throughout his career. The farmer’s fist is raised in what one imagines to have been mock triumph. Why? Was the corn perhaps the product of a good deal more effort than it was worth? Was it the farm’s first success after a string of failures? Who can say — other than that the photo illustrates, in a small way, how Foote’s images, even when they were of conventional or hackneyed subjects, often departed in small details from what convention dictated.

 

Figure 2. Unknown Farm Family (Lewis B. Foote, no. 4300, n.d.)

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3, a rather poorly focused but nonetheless interesting image of the 1913 Labour Day parade in the town of Stonewall, Man., is an early example of Foote as recorder of labour history, an interest which (as we will see below) would just a few years later generate perhaps his greatest legacy. The sender of the Stonewall card notes the “New Town Hall” — the building built from the limestone that gave the quarrying town its name. At left, townsfolk in search of the best view stand behind a rooftop sign for “C. M. Brown – Hardware, Tinware and Stoves”.

Figure 3. Stonewall Labor Day 1913 (Lewis B. Foote, 1913)

Continuing with the theme of labour, Figure 4 shows the early stages of construction of a building near St. Mary’s Academy, the Roman Catholic girls’  school that is visible in the background. It has been suggested that the building under construction might be the H. W. Hutchinson House, 603 Wellington Crescent, now First Unitarian Universalist Church. As construction on the Hutchinson House apparently began in 1912, that thesis fits with what would superficially appear to be the age of the image on the postcard. But, having said that, many other large houses in this elegant neighbourhood would also have been under construction at roughly the same time.

Figure 4. Construction in Crescentwood (Lewis B. Foote, no. 4482, n.d.)

In Figure 5, we have a personal postcard of two soldiers — to all appearances not young men so perhaps veterans of the Boer War or another earlier conflict. The studio blindstamp, “Foote & James”, provides a clue to the date, as Foote entered into his long-lasting partnership with George James only in 1914. So perhaps these men, despite being a little older than average, were on their way to the First World War. Their uniforms appear to this highly untrained eye to be rather distinctive — perhaps someone familiar with military uniforms of the period will be able to tell us more.

Figure 5. Two Soldiers (Foote & James studio, after 1913)

 

General Strike Postcards

Finally, just as the soldiers were returning from the War — and definitely not unconnected with that fact — Winnipeg began to experience labour unrest. In the spring of 1919, that unrest blew up into a full-scale and at times violent General Strike. The General Strike is still arguably the most significant event in the history of Canadian labour, making headlines around the world (including the New York Times‘ famous “Bolshevism Invades Canada”) and shaped Winnipeg’s local politics for at least half a century. Foote produced photographs throughout the Strike, which lasted for a full month until called off on June 25, 1919, but the surviving photo postcards that I have seen seem to date exclusively from just two dates: June 10th and June 21st. The images below are all from the more commonly-found of the two, the 10th.

Figure 6 is one of the clearest and most interesting photo postcards of the strike, showing a large crowd at Portage & Main, with Portage Avenue East at right (in front of what is now the site of the Richardson Building). In Figure 7, a clipping from the evening edition of the Winnipeg Tribune, we learn that this melee took place at two in the afternoon — even the plight of the delivery vans that we see trapped in the crowd (including one belonging to Ringer’s, long a prominent pharmacy in the city) is noted! The timing is confirmed by Figure 8, which shows the mounted policemen in front of the McArthur Building (later the Childs Building) on the northwest corner, with a Dingwall’s Jewellers clock obligingly revealing the time to be 2:41 p.m. Between the two images, the photographer’s vantage point has shifted from an elevated position on the southwest corner to street level on Portage Avenue. If the activities in Figures 7 and 8 appear to be at least under a modicum of control, the final image (Figure 9) — taken from an elevated position above the crowd in Figure 8 — provides dramatic proof that “charge” really did mean “charge”.

Figure 6. Winnipeg Riots, June 10/19 (Lewis B. Foote, 1919)

Figure 7. “Mounted Policemen Charge Huge Crowd”, Winnipeg Tribune, p. 1 (June 10, 1919) CLICK TO ENLARGE

Why so rare?

Few of the Foote postcards in my collection — and none of the General Strike postcards — were postally used or written on in any way, indicating that they were probably purchased for personal albums (and as souvenirs, in the case of the strike cards). This fact may also suggest that Foote was not sufficiently invested in the postcard market to have created the necessary distribution channels for his “product” — relationships with shops, druggists and others would generally have been needed to get one’s photocards in front of the buying public. Even though more and more of the cards turn up with time, indicating that there must have been a fair number of them, I have not yet seen any single example — other than the General Strike cards and the Hyland Navigation Co. lithographs — on sale more than once. This might indicate that they were usually produced in small quantities, perhaps only at the request of individual customers for whom Foote had produced larger images. Any other examples in the collections of our members or visitors — particularly of subjects other than the General Strike — would definitely be of interest.

The only L. B. Foote postcard in the Peel Prairie Provinces collection, a group shot of the Salvation Army Citadel Silver Band, quite possibly c. 1910 as noted, may be seen here.

 

Figure 8. Winnipeg Riots, June 10/19 (Lewis B. Foote, 1919) Mounted policemen inspect onlookers outside the McArthur and Nanton Buildings.

 

Figure 9. Winnipeg Riots (Special “Mounties”) June 10/19 (Lewis B. Foote, 1919).

 

CANADIAN WORLD WAR I POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

The First World War, the “war to end all wars”, got underway just as the shine was coming off the Golden Age of postcards. While wartime demand extended the postcard’s lease on life, it also changed the nature of the medium. In Canada, at least, postcards after 1913 were less apt than previously to show off the growth of the country’s towns, infrastructure and agriculture. Instead, and not unexpectedly, they dwelt more frequently on the war and its associated sentiments. Those sentiments encompassed both the public emotions of patriotism and more private feelings of estrangement and sadness — in addition to simple curiosity about what the soldier’s lives looked like. Because Great War postcards were so popular, postcard collections are often significant repositories of images of the War, including many that are unusual or unique, as well as of accounts (brief ones, of course) of the experiences of soldiers, recruits, families and friends during and after the long conflict. We were recently contacted by a representative of the Imperial War Museum, the London-based institution, which is currently attempting to record accounts of the conflict that are found on postcards. TPC members and friends who wish to contribute should see their website for details. 

As Remembrance Day is approaching, I’ve assembled a number of postcards from my own collection. They reveal the war years as they appeared to the ordinary men and women of the time and cover some — but by no means all — of the range of what is available to today’s “Great War” collector:

field-ambulance-depot-lines-sewell-camp-1915

Field Ambulance Depot Lines, Sewell Camp, 1915. — Advance Photo Co.

There are countless Canadian postcards depicting life at the camps at which Canadian soldiers received their pre-departure training. Among the largest of these was Camp Sewell — renamed Camp Hughes in 1915. A century later, remnants of its trenches and fixtures are discernible in farmers’ fields along the Trans-Canada Highway east of Brandon, Manitoba. As thousands of recruits passed through Camp Sewell/Camp Hughes, the Advance Photo Co. of Winnipeg was on hand to produce and sell real photo postcards depicting camp life. The number of real photo postcards produced of the camp by Advance (and a handful of other photographers) is unknown, but it is likely in the many hundreds. Despite its momentary prominence in the field of Canadian military photography, almost nothing is known about the Advance Photo Co. It had a brief existence around 1915 and 1916 and produced dozens of real photo postcards of a major flood in Winnipeg in the spring of 1916, but otherwise (it seems) almost nothing else. The company’s unidentified principals are quite possibly the gentlemen in the image below, which (more generally) illustrates how postcard photographers would have operated in such a setting.

souvenir-of-sewell-camp-advance-photo-co-hq-and-staff

Advance Photo Co. office (or, more likely, darkroom) at the Sewell Camp (halftone image from a view book of Camp Hughes produced by the company)

Scenes of departure are another frequently encountered World War I genre. Such postcards are usually real photos, which could be produced virtually on the spot for sale to participants in the event. But they were sometimes considered of sufficiently enduring interest to warrant production as lithographed cards. The following example — depicting the soldiers’ send-off at the Intercolonial Railway station in Truro, Nova Scotia — is by Valentine & Sons, the most prolific producers of picture postcards in Canada (and likely worldwide as well).

troops-leaving-truro-n-s

Valentine & Sons card no. 111,920 adds colour to a scene that we normally see only in monochromatic real photo cards.

Postcards showing such scenes only occasionally include related messages. This, fortunately, is one of the minority that does. The card turns out to have been used by a departing soldier to thank a woman who had prepared a gift packet for him. As part of the war effort, ordinary people were asked to send “care packages” to soldiers, who would then be given their names and would write them to express their appreciation. The package in this case was received by Pte. R. Grant, “C” Company of the 40th Battalion, Valcartier, Quebec, who wrote his benefactor, Mrs. Appleton P. Anderson of Sydney, C.B., as follows: “Mrs. A. P. Anderson:- I, Pte. R. Grant was the recipient of your gift on Friday night to the 40th Battalion. The boys were pleased to see the interest the women of Sydney have taken in providing for their comfort. Yours truly, Pte. R. Grant.” The rather stilted first sentence was likely dictated but the second might represent more of a personal effort. 

The next thing you would have done as a soldier is to board a ship for England, and there are many postcards that depict such departures. Below is a particularly fine example – a real photo – showing soldiers waving goodbye at Saint John, N.B., as they begin the long voyage across the Atlantic. Many of them must have been imagining this moment as the beginning of a great adventure. Whether they continued to be of that view on their return (if they returned) is another matter. The ship is the Caledonia:

transport-caledonia-leaving-st-john-n-b-with-26th-battalion-and-r-column

Transport Caledonia, leaving Saint John with the 26th Battalion and “A” Column (undated) — photo by D. Smith Reid of Saint John.

While in England, solders of the Canadian Expeditionary Force underwent additional training. Postcards were naturally a hot seller; messages to friends and family in Canada were dispatched by the thousands each day. Many of Canada’s soldiers ended up at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent (a dangerous place in its own right as it predictably attracted enemy aircraft bombardment). The postcard below shows Canadian soldiers awaiting a visit from George V:

waiting-for-the-king-at-shorncliffe-c-e-f

“For Cecilie. Cecilie this is the camp where Frank Berry hung out all summer. This is the oldest camp in England. It’s the old original camp from the Beginning of history of war. The King’s favorite camp and where the burying ground [is] of all his fancy horses that die. DAD”

This was published by Upton Publishers of Folkestone, the town adjacent to Shorncliffe camp. “Dad” was correct about the historic nature of the location, as this recent BBC story about Shorncliffe’s uncertain future makes clear.

Once the soldiers had made their way across the channel, the most distinctive form of postcard they sent back was the “silk”, as we’ve recently discussed. This example, though showing signs of age now, is typical inasmuch as it incorporates flags and the current year into an attractive design:

1917-souvenir-from-france

These postcards, known as “silks”, were manufactured by the millions in France and Belgium for sale to soldiers.

This is only a sampling of the types of Great War postcards that can be collected — there are also countless examples associated with individual regiments, real photos of soldiers, images of postwar destruction, anti-Kaiser (and pro-German) propaganda cards and many other types. The final cards, chronologically at least, are those depicting the troops’ return home and the memorials that were erected to the dead. The example below, showing the interior of Montreal’s Windsor Station, nicely combines those two elements. We see a soldier in military dress, nearly alone in the cavernous hall, overwhelmed in the image by the names of the battles in which the C.E.F. fought. Those names were already etched in the country’s consciousness when the postcard was mailed on 24 July 1919 — even though many of those who had fought in the battles were only just then making their way home.

c-p-r-windsor-station-montreal

Ypres. Festubert. The Somme. Vimy. Hill 70. Passchendaele. Amiens. Cambrai. Drocourt-Quéant. Mons.

As the Great War is now passing out of the realm of direct human memory, postcards offer us a tangible connection to the people, events and ideas that defined it.

 

EMBROIDERED SILK POSTCARDS

By Andrew Cunningham

Among the most beautiful collectible postcards are embroidered “silk” cards, the vast majority of which were made in France and Belgium during the First World War and sold mainly to British Empire and U.S. troops. The cards featured colourful imagery, such as the butterfly in the example below. Most of the designs — although by no means all of them — incorporated militaristic or patriotic elements, such as the four national symbols embroidered into the butterfly’s wings in our example. Because so many “silks” were produced, and because they were usually retained as keepsakes, they are more common than one might expect (and not always quite as valuable as those who find one or two in “Grandma’s album” tend to hope).

As the website of the Imperial War Museum in London notes, the most sought-after cards tend to be rarities with imagery specific to particular regiments (including many Canadian examples, as TPC member Mike Smith recently discussed in the Wayback Times). Also worth checking out is this site featuring choice examples from the collection of a British deltiologist. World War I silk postcards, including those with Canadian themes, are a terrific collecting area that, with a little time and effort, could produce a beautiful and historically informative collection at a relatively modest cost.

[WW I butterfly silk]

Butterflies were one common motif on World War I silk postcards, typically with flag elements worked into the stitching of the wings.