During the First World War communication was purely by snail mail, no telephones/email/Skype to enable soldiers and their families to stay in touch. One of the favourite ways was postcards and what the authors have done here is to bring a review of postcards sent during the War both from soldiers home and from families to the Front.
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While this may seem a very niche area, it really has several aspects to it. There is the social history of how people communicated and what could be said in a very small space, also under censorship conditions. There is the art history of the time ranging from drawings, to photographs to intricate silk embroidered cards. With licentious soldiery involved there is an obvious ‘Pin-Ups’ section where what was risqué back in the early part of last Century would not raise a vicar’s eyebrow nowadays.
The cards are laid out in partly chronological order, partly genre; so the reader gets a flavour of how the war is going and how trends changed during the War. Each card is numbered with an accompanying description of the card and sometimes what has been written. Propaganda plays a very big part in this and many of the cards are of the highly patriotic style such as the French poilu standing guard with the caption “On ne passé pas!”, “They will not pass!”. There are 700 cards in this very full and well illustrated book.
The book is made up of eight main chapters:
Chapter 1: The Nations & Men who went to war: fairly straight forward showing the leaders and men involved.
Chapter 2: Propaganda, Patriotism and Hatred. The final part there being the most intriguing where postcards are used to whip up anti enemy hatred showing dead bodies, depictions of horror stories and in one, strange to us, card the official card sent to widows of the Austro-Hungarian Mountain Infantry of a medic being shot in the back while going to help a wounded comrade! Feelings and niceties were not observed much in days past.
Chapter 3: The Reality- does what it says on the tin and again there are depiction os scenes that today would never see the light of day. This has sections on Machines which shows the advance of technology throughout the war. Other sections in this chapter deal with war at sea and in the air.
Chapter 4: Humour and Sentimentality. Humour goes everywhere but the sentimentality would get a hard time if tried on ARRSE today.
Chapter 5: Back Home – Women at War. A large chapter dealing with the change in status of the woman both in the home and the workforce, including the armed services.
Chapter 6: Pin Ups and Heroes. The inevitable saucy postcards and the ones of heroes winning their decoration. Strangely, this is the smallest chapter in the book, obviously many saucy cards did not make it home!!
Chapter 7: a selection of cards from The Queen. Queen Mary was an avid collector of postcards and a selection of these is given with permission of HM The Queen. When her hobby was made public she was presented with a large collection of cards confiscated from German prisoners, so many are anti-Allies propaganda cards.
Chapter 8: Welcome Home. Fairly obvious what the subject matter is here but still with a strong propaganda element with some humour thrown in. Memorials play a large part in this section from the Cenotaph to the memorial to German soldiers at Aachen Railway Station, where many left to go to the Front.
Overall a really good look at the cards used for varying purposes during the war by both the Allies and Axis and a good look at social history of that tragic era. Not a book to read cover to cover in one go, but certainly one to retain on the bookshelf to lift and dip into on a regular basis.
3.5 Mr MRHs for this well put together and illustrated book.