METROPOSTCARD.COM GUIDE TO WARFARE ON POSTCARDS 7D
> Warfare   Home   History   Glossary   Guides   Publishers   Artists   Techniques   Topicals   Blog   Contact


Themes of World War One:
Holiday and Greeting Cards  pt4


graphic





NEW YEAR’S DAY


Postcard

While New Year’s Day is a universally celebrated holiday, it has always lack a great deal of cohesion in its representation on postcards. This is in part due to the lack of conformity in the way it is marked since many cultures and regions have different customs, and sometimes even different dates. Although January 1st is a religious feast day, most of the seasons emphasis is taken up by Christmas. Even most of the more powerful pagan trappings associated with the turning of the year on the winter solstice has been hijacked by the Christmas celebration. With little iconography left to call its own, almost anything can pass for a New Year’s card. While most publishers during the War at least tried to attach the occasion to some sort of military iconography, this effort was not always successful.

Postcard

Some military holiday cards barely differentiate themselves from those published in peacetime as they do little more than show soldiers celebrating the New Year with song, food, and drink. While their narrative remains uncomplicated, these are probably some of the most honest of all holiday cards. They present a moment of normalcy at the battlefront, and ensure those back home that not all of a soldier’s life is about hardship and fighting.

Postcard

While almost all types of holiday cards are oriented toward those serving in the army, there are a number that focus on sailors aboard their ships. Christmas and New Years are the two most common holidays to be presented this way; one with deck side evergreens loaded with candles, the other with sailors drinking in good cheer.

Postcard

Since both Christmas and New Year’s basically celebrate the turning of the year in their essence, the same seasonal symbols are often used on postcards for both. This has been made easy because most of the associations now made with Christmas have more to do with winter than with Christianity. Any snow filled scene alone can easily represent either holiday; their caption being the only element that separates them. Their association to the War is also usually weak as it hardly seems relevant if the characters presented on these cards are civilians or soldiers.

Postcard

Publishers generally optimized the salability of their cards produced during the War by incorporating military and patriotic themes, but not all of these had to do with soldiers. Women volunteered for all sorts of services, they took up farming, industrial work, and filled many occupations that were normally reserved for men. Postman was one of these occupations, and since mail and card giving is so widely associated with holidays, it is not surpassing that female mail carriers are featured on holiday cards. These cards appealed to those seeking a patriotic message or just looking for something unique.

Postcard

Some publishers just put out generic cards with winter themes so they could have duel use as a Christmas or New Year’s card. These types of cards had to stress some seasonal trope to pass for a holiday card, but one like some aspect of nature that would not confine them to representing one celebration or the other. The military associations on these types of cards also tend to be superfluous to their narrative, so other elements like humor often had to be added to give them some appeal.

Postcard

Perhaps the longest standing troupe associated with the changing of the year is father time. This elderly personification is often portrayed equipped with a reaping tool used for harvesting grain. While this symbolic association is clear, it takes on added meaning during war when father time begins to more closely resemble the grim reaper. Illustrators were certainly aware of the resemblance and used it to create propaganda cards that insinuated the enemy would be mowed down in the coming year.

Postcard

While the passing of the old and the arrival of the new represented by father time and young cherubs are familiar troupes, the great presence of pigs on is now harder to fathom. They were once very commonplace on German New Year’s cards because they are highly associated with good luck. To have good fortune in the New Year is schwein haben that is to have pig. Since these images involving pigs were traditionally presented as fantasies, it was easy to accommodate them in military theme.

Colored Real Photo Postcard

In pagan traditions, the changing of the year was often accompanied by magical trappings that were designed to bring good fortune. Many of these were translated into the ornaments that decorate Christmas trees, and as New Year’s is an extension of this celebration, luck became a very common motif on these holiday cards. Luck or good fortune was represented by a whole range of symbols that included four leaf clovers, horseshoes, elephants, pigs, and swastikas. These would be incorporated onto military cards, but usually in conjunction with some sort of military symbol or references as well. Many of these cards were issued as general holiday greetings and usually do not have complicated narratives tied to them. Luck in itself can be considered a military theme considering most soldier’s preoccupation with death. There was a steady growth in superstition during the War years, and many solders carried talismans and amulets. Perhaps these cards served in that capacity as well.

Postcard

Since New Year Day marks a new beginning, it was often used in predictive ways based more on hope than on facts. Nearly all these holiday cards have a single message, that victory will be achieved in the coming year. Hope is an essential ingredient to any war effort, especially when there is no positive news to report. After the War quickly bogged down into stalemate, it was only more generic messages that could create positive spin. Many of these cards only make some basic military reference, though others directly associate the might of the nations army or even international alliances with the victory to come.

Postcard

Official propaganda often presented the drive for victory as the only reasonable course towards peace. Most solders fought on accepting this premise, but their motivation had more to do with their yearning to return home to family than political concerns. These feelings had a way of effecting the way military symbolism was used on postcards. Frightful weapons like German Zeppelins and U-boats that often appear on British and French cards to show the barbarity of the enemy, are turned around on German cards as practical instruments that will help lead to victory.

Hand Colored Postcard

It might seem that publishers would want to avoid scenes of violence when presenting a cheerful holiday message but this was not the case. Modern weapons were often employed on cards because public fascination with them ensured higher sales. They were often inserted onto holiday cards in such nonchalant ways that it became easy to dissociate their relationship to death and destruction. Hatred of the enemy also helped this along since it generates a callousness that divorces emotion from violence. The French card above that illustrates the downing of a German plane is a clever use of metaphor to not only show the turning of the year but the turning of fortunes in the War. While death and destruction play a role in creating the narrative, the depiction is still playful enough to be used for a holiday greeting.

Postcard

Weapons like the French 75mm field gun were often depicted on postcards that displayed military might, but they also often appear in allegory for propaganda purposes. Despite the real limits on the gun’s usefulness, it achieved mythical status as the savior of France. It was used in this manner on New Year’s cards to show that victory will follow its use in the coming year. These cards form part of a larger propaganda message that claim peace can only be achieved by fighting on.

Postcard

Peace through victory was a common theme on Christmas cards, but it also sometimes appeared on New Year postcards in a remarkably similar fashion. Even though New Year’s is largely celebrated in secular manner, some publishers evoked the image of Christ to give credence to the propaganda message. Here he does not lament the destruction of war and the loss of life, but channels these tragedies toward the application of heavenly justice in the coming year.

Postcard

There is nothing unusual in people directly experiencing the tragedy of War to hope that their ordeal will come to an end in the coming year. This yearning became the focus of many New Year’s cards. While this message was often subverted by propaganda that called for a military solution to the conflict, some cards went even further to stir up hatred for the enemy. Peace is no longer enough of a goal, vengeance must follow. While this tone may be nothing more than another propaganda ploy to help reinforce the push for a military victory, it does seem to well reflect the excessive vitriol found in French sentiment. It wasn’t just French leaders who called for the harshest peace, French solders were the most likely of all occupying troops to brutalize Germans in the postwar years.

Woven Silk Postcard

Most messages on military New Year Cards say little more than on those from prewar years; they are only meant to serve as a basic greeting. Some cards are infused with patriotic imagery but the message still remains rather generic. Then there are cards that function as high propaganda with very explicit messages on them. They make assurances that victory is certain but only if all pull together for the cause. Some of these cards contain harsh words for the enemy and even for their own countrymen who might have reservations concerning the fight.

Postcard

Not all military New Year cards are belligerent in their nature even when the future is being contemplated. Fighting is sure to come, but a peaceful time can be found in the interim. Some of these cards are very similar to Christmas cards in that they make some connection to family through mail or gifts.

Postcard

New Year’s cards often mimicked Christmas cards in the way they connected the relationship between a soldier and his family. No matter what other military or political agenda they expressed, it was the family connection that was paramount. This represents the priorities of the consumer, which postcard publishers had to always consider. Even when publishers were not being directly told what to do by their government, most still tended to support official policies and synchronized their cards with them; but publishing was still a business in which profit was sought, and customers needed to be satisfied.

Postcard

On some New Year’s cards the theme of winter is directly tied to scenes of war. Despite these snowy backdrops, it is not the focus of these cards but only meant to set the narrative in the holiday season. The real focus is on the War or the men fighting the War. While there is always time to send a card back home, a soldier’s life is full of commitment to the nation’s cause, which knows no restful holiday. If not for the card’s caption these would pass for generic scenes of battle. While these types of cards seem to contradict those that show soldiers in restful repose or celebration; this was probably nothing more than a way to give consumers more choice when purchasing cards, just as in peacetime.

Postcard

Even in neutral Switzerland, New Year’s was often paired with military themes during the Great War. These cards however often differ from the holiday cards produced in belligerent nations in significant ways. They primarily address the nation’s concerns over their frontiers. Soldiers are shown diligently on duty defending the border or marching off to the front. Some of these cards contrast peaceful Switzerland with the carnage ragging just across the border. They are a reminder that only through the sacrifice made by their soldiers are their families at home safe. This was an important propaganda message because the call up of reservists created real hardships that disrupted their society.

Postcard

Swiss New Year’s cards are also unusual in that they often stress the call for peace in unconditional terms. Similar cards were also made in other neutral nations such as the Netherlands and even the United States early in the conflict. In some cases this New Year’s message comes to us through the soldiers who are shown prepared to fight but just want to return home. These cards reflect a national mood that translated into actual efforts in trying to negotiate a brokered peace.

Postcard

Cards depicting the horrors of war would have been considered traitorous in belligerent nations where any message challenging the righteousness of the cause was not tolerated and could land one in prison. There was little need for direct censorship as most publishers knew where this line was drawn. Charities were sometimes given some leeway as they needed to display the downside of war to solicit funds for relief, but even their cards usually imply that peace will come through victory, not the laying down of arms. Desertion and mutinies remained a huge concern of generals throughout the War, and any card relating to peace was looked upon suspiciously. Publishers who wished to express the traditional call for peace on their New Year’s cards had to proceed cautiously. The scant amount of these cards that were produced are little different from their peacetime counterparts in that they use allegory to create a generic message of optimism.

Postcard

Even postcard publishers in neutral nations often found that they had to operate under governmental restrictions as to the subjects they could present. Neutral did not mean the populace had not chosen sides, and officials did what they could to keep internal conflict from rearing up. In this environment antiwar messages had at least some chance of being seen, and they usually depicted the War in the most negative light. Though horrors are expressed on these New Year’s cards, their message calls for an end to the killing in the coming year.

Holiday Card

As the War progressed, images of massed charges became to be more associated with slaughter than with victory, so it also became more difficult to depict them on holiday cards. Postcards after all were a commodity whose sales were largely determined by public taste. As the public grew war weary, they also lost the stomach for the scenes of combat that were so popular early on, but were now only a reminder of the endless flow of dead. As romantic war images dissipated, those demonstrating the sacrifice made by the troops became more common in the market. Rather than discourage those at home, such somber imagery increased the public’s desire to stick it out. This can clearly be seen on New Year’s cards that had a whole range of motifs to choose from, but instead of portraying optimism they now express resolve.

Postcard

It is sometimes difficult to tell what holiday a card was issued for. These depictions are usually celebratory in nature without any other narrative or symbolism to clue the viewer in. The only clue today might be in the time of year the card was sent determined by its hand written message or cancel. Most of these generic looking cards were most likely meant to be used for New Year’s Day.

Postcard

It is often difficult to pin down the date of Japanese postcards since many were illustrated with broad or only decorative themes. While this may have extended the shelf life of a card, we cannot always know if even a military cards was printed during wartime. After Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War, the Navy was elevated in the public’s esteme, and warships became the subject of many postcards. The New Year’s card above was probably printed between 1908 and 1915, which includes some of the years Japan was active in the Great War.



BIRTHDAYS


Postcard

Although individual birthdays are not celebrated in all cultures, and even in the West there is some religious opposition to its notice, many birthday postcards began being produced at the turn of the 20th century during the golden age of postcards. They do not seem to be based on an older tradition but are the byproduct of marketing efforts to generate more postcard sales. Birthday postcards seem to have been most popular in the United States and Great Britain where card giving for Christmas was a strong tradition. While not common, birthday postcards were printed with military themes during the Great War. In contrast the silk embroideries hand sewn in France became one of the most popular forms of birthday greetings, even though they rarely made any connection to the War.



GREETINGS


Postcard

Greeting cards primarily rely on stirring up emotions to find customers and get their simple message across, but when all the pictorial language of a card is reduced to decorative and symbolic elements, their meaning can be highly diluted. Multiple references to holidays, patriotism, the war effort, and correspondence between loved ones can confuse as much as clarify. Often in these cases, a direct bold caption is needed to salvage the message. Although these cards may have been made to focus in on a specific holiday, they tend to break down into more generic greetings.

Postcard

Some publishers purposely produced cards without a clear cut narrative so they could serve as all-purpose generic greetings. These cards contain no printed message at all, relying solely on a few visual cues. Many such cards were produced, but those used for fieldpost always contain some relationship to the military. Those for use on the home front tend to have more traditional elements added such as flowers, but then they must be matched with some military subject matter. These combinations can often be unsettling; in an attempt to serve any purpose, the lack of narrative can lead to the weakening of their symbolic meaning. While generics were often popular among merchants because of their broad appeal, they are not commonly found during the War years, probably due to the intense efforts being made to promote propaganda.

Postcard

The album amicorum, used by university students since the 16th century functioned as a repository for autographs, quotes, and praise by professors. While this tradition evolved into the friendship albums kept by women, they still usually contained quotes and mottos that were often presented in emblematic form. When this familiar tradition was eventually picked up by postcard publishers, motto cards became a common form of greetings. During the Great War many of these cards took on an added dimension. While there were many cards with long patriotic messages or poems placed on them, motto cards were produced that made no direct reference to the War, focusing instead on more profound words that helped define national identity. By reinforcing an individual’s identity in nationalistic terms, it became easier to define the enemy to rally against.

Silk Embroidered Postcard

Handshaking has long been used as a symbol for friendship and connection, be it between two individuals or two nations. By the 19th century it had taken on many more associations but it was still widely understood to represent union and reunion when presented in visual form. From this a whole genre of postcard arose portraying the theme, Hands Across the Sea. It was largely a British phenomenon, evolving out of the need to stay connected with loved ones spread out across the Empire. Maintaining social connections are of course behind the sending of most postcards, but these were more personally focused toward those living in the British Diaspora. The sentiments found on these cards were also somewhat applicable to British soldiers fighting on the Western Front and elsewhere, and publishers adapted. While these cards are not all militarily themed, perhaps for a longer shelf life, words like Hands Across the Channel take on new meaning when thousands were fighting in France. Others served as unity cards, stressing the bonds between dominion and motherland to encourage enlistment overseas.

Postcard

The theme of Hands Across the Sea did not always include the traditional symbol of clasped hands nor did they all revolve around tying the British Diaspora together. It was also widely used to illustrate the bonds between Great Britain and the United States during the War years. Like many unity cards, they were produced because these bonds were somewhat questionable in the public’s mind. While Americans share a great deal of cultural heritage with Britain, political relations were often antagonistic. These cards were already being produced before America’s entry into the Great War as propaganda to bolster the myth of a long standing friendship. Ties needed to be mended if the United States was to join the Allies.

Postcard

While greeting cards of British manufacture were used throughout the Empire, there was also local production of postcards in Britain’s Dominions. Since they all supplied troops to the war effort, there was a great demand for postcards in general, and those with military themes were more likely to be the best sellers. Scenes of battle were not common on British cards, and this dispositions seems to have been passed down throughout the Empire. While this is no doubt due to a shared culture, the influence of military censors cannot be discounted. Publishers in places like Australia and New Zealand tended to rely on the inclusion of national symbols, both formal and informal, to bolster national spirit. If the cause they were fighting for was distant and vague, they could be encouraged by believing they were supporting their homeland.

Silk Embroidered Postcard

Silk cards, largely hand embroidered by French and Belgian women residing in their homes or in refugee camps, suddenly became very popular in 1914 when soldiers began to buy them in large numbers. While some of these cards incorporated military themes, many if not most were simple greetings with wishes of a Happy Birthday or the ever popular A Kiss from France. Holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Day were also well represented. They usually incorporate depictions of flowers, which mimics common greeting cards of the time that were especially popular in England. Most of these cards are titled in English because only British then American troops had enough money in their pockets to buy these relatively expensive cards. Even though these cards had a postcard back they were usually sent in envelopes as few would risk having these cards damaged in the mail. They continued to be marketed to occupation forces after the War, but production soon stopped as the number of soldiers to sell them to dwindled.

Postcard

Most charities published very simple designs on the cards they gave away to soldiers to reduce the cost of printing. The money saved could then be put into the distribution of more cards. While these cards still served their primary purpose, their generic look did not convey any sort of feeling. Most recipients were probably just happy to get mail from the battle front, but there was still room for improvement. A few publishers took advantage of this need and enhanced the look of these cards by personalizing them. One such example is the Name Greeting Series produced by Mathew & Co., London, seen above. Even though a specific name is printed on the card to add to its appeal, it is still generic enough to sell in numbers that would generate a profit for the publisher.

Tip-in Postcard

A number of publishers produced generic cards with military or patriotic themes that left room for a soldier’s or sailor’s photograph to be pasted in. The design of many generics was uninspired, the publisher counting on the ability to personalize these cards to make the sale. There was a long tradition of servicemen having their portrait taken in uniform when entering the military. While many such portraits abound as real photo postcards, these paste on generics provided a convenient method of sending something a little more special. Generics also allowed small town stores to provide cards to limited numbers of local soldiers. These types of cards are most commonly found in the United States.

Postcard

A wide variety of traditional greeting cards were mailed during the Great War that did not make any reference to the conflict. Among these are cards with some generic or fanciful military content that were consistent with those printed in the years before the War. Soldiers on these cards did not necessarily have any special meaning but were just used to enhance narrative or inhabit playful word games. The card above was printed in the United States during the War but before America’s involvement in it. There is no way of telling if those marketing these cards thought the War would enhance sales or whether the military theme was just a coincidence.

Postcard

Not all holiday cards start off as holiday cards. Soldiers also purchased a variety of non military themed postcards that continued to be made during the War or were already widely available from prewar stockpiles. They could be sent as is or a message could be written on them to change the meaning. The glamour card above, with a generous white border typical of these cards, was easily turned into a holiday card by its sender by simply adding a holiday greeting. It is unclear if this practice was due to the shortage of postcards or if they were posted by soldiers who just wanted to send something more unique.




Back  UP  Next

Return to Menu



graphic