Category Archives: WW1

French Postcard Sent Back from the Western Front

This week’s postcard is a bit unusual as, whilst interesting, the image on the front rather falls outside the purview of this blog: it depicts a pair of French soldiers, an infantryman and a cavalryman:SKM_C284e18121008500 - CopyObviously French military history is not what this blog is interested in, so why is it included? The answer lies on the back where we can see that it was sent by a British soldier home to his wife in England:SKM_C284e18121008501He has written in pencil ‘On Active Service’ at the top:SKM_C284e18121008501 - Copy (2)And it has the stamps indicating that it has been checked by a censor for anything incriminating and that it has been handled by a field post office, the post mark dates it to 4th September 1915:SKM_C284e18121008501 - CopyLieutenant Harry Bundle explains the process of censoring soldiers’ mail:

Censoring is interesting at first but it rapidly becomes boring; no letter is allowed to leave without it having been read by an officer and franked by him on the envelope; fortunately my platoon do not write very long letters though they write very often. A typical letter starts like this. ‘My Dear Father and Mother, Ellen and Mary, I take pleasure in writing these few lines hoping that you are in the pink as it leaves me at present.’ Many of the men talk awful drivel about cannon balls flying around them, but as a general rule they are short and rather formal letters… The men always write very extravagantly after a spell in the front line – ‘All the ravines were full of dead Germans and Bulgars’, ‘It was absolute Hell!’, ‘I said more prayers then than at all of the Church parades I’ve attended’.”

The message itself is relatively banal, but the author does write to his other half with the best opener ‘Dear Wife’!SKM_C284e18121008501 - Copy (3)The message reads:

Dear Wife

Just a line. Hope you are well, give my love to all at home. Will write shortly. Hope you received the cheque okay.

Best Love Frank xxxx

The letter was sent to Mrs F Gregory of Sheffield:SKM_C284e18121008501 - Copy (4)Sadly, although following up on a few leads, I have been unable to determine who exactly this Frank Gregory was, hopefully he survived the war and was able to be reunited with his wife.

Postcard of Victoria Place, Hartlepool, after German Bombardment

A couple of weeks ago we looked at a postcard depicting the destruction of the Baptist chapel in Hartlepool, however it was not just public buildings that were damaged in this naval bombardment. Much civilian property was also destroyed and tonight’s postcard depicts the ruins of housing in Victoria Place Hartlepool:SKM_C284e18110611560 - CopyVictoria Place is on the headland at Hartlepool and this row of Victorian houses suffered heavy destruction at the hands of the German attackers. At 8.15 at the same time the Baptist chapel was being hit by shellfire, the houses of Victoria Place were hit and Salvation Army Adjutant William Gordon Avery was killed and buried beneath the rubble of the houses.

Censorship of newspapers had not yet been rigorously enforced, so the following day the Daily mail was able to run a detailed story outlining the attack on the town:

Hartlepool and West Hartlepool, two of the most thriving ports on the east coast, had today the unenviable distinction of being among the first English towns to suffer from a German bombardment.

They were attacked shortly after 8 a.m., and for forty minutes were subjected to a rain of heavy shells. Twenty-nine people were killed and 64 wounded, some very severely. Some damage was done to the town.

Official information is not to be obtained, and those who were manning the trenches and saw most of what occurred have been prohibited from giving any information, but the above figures are the nearest estimate I can make from careful inquiry in the two towns.

As near as can be made out, firing commenced at 8.04 a.m. and only ceased at 8.45. Various reports are current as to how many vessels took part in the bombardment, but the most careful sifting seems to indicate that there were certainly three warships, and possibly four.

Several shells landed in the battery at Hartlepool and one killed five men, but the guns were not put out of action and continued to fire until the enemy steamed away southwards.

The Hartlepools lie in a crescent-like formation, with old Hartlepool as the apex, and the German ships lay off this point and fired fan-wise, with the result that shells swept both towns for a distance of a couple of miles inland, striking most of the important buildings with the exception of the town hall and post office at West Hartlepool. The latter, however, was largely incapacitated from working by a large number of wires being down through the wrecking of telegraph poles or the actual cutting down of the wires themselves by exploding shells.


There were many terrible tragedies, but three stand out pre-eminent. The seven soldiers killed were members of the Durham County “Pals” battalion. These seven were standing together on the front and a shell burst in the middle of them. Two other cases are those of civilians.


A family resident in Dene-Street, whose name I have not been able to obtain, had a shell burst in their house, with the result that the father, mother and six children were killed instantly.

The third case was that of the Misses Kays, who live in the end house of Cliff-terrace, just behind the Lighthouse, at the point nearest to where the hostile vessels lay. The Misses Kays were aroused by the sound of firing. They let their maid servant out at the back and told her to run, and returning to their house went upstairs to gather some things. While they were in the bedroom a shell burst, carrying away the end of the house and killing both of them.

China Model of the Cenotaph

During the First World War there was a huge variety of commemorative china trinkets produced that reflected the war, some such as a tank and an artillery piece have been featured on the blog before. This obsession with collecting crested souvenir china trailed off slightly in the early 1920s but was still popular enough to warrant companies producing new designs that reflected peacetime. War memorials were an obvious choice of model and the Arcadian Company was quick to release a model of the Cenotaph in London:imageThis model is a fairly accurate depiction of Lutyens monument in the centre of London and is rendered in white glazed porcelain. The front of the model features a transfer print of the arms of the City of London:imageThe rear has an explanatory message describing what the model represents:imageWreaths that are carved in stone on the original, are picked out in green on this piece:imageThe design itself is hollow, and there is a large circular hole on the base, along with the Arcadian trade mark:imageThis design was one of the most popular in the Arcadian catalogue in the early 1920s and can be found with a large variety of town crests on the front, many with no connection to London and the Cenotaph at all. Some of these fit nicely onto the front of the model, others are clearly too large for the design and are wrapped awkwardly onto the sides of the monument. One of the most unusual uses for this design was as a souvenir of the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 when the design was offered with a special exhibition logo displayed on the front.

This reproduction of the cenotaph is made up of straight lines, the original however is designed so that the edges are ever so slightly curved, as the architect explains:

Sir Edward Lutyens, the designer of the Cenotaph, in an interview said, “The one thing I really like about the Cenotaph is that none of the architectural papers has realised how it was done. They have tried to bring out reproductions of it, and all of them have used straight lines instead of curves.”

With swift strokes he sketched the outline of the monument, and showed, by a cunning sweep in lines, how the curve preserved and even accumulated the majesty which the straight line destroyed.

British Airship Postcard

This week’s image is rather a fun one, as these things go. This postcard depicts an airship off the coast with the phrase “Keep a Good Look Out. Don’t let this guy give you a fright. Just look inside it- we’re alright.”SKM_C284e18110611560 - Copy (4)This gives a hint of the cards novelty- the airship lifts up and a set of four tiny views of Richmond are hidden beneath:imageThe airship does not resemble the design of the German Zeppelins, and is far more the shape of the early British airships:SKM_C284e18110611560 - Copy (5) - CopyThis is backed up by the fact that the airship is flying the white ensign rather than a German naval flag! Early British airships were shorter and fatter than the long German craft:_59623058_ghw03_ns06Below the illustration of the airship can be seen a battleship:SKM_C284e18110611560 - Copy (4) - CopyThis postcard was sent in 1915 and balloons and airships were still very much cutting edge technology. Britain lagged far behind both France and Germany in the development of lighter than air craft, preferring to focus more of her energy on fixed wing aircraft. The airships the British did develop were designed far more as defensive platforms to patrol the seas of Great Britain rather than having an offensive element like those of Germany. German zeppelins were designed for long range bombing missions over enemy territory, British airships patrolled the North Sea looking for enemy ship and submarine movements that could then be reported by wireless to allow Royal Navy ships to be directed onto target.

Bruce Bairnsfather Plate

Perhaps the greatest cartoonist of the First World War was Bruce Bairnsfather, who created the iconic character of ‘Old Bill’, a curmudgeonly old soldier with a walrus moustache. Bairnsfather had been in the military during peacetime, but resigned in 1907 to become an artist. In 1914 he re-joined and was posted as a second lieutenant to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He started drawing humorous cartoons for the Bystander magazine featuring doleful British Tommys and these quickly became iconic characters. His cartoons were rapidly gathered together in a series of books called ‘Fragments from France’ and a range of merchandise based on his characters ensued. Tonight we have a plate that was produced in World War One depicting one of his cartoons:imageThe cartoon itself is in the centre of the plate and is a reproduction of one of Bairnsfather’s more popular designs:imageThis plate was produced by Grimswade and their mark is on the rear:imageOther Bairnsfather collectables include car mascots, metal ashtrays and model busses as well as jigsaws and film posters. Whilst in the past I have picked up the odd postcard and I have been given a few of the ‘Fragments from France’ booklets, this is my first piece of Bairnsfather china and I am very pleased with it. There is some slight damage in the form of a small chip on one edge, but as it is 100 years old, I think we can forgive it a little damage!

A Postcard of the Baptist Chapel after the Hartlepool Bombardment

This week’s postcard is not in the best condition, the main image being badly scratched. It is however very interesting historically and so still worthy of inclusion. In December 1914 the war came directly to Britain in a way that had never happened before. The battleships of the German high Seas Fleet sailed out and bombarded the coastal towns of Eastern England on 16th December 1914. Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool were amongst those shelled and this image is of the aftermath of that bombardment and the damage caused to the Baptist chapel in Hartlepool:SKM_C284e18110611560 - Copy (3)The back of the postcard has a fascinating message, probably written by an eye witness:SKM_C284e18110611561The text reads:

Gone right through this chapel. Destroyed all in it. Organ and everything and taken the roof of the house at the other end

The damage up and down the coast was extensive and 114 civilians lost their lives. The Headlands Baptist church in the postcard above became one of the iconic images of the raid, the idea that the Germans were capable of destroying a place of worship feeding into the propaganda of the period which portrayed them as heathen barbarians with no respect for religion or culture. One eyewitness was passing the Baptist Chapel when it was hit:

We ran past the church yard wall and the Baptist Chapel. One bang and the church organ came out through the wall. We reversed and finished down Northgate.

Lt Colonel Rowe commanded the small detachment of soldiers guarding the town and left this description:

The streets of the old town suffered terribly, the gas works was destroyed and one of the big ship building yards damaged, but the docks and other yards were not touched. Churches, hospitals, workhouses and schools were all struck. Little children going to school and babies in their mothers arms were killed

There is still a Baptist Chapel on the same site, however the building pictured above has been replaced with a modern and smaller structure.

Fragment of a World War One Ale Poster

On Saturday we looked at a 1919 dated certificate and at the time I said that the original framers who had mounted the certificate had used an offcut of card to do it with. This offcut of card is as interesting as the certificate itself and is part of a World War one advertising poster for ale:imageUnfortunately I do not know which ale this was as the top part is missing and I have been unable to find a matching design online. This particular poster though incorporates some gorgeous artwork and has four war related characters, admiring the pint in front of them. Firstly on the left we have a sailor from HMS Invincible:SKM_C284e18110612520 - CopyHMS Invincible was the lead ship of a class of three battlecruisers launched in 1907. She took part in the Battle of Jutland and was destroyed by a magazine explosion during the fighting.  The next figure is a munitionette:SKM_C284e18110612520 - Copy (2)Munitionettes were women who worked in shell factories producing shells for the guns on the front line. They typically wore brown overalls and mop caps to protect their hair. World War one saw the number of different employment possibilities for women expand dramatically and as well as working in factories, the Women’s Auxilliary Army Corps was set up in 1917 and our third figure is dressed in their distinctive uniform:SKM_C284e18110612520 - Copy (3)The final figure is an archetypal British Tommy, wearing the cap badge of the Machine Gun Corps:SKM_C284e18110612520 - Copy (4)The Machine Gun Corps was founded in October 1915 and assuming this poster is reflecting this period accurately and not using artistic licence this would quite accurately date the image. If anyone has any more information on the poster, and indeed knows which brand of ale it was for please get in contact as I would be fascinated to know.