Army Form A. 2042. The ubiquitous Army Field Service Post Card, this example posted in December 1916 (note the ‘Canadian Corps HQ’ written at the top of the card). How many millions, and I mean millions, of these found their way back across the Channel to Blighty during the Great War?
By the autumn of 1917 the British Army was sending not far off 300,000 items of mail through the postal system per day, an astonishing volume, and one of the advantages of using the F.S.P.C. was the speed with which it could be delivered, as it could swiftly pass through the censors – you will find many sources suggesting that these were not censored at all, which makes no sense whatsoever, if you think about it – any added information being easy to spot. This one made it through despite Fred’s extra sentence, and could well have reached his parents by Christmas Day, so efficient was the Army postal service by this time. Let’s hope he received a reciprocal letter in the New Year.
And here’s another, this one, although undated, slightly smaller in size than the previous one and therefore, due to paper shortages, or at least attempts to save paper, from later in the war. This soldier appears to have had no intention of using the form to send a message home, simply utilising it to list the letters he has received,…
…and so the reverse is still blank. Earlier in the war, before these cards were distributed for free (initially two per week, although before long they would be issued on request), each one would have cost a penny, and he would doubtless have been less profligate. So many of these cards were posted during the war that it’s hardly surprising a large number still survive and are available today for just a few pounds (check Ebay), and you’ve probably come across examples of them before (and if you haven’t, you have now).
And here’s an official envelope that could be used, provided it was certified ‘on my honour’ that the enclosed contents contained personal matters only, to by-pass the Regimental Censor, although still subject to examination by the Base Censor. All very interesting, or possibly all very dull, I hear you say. There surely has to be a little bit more to this post than that, doesn’t there?
Well yes, there is a little more, because it occurred to me that many of you might not have seen the French & German equivalents, and how many millions more of these were sent home to loved ones in France or Germany during four years of war? So first, here’s an early French Army postcard, dated January 1915 (above & below),…
…and then two more, both from the same sender, this first one sent in August 1917 (above & below),…
…and this second one (above & below),…
…dated April 1918, both bearing the ‘observation essentielle’ that in order to be posted immediately, the card must only contain personal news.
The Germans had much the same system, although this German Army official postage-paid field postcard (above & below) from October 1914,…
…can be described as utilitarian, at best, I think you’ll agree.
So here’s a later card, postmarked July 1917 on the reverse (below), the front featuring the words and music to ‘At Home, there’ll be a Reunion’, evidently ‘sung by our brave warriors on the march in 1914’…
…the sender – note the red cross, so maybe he was in hospital – apparently using shorthand for his message, which is a pretty smart way of circumventing the censors, or it may just be that military letters sent within Germany were not subject to censorship. Also note the postmark, Landsberg perhaps being best known for its prison where, a few years later in 1924, Hitler would write Mein Kampf.
This third German form initially proved a bit of a conundrum, until I realised that this is not an official military form, but a photograph ordering form,…
…which explains why it is attached to the back of this postcard showing one Gustaw Lohman, somewhere behind the lines, judging by the lack of any visible weapons, about to embark on an afternoon ride. So not an Army document, but interesting nonetheless, and worthy of inclusion here. The form appears to have been filled out by Gustaw (an infantryman, despite the picture) and as you can see he has also marked which of the two riders is him, the finished photograph, I would imagine, intended to be cropped to exclude his companion. Presumably some soldiers failed to return to collect their goods, hence one of the lines to be filled in (thankfully crossed out on this example, so we know Gustaw was alive in August 1916) is entitled ‘gefallen’ (killed), although what the actual entry says I do not know.
We’ll finish with three more ‘official’ German cards, although this first one was once French, or so it would appear. Thoroughly unprepared for the large number of prisoners taken during the early stages of the war, the Germans utilised all sorts of already-printed stationery to serve as P.O.W. cards (Kriegsgefangenensendung can be translated as Prisoner-of-War Mail), including, by the looks of it, captured French cards such as this one, with the German text overprinted or overstamped (above & below).
This card was sent by a Private W. Ansell of the Queen’s Regiment from Dülmen P.O.W. camp, fifteen miles south west of Münster (and not much further from the Dutch border), in November 1915,…
…and nearly two years later the same Private Ansell sent this second card, dated October 1917 and now postmarked Chemnitz, 250 miles to the east, to the same destination.
The contents of both cards (and doubtless there were others sent that no longer survive, or at least that I don’t own) are interesting for their formality – a number of funds were set up back in Britain in order to send parcels to prisoners-of-war, and Mrs Bristoe appears to have been, in effect, Private Ansell’s parcel sponsor, for want of a better expression.
We end this post with one more P.O.W. card, this one sent from ‘Officer Prison Camp Clausthal’, which was right in the centre of Germany, and not really near anywhere of note.
This card was sent in late June 1918, this particular subaltern having been captured on 31st May 1917 at Monchy, near Arras. As he mentions here, he was awaiting transfer to neutral Holland at the time, where he would have had to wait out the war (but no longer at the Germans’ expense) before he could return to Blighty to collect his Military Cross, and, more importantly, for the big W&S. His medal index card would later include the entry ‘Exonerated Officers List’; there had to be good reason, as an officer, to surrender in the first place, and all captured officers were debriefed on their release at the end of the war. I know all this because he left various documents in two small brown envelopes when he died forty years ago, and they have my name on them. He was my Great-Uncle.
Whisky & Soda, of course.
As Sergeant Johann Sebastian Schulz from Stalag 17 might say: “Very interestink”. Besides that thank you for the hours it must have taken to scan/photograph the postcards so clearly then create your post. I liked your ending. We are reaping the rewards of your retirement and you deserve a W&S.
And not so stoopid, eh? You are most kind. This was all about finding an interesting way of presenting these forms, so I presume I succeeded. Mind you, I am more a W, without the S, man.
Regarding your last sentence – apologies my friend – I should have known ….but try a 1960s Double Bass “Bass for Men” or a velvety Vintage Devon Cider out of a stoneware demijohn – neither definitely not your normal English Pub beer – both blew my head off (great memories). I’m sure our WW1 soldiers on both sides would have had something similar. There – some more research for you.
Very interesting post as usual Sir. Thank you.
Thank you Steve. Appreciated.
Very clearly explained and interesting.
Thank you Kathryn. I appreciate your comment very much.
Ladies golf club in Brora had Smokes for our boys campaign. Hardly PC today if you will pardon the pun.
I think the effect that tobacco had on men’s morale is forever underestimated. But then I’m a smoker, so I would say that…………