The Daily Postcard No. 12

Inspired by Daisy’s exceedingly helpful piece of research on the location of the image on one of yesterday’s postcards, it once again seems appropriate to make a change for today’s. So here we have a colour image showing the cathedral at Rheims on fire during the German shelling over the course of 18th & 19th September 1914. 

There’s a bit more to the colour picture than may at first meet they eye; note that the scaffolding is in mid-collapse, which explains the stream of people running for their lives beneath it,…

…and in reality it was the wooden scaffolding around the cathedral’s north tower that, on catching fire, helped spread the blaze.  Of the statues at the front of the cathedral, those at the base of the north tower (above) suffered the most damage.

Over the next four years several hundred more shells would hit the remains of the cathedral,…

…and many thousands more…

…would reduce much of Rheims to ruins.

Pictures of destruction, usually showing the after-effects of shelling on towns and villages and often individual buildings within, were frequently featured on French-manufactured cards, huge quantities of which were used by both French & British soldiers, and thus many found there way back here to Blighty.

I would hazard a guess that more images of shattered towns and villages and similar found their way on to French postcards than any other subject, ostensibly for patriotic – this is what we are fighting for – reasons, but in reality, just as likely for economic ones.

Because there was little expense involved, barring the photographer’s fee (and he may well have been on a retainer) – no models required, no swooning sisters, no sets – just get a photo of a shattered street or building sent quickly back to Paris, not far away, stick it on a card, print out multiple copies, and off to market with you.  Although none of the cards in this post are used, the names of some of the manufacturers and photographers are revealed either on the front (below left) or reverse (above).  There appear to be at least six different companies represented here, among just ten cards, all competing with each other using basically the same image, that of the destruction of Rheims.

Big thanks to Duncan the Elder, last seen in Witley Cemetery (that doesn’t sound quite right…), who quite recently passed on to me, because he looks out for stuff I might like on his travels, quite a number of these Rheims cards.

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7 Responses to The Daily Postcard No. 12

  1. Sid from Down Under says:

    I’d run too with that burning scaffolding falling – and a good explanation thanks of how these postcard pictures originate. But oh that poor sister in the previous set piece.

    It seems a heck of a waste to keep shelling an already bombed out building or were they using it for target training?

    And Sir, you were probably thinking as you typed your closing thanks that you’d hook me into a question. Is that Duncan M? If so, please give him a big “Hello” from me

    • Magicfingers says:

      Certainly is. I spoke to him last week – he’s okay so far. I’ll probably speak to him later in the week – I will pass on your best when I do.

  2. Nick Kilner says:

    That first postcard is stunning! What a powerful image. Another fabulous set.
    Sid, I would suggest they continued shelling in order to deny the allies use of any part of the city. Even bombed out ruins can be used as shelter. There would also likely have been occasional reports of people moving about in the ruins, which would no doubt trigger a further barrage.

  3. Magicfingers says:

    As an addition to this post, the Germans had taken Rheims in August 1914 and had used the cathedral as an infirmary. Thus they filled the church with 3,000 wooden cots and 15,000 bales of dried grass for use as pallets, and then when, on 4th September, the Germans retreated after the First Battle of the Marne, they left everything where it was, Rheims then becoming a few miles behind the French front line. Which means that assuming that the dried grass was still in the cathedral, the Germans knew it would go up in flames – and what are spies for, if not to inform of such things?

  4. Margaret Draycott says:

    What an evocative picture that first card is, given the bombardments and subsequent fires I’m surprised anything was left standing. I visited Rheims in recent times and like Ypres in Belgium you would never realise the city had been totally destroyed. I see the point yes of those postcards now very political and geared to fan the flames of patriotism.
    Thankyou Daisy for that fascinating information on the previous post.

    • Magicfingers says:

      M, I have added a couple of links to the posts about Sid’s Dad etc – you’ll find them in repsonse to your comment on the Theberton/Zeppelin post.

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