German & Austro-Hungarian Official Field Postcards

Great War postcards are strange creatures.  They allow us the most personal of insights into the men and women who wrote them, and yet at the same time they represent one of the largest military administrative operations ever seen, considering the millions & millions of letters and cards sent to and from soldiers on active service across the different armies throughout four years of war.  We’ve seen the standard British & French cards before (link at the end) but this post we shall take a look at some official Central Powers field postcards – ‘feldpostkarten’ – from my collection which I show you not for any great aesthetic reason, nor for their written content, particularly as I guess none of us can read them, but rather to show what information one can glean from them if you have an idea of what you are looking for, language difficulties notwithstanding.  It might be more interesting than you think. 

This first example is an early-war standard Feldpostkarte posted on 7th October 1914.  Very little is pre-printed on the obverse (above) of this card compared to later examples we shall see, and nothing whatsoever on the reverse, which is why you don’t need to see it, but we do know that this soldier was on active service in the field as the postmark on the card says ‘Feldpostampt’, which translates as ‘Field post office’.  Feldpost was, and I believe still is, the German military mail service.  I imagine that the clear regimental stamp could probably lead to an expert, and I do not pretend to be one, being able to tell us the rough whereabouts of this man when he put pencil to paper.

Before we continue, all the images in this post will enlarge if you click on them; those where only the obverse is shown have nothing pre-printed on the reverse and thus I have chosen not to show most of them, as in the first example.  This is another early example, although with more pre-printing, written on 14th November 1914 and postmarked a week later on 21st November.  This card, however, was written either before this soldier went to whichever front he was posted, if you’ll excuse the pun, or while he was on leave, because unlike the previous card, the postmark has a place name, in this case Plettenberg, which is twenty five miles or so south east of Dortmund and around forty miles east of the River Rhine.

Another early card, this one sent in May 1915, again almost certainly whilst the writer was on leave, as the card is postmarked Oerlinghausen, a small city in north west Germany.

This example was posted on 30th September 1916, and it appears to have certain information, such as the address of the recipient, redacted, which seems odd.  The pre-printed section on the left of the obverse, variations of which are to be found on most of the following examples, is standard military stuff; division, regiment, etc.

Entitled simply Field Post, this example, sent on 17th November 1916 and postmarked Berlin, is actually from civilian father Wilhelm, apparently a master glazier – ‘Glasermeister’ – according to the ‘sender’ section on the left, to military son, Gefreiter (Private) Walter Radacaj.

This is a pre-printed medical card, featuring a box at the top of the reverse with ‘Name of the hospital etc (to be completed in writing or by stamp)’ pre-printed on the left, beneath which ‘I was admitted to the above-mentioned hospital today on _____ because of _____, I’m fine’.  Fill in the blanks, get the hospital stamp in the aforementioned box – in this case a reserve hospital in Forbach, some thirty five miles west of Stuttgart – and the blue circular hospital postmark, and pop in the post.

And while we are on the subject of medical cards, this, despite the red cross, isn’t.  This is a Feldpostkarte that has been pre-printed on behalf of the ‘Kriegsfürsorge’*, a charity which supported widows and wounded soldiers & their wives, although by July 1917, when this card was posted, they were also raising funds for the ‘Deutsche Rotes Kreuz’ – the German Red Cross’ – the text surrounding the printed red cross translating, literally, as ‘To the benefit of the Red Cross for War Welfare’.  The card features the words and music to ‘At Home, there’ll be a Reunion’, evidently ‘sung by our brave warriors on the march to war in 1914’, and the sender has used shorthand for their message, which is a pretty smart way of circumventing the censors, or maybe just saves space.  Also note the postmark, Landsberg perhaps being best known for its prison where, a few years later, in 1924, Hitler would write Mein Kampf.

*’War Relief’.

Kriegsfürsorge public relations material.

The examples so far have been single cards, but this, above & below, is an example of a ‘doppelkarte’, a double card, folded in the centre, with extra space, unused in this case, for the writer.  The upside-down pre-printed text, bottom right above, is a very long-winded way of saying ‘write clearly’.  Closer examination of the postmark shows this card to have been sent in February 1917 from Kötzschenbroda, a district in Saxony close to Dresden, to a Landsturm man in a hospital in Bergheim, near Cologne.

This final German example is a Feldpostbrief – a Field post letter, the paper used similar to that used for airmails, if they still exist (and even if they don’t), this example posted in January 1918.

And before we move on to the Austro-Hungarian Army, how about the Austro-Hungarian Navy?  This card is pre-printed on the left of the obverse with S.M.S. Tegetthoff, and beneath, ‘Marinefeldpostamt’, meaning ‘Naval field post office’.

S.M.S. Tegetthoff (at anchor, top left), the second of four Tegetthoff-class dreadnought battleships built for the Austro-Hungarian Navy, was launched in March 1912 (undergoing trials in 1913, top centre) and first saw action in May 1915 on Italy’s declaration of war on Austria-Hungary.  She then spent most of the war in the harbour at what is now Pula in Croatia, as seen in the main picture (Tegetthoff second from the foreground), survived the failed attempt to breakout from the Adriatic that saw her sister ship, SMS Szent István, sunk by Italian motor torpedo boats (top right), and spent the rest of the war back in Pula before being handed over to the Italian Navy (arrival in Venice, March 1919, bottom right).

Pula was once Pola, as printed on the card, again on the left, and at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; most likely, as the ship spent most of its time at anchor in Pola harbour, this card would have been posted ashore.

On to the Austro-Hungarian Army, and you might even consider that half the empire’s military problems are laid bare by the army’s official postcards, and I don’t mean by their content.  We begin with this example from January 1916, pre-printed on the obverse with a praying figure and the words ‘Unser Kaiser im Gebet’, although I doubt the Kaiser would be impressed with the baldness of the figure.  Nor did he need to be, the figure in question being Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, the text actually translating as ‘Our Emperor in Prayer’, kaiser meaning emperor.  Above the figure is the same text in Polish; although Poland was not part of the Empire it did share a long common border, and presumably many men were recruited from the general area, voluntarily or otherwise.  Pre-printed, bottom left, is the word ‘sender’, again in German & Polish.  Oh, and in Czech & Italian, too.  Amusingly, if you look carefully, someone, presumably a card seller – certainly not a deltiologist – has, in later years, written ‘Russian’ in pencil, top right of Franz Joseph.  Hm.

Another Austro-Hungarian card from October 1916, this example pre-printed with images of the four great leaders of the Central Powers, or, as the text on the right of the portraits puts it, ‘The Allies’ – Turkey, Germany, Austro-Hungary & Bulgaria.  Only three languages this time; Hungarian, German & Slovenian (interestingly, perhaps, Hungarian has precedence on this card).  So that’s six different languages on the first two cards,…

…and even more on this one, posted on 30th March 1917,…

…which has the word ‘Sender’ in the top left in a total of seven languages, German at the top, and then, in twos, Czech & Polish, Italian & Slovenian, and Serbian & Slovakian.  You might see where we’re going here.  ‘Feldpostkorrespondenzkarte’ translates literally as field postal correspondence card, and ‘Portofrei’, printed bottom left, means postage free, although note the exclamation mark afterwards; it’s free, and don’t you dare forget it.  The company stamp at the top of the card is partially illegible, but Landsturm is clear, along with 160 and 2.Kompagnie.  From which we can glean that the sender was a Landsturmer, which, should you be unaware, was a man of a reserve force that eventually totalled seventy two regiments across the empire, 136 battalions in Austria, and 97 battalions in Hungary.  This card also has a censor’s stamp – ‘Zensuriert’ – at the bottom, and ‘K.u.K. Feldpostamt’, as seen on the postmark, is short for ‘Imperial and Royal Field Post Office’.

* K.u.K. stands for ‘Kaiserlich und Königliche’ and translates as ‘Imperial and Royal’.

This is also the only Austro-Hungarian card that I own that has any kind of pre-printing on the reverse, hence, as I said earlier, not showing most of the others, the obvious reason being that if you pre-print all the necessary languages, there’d be no room to write anything.  Cheaper, too, to leave it blank.  Beneath the jingoistic figure printed here on the reverse, ‘Hilfsfond 160’ translates as ‘Relief Fund 160’, this card being specifically printed for men of this particular Landsturm regiment.  Now, if we could only work out what the writer is actually saying……

This card, however, tops the lot, bearing the word ‘Sender’ in no less than eight different languages (I think the eighth – fourth on the list – language is Ukrainian, but don’t quote me).  So how exactly do you run a twentieth-century war, let alone win it, when hardly anyone can understand what anyone else is saying?!  It’s quite beyond me, and it was beyond Emperor Franz Joseph’s multinational army, too.  The reverse of this card is, once again, blank.

If you haven’t already, spare a thought for the men who wrote these postcards.  We don’t know what they looked like, nor anything about their lives.  We can’t even read their words.  We just know they all served in the armies of the Central Powers, and had loved ones and friends to whom they felt the need to write.  I wonder the fate of all of them.

Click here for a look at the British & French equivalents of these forms, and a few extra bits & bobs too.

This entry was posted in Postcards. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.