‘The Army Children of the First World War: a Sentimental View’
The postcard was by far the most popular means of communication between families during the First World War. As such, it served as an emotional lifeline in keeping families separated by war connected, due in no small part to the Field Post Offices (FPOs) of the Army Postal Service (APS) operated by the Royal Engineers. Some of the most poignant relics of the war are postcards written by loving soldier–fathers at the Front, which clearly strive to sound a note of normality in the most abnormal of circumstances. Sadly, all too many of these fond fathers would never follow their postcards home, meaning that their messages would be forever treasured, often down the generations. The numerous postcards that have survived that were exchanged between separated parents and children to mark a birthday or Christmas are similarly a sobering reminder of the sacrifices that being on a wartime footing demanded of families, and particularly of children, many too young to comprehend fully the national situation.

Remaining in regular written contact was unquestionably vital in maintaining the morale of all concerned: non-combatants of all ages, as well as military men. Personal considerations aside, the subjects of First World War-era picture postcards are fascinating historical documents in themselves, providing as they do an illuminating insight into contemporaneous national preoccupations, such as the need for thriftiness or remaining resolute in the face of separation and hardship. It is therefore no surprise that that patriotism and propaganda should feature so strongly in the subjects of the period’s postcards, even in the most schmaltzily-drawn scenes. In this context, it is also interesting to note the trend of using children – whether photographic models or cartoon characters – to send a sentimental or patriotic message. Manipulative? Exploitative? It certainly seems to have been an effective strategy.

The postcards and other types of ephemera that you see here have been collected by The Army Children Archive (TACA), a virtual resource that chronicles British army children’s history. The initial set comprises ten images; more are being added at the rate of about one a week. Some of the postcards are photographic, portraying child and adult models staging scenes intended to raise a smile, maybe, or to pull at the heartstrings. Others put patriotic, sinew-stiffening words into the mouths of babes, while another category puts cartoon figures centre stage in order to encourage, cheer or else set a heartening example for the postcard’s recipient to follow. Touching lines have been written on the back of some of the postcards: affectionate and reassuring words scrawled by a soldier–father in France to his small son waiting at home, for instance; or a blotchy, painstakingly penned Christmas message from a young army child to an absent father, condemned to spend the festive season at the Front.

The postcards sent and received during the First World War are humble testaments to the multifaceted human experience of the conflict, and especially to its impact on day-to-day family life. Looking at them will evoke the wide range of attitudes and feelings – collective and personal – aroused during the Great War, thereby providing much food for thought, as well as offering attention-capturing entry points for further discussion and study, be it into family history or the wider historical picture. If you have any information to add about a particular postcard, please do, either by inserting it beneath the image or by e-mailing tommydrum@f2s.com.

You may also be interested in viewing a parallel Flickr set devoted to photographic portraits of the army children of the First World War; if so, follow the link to see ‘The Army Children of the First World War: Faces and Families’: bit.ly/ACFWWFaces.

Quick links
For more about ‘The Army Children of the First World War’ project: bit.ly/ArmyChildrenFWW.
The Army Children Archive (TACA): www.archhistory.co.uk.
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