For troops at the battlefront during World War I, letters and postcards were the only form of communication with home. Writing to their families and loved ones held particular significance at Christmas. It appears that some army divisions produced their own Christmas postcards for each year of the war. These marked their battles and offered snippets of information about where they had served.
The papers of Sergeant Leo James Porter of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) include a rather shabby album that contains some captivating Christmas postcards for the 7th Division on the Western Front from 1914 to 1917.
The postcards are a mix of sketches by J P Beadle and photographs. From before trenches had really become established, one of the Christmas cards depicts troops in action barely “hidden near Meaux” at the Battle of the Marne in 1914.
The inscription on a Christmas card of 1915 shows a group of troops “going to the trenches”. The men are mostly in the standard army khaki great coats, which were designed to make them “invisible in a land of dust“. Although, one man is in a fur jacket typically worn by British troops. Made from either sheep or goat fur, this jacket may have provided extra warmth in the perishing winter months in Northern France. However, it could also be a breeding ground for body lice – which is perhaps why his colleagues are not wearing fur!
In a postcard for 1916, an off-duty officer sits pensively in his trench, keeping warm in front of a fire in a bucket. The image appears to depict him dreaming of his return home as the battle continues at the Somme.
The postcard for 1917 lists a host of battles fought: Ypres, Neuve Chapelle, Festubert, Givency, Loos, the Somme, the Ancre, Écoust, Croissilles, Bullecourt and Passchandaele Ridge. An officer is seen writing yet another letter home. As the war begins to reach its final devastating stages, destroyed buildings and a solitary soldier with his horse are shown in the background.
Thankfully, no such greeting cards needed to be produced for Christmas of 1918. The album of postcards and photographs from the Western Front is available online for you to view in its entirety.