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Christmas greetings from the trenches

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13/12/2015

By | From the Collections

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.

Photograph album

Front of the album of postcards and photographs from the Western Front. Wellcome Library reference: RAMC 1015/5.

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.

Christmas greetings from the trenches, 1915, RAMC 1015/15

Christmas greetings from the trenches, 1915. Wellcome Library reference: RAMC 1015/5. Image credit: The RAMC Muniment Collection and Wellcome Images.

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!

Christmas greetings from 1916, RAMC 1015/5

Christmas greetings from 1916. Wellcome Library reference: RAMC 1015/5. Image credit: The RAMC Muniment Collection and Wellcome Images.

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.

Christmas greetings from 1917, RAMC 1015/5

Christmas greetings from 1917. Wellcome Library reference: RAMC 1015/5. Image credit: The RAMC Muniment Collection and Wellcome Images.

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.

Julia Nurse

Julia Nurse

Julia Nurse is Collections Researcher at the Wellcome Library. With a background in art history, she has previously worked as Assistant Curator of the Iconographic Collections, and more recently co-curated the content within the refurbished Reading Room.

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One Response to Christmas greetings from the trenches
  • Robert

    03/08/2017

    nice post

    Reply

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