Postcard, Happy Christmas; 1916; 5695a
Postcard, Happy ChristmasAbout this object
This postcard with its hand embroidered silk panel featuring five oval shaped flags of the World War I allied forces, namely Russia, Britain, France, Belgium and Italy, was sent from France in December 1916 to Miss Kennedy in Edinburgh, Scotland. In addition to the five flag symbols, small sprays of holly and flowers, and the message “A Happy Christmas” are embroidered on the front. There is also a small printed card with the wording “A Joyful Christmas” held in a pocket under the embroidered panel.
The postcard is representative of those made between 1914 and 1919 by French and Belgian women who embroidered the silk panels in their homes and in refugee camps, prior to the panels being mounted professionally onto cardboard frames. The postcards were generally sold for just a few francs, but the income obtained from their sale helped to support the local women and children throughout the war years.
Because of their beauty and uniqueness, these postcards, commonly known as “World War I Silks”, were extremely popular with British, Australian and American servicemen who were deployed along the Western Front. Images found on the cards include flowers and bluebirds, as well as patriotic symbols and messages, regimental crests, badges and flags. It is estimated that up to 10 million of these cards were produced between 1915 and 1919 with production ceasing around 1923.
It appears that many cards, such as this one, had simple and brief messages which gave no indication at all of what the soldiers were experiencing on the battlefields. Perhaps this was because they were shielding their mothers, wives, sisters and girlfriends from the true horrors of the war, or perhaps, as Private T. Dunn wrote in a letter to his sister in Port Macquarie in July 1916 “I could tell you a lot about things but we are not allowed to.”
The personal handwritten message on this card is quite formal but representative of personal messages to loved ones at that time. It simply re-iterates the messages already embroidered and printed on the card, where the writer says only “To wish you a Merry Xmas & a Happy and Prosperous New Year from TS Cockburn.” The postcard has no envelope and no stamp, but stamps were rarely used as the cards were mailed home in Military Mail bags at no charge to the sender. A personal message on a postcard without an envelope could not be hidden from view, but a postcard with even the briefest of handwritten notes was able to provide reassurance to family members that a loved one was safe, at least at the time it was written. It is not known if TS Cockburn was an Australian or British soldier or if he survived the War without injury or illness, but the winter of 1916 was particularly harsh and the allied casualties in 1917 were particularly high.
Embroidered silk postcards such as this are unique reminders of World War I and are now highly collectable with those having patriotic/unity themes, regimental crests, badges and flags the most highly sought after. They were able to provide some comfort to loved ones at home during the War years, and remain as treasured personal keepsakes for many families. They also remain as fine examples of card design and front-line patriotic art, and as enduring tributes to the many French and Belgian women who embroidered the colourful and intricate designs in the midst of their own turmoil and heartbreak.
15 February 2015
Cardboard, paper, silk, inkInscription and Marks
Writing on the back of the postcards:
To wish you a Merry Xmas & a Happy And Prosperous New Year
From/ T Cockburn /France /Dec 1916
140 mm L, 90mm W
Donor: Mrs. I. K. Macpherson
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