This week, with the Sir John Monash Centre in Villers Bretonneux opening, and ANZAC Day commemorations fast approaching, The Past Present turns its attention to War Postcards. The image above is a shocking and stark snapshot of a battlefield where thousands of Australian soldiers served, and many lost their lives. Today, many might find such a postcard a strange subject, and one which is a little macabre. Yet this postcard, one of a set, is just one example of postcards highlighting the destruction and devastation of war.
During the First World War, postcard publishers created many thousands of different cards reflecting the war. Some of them were humorous, others beautiful and patriotic. Some even had embroidered pockets or pictures, meant for ‘mum’ or ‘ my sweetheart’.
Yet many of them were stark and devastating reminders of the war, showing photographs of battlefields, and even of corpses. These cards, which were sometimes sold in sets, like the postcard of Villers Bretonneux above, highlighted the destruction of war. As the war progressed, they heightened feeling against the then enemy with captions like ‘The work of German “Kultur”’, as in the postcard above. As the war raged on, battlefields and destruction became opportunities for propaganda postcard publishers, and more postcards were created.
This week, in recognition of Remembrance Day, instead of focussing on an Australian location, The Past Present is sharing the shocking image above of a place which has played a significant role in Australian history – The Somme. Thousands of Australians fought and died defending French towns, and on the Somme battlefields.
For many, a postcard, something which is usually seen as a tourist souvenir, is not something they expect to see showcasing such shocking imagery. Yet during and after the end of World War One, many postcards were produced depicting shocking scenes of wartime costs. Some showed ruined towns, like the image above, while others depicted punishment of the enemy, like the one below showing German prisoners being marched through the ruins of Villers Brettoneus. These ruins were partially the result of the first tank to tank battle to occur, resulting in massive destruction.
Many wartime postcards, including those featured here, were produced by French publishers, who seemed to see the German policy of destroying any territory they had captured as a gift. Postcard producers and their photographers were not allowed near the active front lines, but after the conflict had moved on, they were left with shocking and highly emotive scenes of destruction. Their images stirred up patriotic sentiment amongst allied soldiers and those left behind on the homefronts alike.