A letter home from the front

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It was widely thought that World War I would be over in a few short weeks, though as the war dragged on and became one of attrition, receiving letters from home often helped to raise morale on the front line.[1] Letter-writing was the primary method of communication during this period, and an estimated 12 million letters were delivered to soldiers throughout the conflict.[2] Soldiers would find time to write letters to loved ones both on the frontline and during downtime behind the trenches.[3]

Embroidered postcards like those held in the Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection were particularly popular throughout World War I (1914–1918) amongst soldiers who would buy them to send messages to loved ones back home.

Some soldiers preferred to omit details from their letters so not to disturb family members with the horrors of battle, while for others the imminent fear of death encouraged them to be more honest about their experiences.[4] Regardless, each letter sent home was read by a regimental officer who would censor specific mentions of locations and military tactics.[5] As a special privilege, each soldier was granted one “green envelope” every month, which they could use to write an uncensored letter to loved ones,[6] but they still needed to sign an agreement stating that they had only included personal and family matters in these letters.[7]

This particular postcard was sent by St George resident and motor ambulance driver, George Enoch V. Rogers, to Grace White (later Grace Holmes) on August 1, 1916. Rogers later died during service.

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Reverse of silk embroidered postcard, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.

France, 6 August 1/8/16

Received 19/9/16

Dearest Grace, I received your first letter. No F. today.

I cannot explain how pleased I was to hear from you. I also received your painting which I think is very nice and will keep it Grace to the end of days. Well Grace you wrote a lovely letter I hope you will keep it up. I am quite pleased to hear you are keeping quite well, I know I am welcome Grace and will surely come and see you when I return. I am on the old job Grace Motor ambulance driving. I am sorry you still think that what I said is impossible. I still think that it is not impossible and with a certain amount of luck will move it. I am glad you kissed that baby for me it just what I would have done and may of kissed more than the baby. Will close now Grace. Remember me to Mother and all at home. Will write a letter later Goodbye. I remain your ever affectionate Friend George E. V.

From cottage industry to commercial manufacturing

The majority of embroidered postcards were produced in France where it has been estimated that ten million were created, featuring up to ten thousand different designs. The cards were usually blank on the reverse with an embossed paper frame containing the embroidered silk. In the early 1900s, an extensive cottage industry emerged in France, with women embroidering silk mesh strips in their homes that were later sent to factories for cutting and mounting.[1]

The designs featured on the cards shared common military themes, including allied army flags (Belgium, Britain, Croatia, France, Italy, Portugal, Russia and the United States of America), names of regiments, and representations of liberty and remembrance. Moreover, these cards would also often include references to Christmas, New Years, and birthdays, as well various butterfly and floral motifs.[2]

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Silk embroidered postcard, Hurstville Museum & Gallery collection.

 Hurstville Museum & Galleries Wartime collection

As we come to remember the efforts of the Australian Armed Forces this ANZAC day, Hurstville Museum & Gallery will be sharing some objects and stories from our collection across our Instagram and Facebook pages.

References

[1] ‘Hand embroidery machine’, Textile Research Centre, viewed 22 October 2019, https://trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/tools/embroidery/hand-embroidery-machine

[2] ‘Guide to the silk postcard collection’, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/accessing-records-at-the-memorial/findingaids/guide-silk-postcard-collection

[1] ‘Morale’, Mail call, viewed 14 November 2019, https://postalmuseum.si.edu/mailcall/3.html

[2] Anthony Richards, ‘Letter censorship on the Front Line’, The Telegraph, viewed 14 November 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/inside-first-world-war/part-ten/10863689/why-first-world-war-letters-censored.html

[3] Amanda Mason and Ellen Parton, ‘Letters to Loved Ones’, Imperial War Museum, viewed 14 November 2019, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/letters-to-loved-ones

[4] ‘Letter censorship on the Front Line’, The Telegraph, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/inside-first-world-war/part-ten/10863689/why-first-world-war-letters-censored.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Amanda Laugesen, ‘Glossary of Slang and Peculiar Terms in Use in the A.I.F’, Australian National University, School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, viewed 7 April 2020, https://slll.cass.anu.edu.au/centres/andc/annotated-glossary/all

[7] ‘Green envelope’, World War One: Great War Stories, http://www.worldwar1luton.com/object/green-envelope-mail-active-service

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