Today marks the centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War. My previous post was about my late Uncle Peter, my Dad’s brother who was named after their father’s brother, lost to that terrible conflict. My Dad, born in 1913, lived through it and recorded this “touching recollection” in his memoirs:
My uncle Peter, youngest brother of my Dad, is standing there holding a chair in place for some game, and smiling gently at the company. Sergeant Peter R_, home on leave, boyish and handsome in his kilt. Killed in France shortly after.
One of Dad’s uncles on his mother’s side, John Grant, was also wounded in the “Great War.” Families throughout Britain and Europe suffered similar tragedies wrought by this conflict. My maternal grandfather, Charles Harrison Lane, served in France and was lucky enough to survive relatively unscathed. In fact he lived to a ripe old age and, when he died, his few effects were left to my mother (I have written elsewhere the story of their reunion after many decades of estrangement). Amongst them was a leather wallet containing letters written to him by my grandmother and my mother, and a collection of postcards from his war years. The postcards (as well as this one) include these startling depictions of World War 1 “Allies” and “Enemies”, still wrapped in their original tissue paper envelopes. The Allies (Britain, Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Romania, Portugal, Russia, and Serbia) are depicted as beautiful butterflies, with the bodies of glamourous ladies and the country’s flag on their wings:
I am astonished by the vibrancy of the cards’ colours, as if they have not faded in 100 years. I assumed them to be cards my grandfather had collected, until I found that the card for England has a handwritten message on the back:
Many more thanks for the parcel of lemon-cheese, plums, etc., all of which were real good.
I have no letters to answer, but I hope you are as well as can be and in the best of spirits.
It is still raining and I enjoy it more every day.
Let me see, how many Octobers ago is it since our first parting?
Very fondest love,
Who is Babs? The handwriting is close enough to my grandfather’s in the other surviving letters of his for me to assume it was a pet name between himself and my grandmother. They were married in 1918 when he returned from the war.
Some of the other postcards in his wallet are of a more mischievous nature, such as these cheeky little boys, presumably German satirical propaganda:
..as is some British humour, including this classic from Donald McGill:
This collection of postcards, which also includes tourist scenes of the places in which he served, bring something of my grandfather’s war to me a century later (though, thankfully, none of the horror). Unlike my great uncle Peter, he survived. Had he not, then I would not exist to be writing this blog post about his postcards from the edge of the abyss.