One of my largest collections of vintage postcards focuses on those sent by soldiers during the First World War. When I started collecting as a teenager I used to pick them up at stamp fairs, from dealers, auctions, antique shops and secondhand book stores – but I had a strategy for locating them. My tactic involved finding postcards where the photo on the front might not attract much interest from other collectors, but the message itself held the value instead.
Here is a good example of the kind of postcard that I used to keep an eye out for. The front of the card is a fairly generic view of a park in Glasgow but if you read the message it becomes clear that the sender was a soldier writing from the trenches of the Western Front.
Here is a transcription of the message:
You don’t mind me calling you Gladys do you. I am dropping you these few lines to thank you for the Canterbury Times I received from you a few days ago. We are up in the trenches at present and things are merry too the guns going night and day. We are getting some very hot weather here now quite a change to the winter I can assure you. You must excuse the PC Gladys as it is all I have. I would have sent you one of the pretty French ones had I been out of here. I hope you are well. Regards from yours sincerely. George Fairbairn
I’m fairly confident that George was a New Zealander for a number of reasons. I found the postcard in New Zealand, there was indeed a paper called the Canterbury Times running here at the time (by chance the last issue was at the end of May 1917) and finally, there is a George Fairbairn listed in the Cenotaph database.
He was from Kirwee, Canterbury and was serving in the Otago Infantry Battalion which would’ve been in France in 1917. The good news is that it seems that he survived the war as there is no mention of him as a casualty in either Cenotaph or the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
I’m a little amused at George being almost apologetic about the use of this postcard. Here is the picture from the front:
A postcard depicting a park in Glasgow does seem a little inappropriate to be sending from the trenches in France, but this wasn’t at all uncommon. I often come across postcards with scenes from the United Kingdom being used by New Zealanders serving in France. I wonder if the Army made them readily available to troops, or if perhaps soldiers simply stocked up on them while on leave in the U.K. on the way to the front.
There is one thing I wholeheartedly agree with – the French certainly produced some very beautiful postcards and had George been trying to impress Gladys then they would’ve been a better option. Here is one example from my collection, I’ll share some more another day.
© Lemuel Lyes