Christmas Card

Xmas 1918

In my last post I shared a Christmas card that was sent by a New Zealand soldier who was about to head off to fight in the Battle of El Alamein in the Second World War.  To make sure it arrived in time the card was sent on 1st October 1942, nearly three months before Christmas.  Today I’m going to share another Christmas card sent by a New Zealand servicemen from an earlier conflict, the First World War.

Of all my vintage Christmas cards this one has some of my most favourite cover artwork, I hope it puts a smile on your face as it does for me.

WW1 Xmas card from the N.Z. Division in France 1918Lemuel Lyes Collection

WW1 Xmas card from the N.Z. Division in France 1918
Lemuel Lyes Collection

The snow dusted soldier is wearing a lemon squeezer hat, as worn by New Zealanders in the two world wars.  As far as New Zealand ‘active service’ Christmas cards go this is one of the more traditional scenes I’ve seen.  The artwork is by George Patrick Hanna, who became well known as a post-war entertainer, traveling around with an act called “The Diggers”.  A lesser known role he played was during the First World War when he acted as the N.Z. Division’s unofficial cartoonist.

This rare photograph from the Alexander Turnbull Library shows him at work.

The New Zealand unofficial cartoonist (Lieutenant G. Pat Hanna) enlivens the walls of the officers club. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association : New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-012806-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22606412

The New Zealand unofficial cartoonist (Lieutenant G. Pat Hanna) enlivens the walls of the officers club. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association : New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-012806-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22606412

I’m no expert in the field of art but there does seem to be a similar style between the caricature of Hindenburg in the photo and the smiling ‘Digger’ on the 1918 Christmas card.  I know the year as it is marked on the inside.

Inside of N.Z. Division Xmas card from France 1918Lemuel Lyes Collection

Inside of N.Z. Division Xmas card from France 1918
Lemuel Lyes Collection

It sometimes seems that every war ever fought was expected to be over by Christmas, so much so that it is almost a cliché to read letters or postcards from soldiers that share that sentiment.  This time the sender was in luck.  I don’t know exactly what date the card would’ve been dispatched for New Zealand but it is likely to be October, or perhaps even September (depending how anxious the sender was to make sure their greeting card arrived in time).

What the sender didn’t know is that an armistice would soon be signed and the fighting in France would end at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th Month.  For once, the war really would be over by Christmas.

© Lemuel Lyes

7 replies »

  1. I really enjoy these old letter/notes. I love to write letters, to correspond. Need a pen pal?

    Best,

    S. Thomas Summers
    Pushcart Nominated Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

  2. Cool card. It’s amazing what art came out of the Great War – often small, poignant drawings like the one on the card. Very personal, in many ways and a contrast to the ‘official paintings and photographs.

    The ‘divisional’ Christmas card that year was hilarious. It commemorated a piece of German propaganda, discovered earlier that year, warning the German soldiers not to allow themselves to be caught by New Zealanders, lest they be cooked and eaten. This was received with outright hilarity by the New Zealanders – there is a photo, which I used for the cover of my book “Western Front” (Reed 2005) in which some enterprising young Kiwis had painted a sign for their trench riffing off the propaganda. I speculate, though…the Germans really knew very little about us back then, other than rumour from the 19th century that we were the ‘cannibal islands’. I do wonder, sometimes, whether this propaganda wasn’t intended as a serious warning to their soldiers by someone in the German command who knew no better. I have absolutely no evidence for it…but it is an intriguing thought.

    • Thanks for stopping by – I agree, I think a lot of the art that came out of the First World War is underappreciated. The early cartoonist work particularly appeals to me such as the ‘Fragments from France’ series by Bairnsfather.

      I know the Christmas card you refer to. I’ve got a copy of that one in my collection as well and you are right, it is hilarious! I’d heard about the German propaganda, but other than the card hadn’t been aware how much the New Zealanders embraced the propaganda and used it as a joke and hadn’t known of the photo you mentioned. I’d always presumed that the claim was a genuine German attempt to demonize their enemy and discourage their troops from allowing themselves to be taken prisoner, in a similar vein to British reports of the crucifixion of a Canadian soldier or reports of Germans turning human corpses into fat. I’ll have to scan and share the Christmas card in question this weekend.

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