The tradition for exchanging Christmas cards begins in the middle of the 19th century, Joseph Cundall publishing the first ever commercial Christmas card in 1843. By the 1880s the card was a normal feature of Victorian Christmas festivities and certainly by the 1900s specially designed cards were exchanged within many British Army regiments.
However, during the 1914 – 1918 war, this form of greeting card takes on a deeper, more significant meaning.
To the soldiers in the trenches, the cards were a symbol of hope, of normality, of home and security and of the prospect of peace.
In the run up to that first Christmas of World War 1 patriotic and colourful greetings cards and postcards were produced in abundance and eagerly purchased and exchanged by families at home and soldiers abroad.
The silk embroidered post cards were specifically produced as souvenirs and gifts for the soldiers to send to loved ones back home. The cards were embroidered by French and Belgian women at home or in refugee camps on to strips of silk which were then sent to factories for mounting and finishing. There was quite a variety of image and finish, some finely embroidered, others less so and on average they took from 4 to 8 hours to make.Featured here are examples of a silk pocket with embroidered flags and flowers motif and containing an inserted Christmas greeting (MS 1563/11/11), an example of a canon surrounded by flowers (MS 1563/11/10) and a woven picture of Arras, bombed and on fire (MS 1563/11/2). This is a representative selection of cards which also could have included regimental crests, royalty, generals and politicians etc. The silk embroidered cards are striking in that they have survived conflict to be carefully kept and treasured as a vivid memento of a time that changed the world forever.
If you are interested to see more examples, look out for the Library of Birmingham’s exhibition Voices of War October – December 2014
Judy Dennison, Archivist, Library of Birmingham.