Canadian First World War postcards more
popular than ever
By Mike Smith
Known as the Great War in the two decades prior
to the Second World War (19391945), the First World War
(19141918) resulted in the reshaping of empires, the collapse
of the European monarchy (except for Britains) and an unimaginable
amount of death and destruction.
For example, over three million men on both sides were either
killed or wounded at the Battles of Passchendaele, Verdun and
the Somme. The war had literally decimated an entire generation
of young men.
In one history text I remember reading in high school many
years ago, it said that by 1918 France had been bled white.
Canada alone had over 200,000 casualties and over 60,000 of these
were deaths from battle and disease.
From a collecting standpoint, one of the other casualties
of the First World War was the postcard craze that had started
around 1900. Not only did the embargo on all things German in
1914 choke off the supply of cards to important publishers, like
Stedman Bros. of Brantford, the proliferation of the telephone
and a postal rate increase to support the war effort marked the
end of the postcards Golden Age (19001914).
There were, however, some very collectible postcards published
during the war and in this article I'd like to showcase some
of the more interesting examples.
The postcard shown
in Figure 1 was published by the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Co.,
London, England and is a typical wartime propaganda card. I wasn't
aware of the significance of the white feather on the card (i.e.,
it's a sign of cowardice) until I saw the 2002 movie The Four
Feathers, starring the late Heath Ledger.
But the most interesting object on the card isn't the white
feather; it's the unusual-looking Canadian Red Ensign at the
bottom left. The cards artist must have been better at
drawing maple leaves than coats-of-arms.
Bamforth Co. of Holmfirth, England, is well known to collectors
for publishing over 600 sets of First World War postcards, with
beautifully coloured images printed above patriotic song lyrics.
Most of the sets have only three or four cards and the lyrics
continue from card to card within each set.
I don't know how many of the song sets pay homage to Canada,
but there is a nice little Bamforth card from another series
The Figure 2 postcard
is from an 84-card series of patriotic cartoons and is the only
known card in this Bamforth group with a reference to Canada.
The card is fairly scarce so Canadian First World War postcard
collectors eagerly snap it up when they see it.
For obvious reasons, some of the most popular First World
War postcards in Canadian collections today were published by
Englands Daily Mirror newspaper. The Daily Mirror bought
the exclusive rights to publish official Canadian war photographs
and the net result was four wonderful postcard series showing
Canadian soldiers at the front.
The card shown in Figure 3 is from the first Daily Mirror
series, the only one they colourized.
A good portion of
the First World War postcards published on this side of the Atlantic
were of the numerous military training camps established throughout
the country before and during the conflict.
Although Camp Valcartier seems to have spawned the most postcards
because it was the famous training base for the First Canadian
Contingent, some terrific cards were also published of our gallant
troops at Camp Borden, Niagara, Aldershot, Leaside, Sussex, etc.
Camp Niagara is particularly interesting because due to fears
of an American incursion into the Niagara frontier, it was established
as a militia training camp soon after Canadas Confederation
Located at Niagara-on-the Lake, some of the earliest postcards
of Camp Niagara were published in 1906 by F. H. Leslie of Niagara
One of the better
series of First World War postcards of Camp Niagara was printed
by the Federated Press Ltd. of Montreal. The series publisher
was George Clark, also of Montreal (see Figure 4).
Finally, I couldn't complete an article on First World War
postcards without showing at least one real photo card. Real
photo postcards, as I've explained in earlier articles, are postcards
made by developing negatives directly onto postcard paper.
Since they are usually produced by local photographers, real
photo postcards are generally much scarcer than printed cards.
One of the other peculiarities of real photo postcards is that
they are always black and white (unless coloured by hand) because
inexpensive colour film wasn't readily available until the 1950s.
The example I show
in Figure 5 was photographed and developed by Toronto photographer
Phil Davenport in 1916. The subject is Bob the Devil,
the mascot of the 84th Oshawa Battalion.
Figure 1: A First World War propaganda card published
in England with an unusual rendition of Canadas Red Ensign.
Figure 2: A card by Bamforth Co., Holmforth, England
thanking Canada, Australia and New Zealand at wars end.
Figure 3: This colourized postcard is from a series
of 18 published by the Daily Mirror newspaper. The words Canadian
Official can be seen lower right.
Figure 4. A Camp Niagara postcard from a 16-card series
published by George Clark of Montreal and printed by the Federated
Figure 5: The mascot of the 84th Oshawa Battalion
is shown on this 1916 real photo postcard by Phil Davenport of
Toronto. The year date is hand written on the back of the card.
Michael J. (Mike) Smith is an RMC graduate (Class of '77)
and ex-naval officer who has been an avid collector of Canadiana
for most of his life. His current passion is collecting and writing
about Canadian antique postcards. He is currently working on
his eighth postcard handbook. Visit postcard-directory.com/mikesmithbooks