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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 (1939–1945), the First World War (1914–1918) resulted in the reshaping of empires, the collapse of the European monarchy (except for Britain’s) 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 postcard’s Golden Age (1900–1914).
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 card’s 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 that does.
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 England’s 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 Canada’s Confederation in 1867.
Located at Niagara-on-the Lake, some of the earliest postcards of Camp Niagara were published in 1906 by F. H. Leslie of Niagara Falls.
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 Canada’s Red Ensign.
Figure 2: A card by Bamforth Co., Holmforth, England thanking Canada, Australia and New Zealand at war’s 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 Press Ltd.
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
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