World War One Silks

Stationed far from home, what could World War One soldiers do to express their love and thoughts for those far distant? A small gift was one option.

Soldiers sent back many things as souvenirs but none were more popular than the postcards known as Silks. They made a beautiful, small and easily posted gift, with hand embroidered designs stitched from silk in generally patriotic or sentimental themes.

The silk was mounted onto a cardboard back with an embossed card frame. The post card were bought by soldiers during leave and made a beautiful present to send home to loved ones. They were so delicate that the card was often not written on but instead accompanied by a letter.

They were usually not sent via normal postal channels. Most cards don’t have postage on them as post was free for solders sending cards home. They were instead mailed in military mail pouches after being checked by an official censor, who also added their initials.

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The embroiderers

The embroidery was handmade by women, some of whom were French and Belgium refugees of the war. It provided work that they could do at home or in refugee camps and a little bit of extra cash to help their families through the tough times during the war. In Egypt, some enterprising women were known to have a same day service where a solider could order an individualised design with their loved ones name on it.

No doubt they were so popular was that they were handmade and beautifully ornate. They fulfilled the need for souvenirs that could easily be sent home to loved ones. In particular there were specific designs made just for “Dear Mother” as sending home a pretty card to a beloved mother was very popular, especially for New Zealand troops who were stationed furthest from home, of any troops. Other popular recipients were girlfriends and wives.

The demand became so intense that the cards were soon made in factories on assembly lines, but these were less intricate and therefore less popular.

The designs

Postcard designs could be broadly grouped into three categories of sentimental, patriotic or military. Sentimental cards included a message and pretty floral designs. Patriotic cards featured flags, national emblems and slogans. Military designs even included portraits of military leaders, weapons and military insignia. Some cards combined more than one style.

Forget me not

One card on exhibition at Ashburton Museum has a plain border with the words “Forget me not” embroidered in the centre, with forget-me-not flowers and violets around either side.

The card was written by Joseph James Mackle to a Nancy. The content of the card makes for sobering reading especially if you read between the lines. The first sentence reads “Just a line or two to let you know that I am still alive & well”.

You can almost taste the fear and dread of what was to come, in that one simple line.

Joseph goes on to explain that he is heading to France that night, “So it won’t be long before we are blowing wind in their faces now. We have been here five weeks now. The weather here is not too good at present but I spect it will get worse before it gets better. We have just gotten back from London, we had a good time up there. Did not see the King, I think he was away on a holiday, as there was an air raid on one night, it did make a scatter. By by J.M”

Written at Sling Camp, October 26, 1917, sadly death was stalking Joseph, and he was killed inaction at La Signy Farm, France on the June 1, 1918, aged 27. He is buried in Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps, Somme, France. Lest we forget.

By Vanessa Coulter

Captions:

A selection of Silks postcards on exhibition at Ashburton Museum.

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