THESE two postcards date from the First World War and were posted from the trenches back to loved ones at home.
Both have been franked by the army post office and rubber-stamped by the censor.
The first shows a “poilu” wearing the traditional blue greatcoat and red trousers of the French infantryman, bidding farewell to his mother.
Just as the British infantryman was known as a “tommy” so the French soldier was called a “poilu”, which translates literally as “hairy one”. The name dates back to Napoleonic times and gently mocks the soldier’s rustic appearance with beard and bushy moustache.
The card was franked 24th May, 1915, and sent to Miss M. Sneyd, Leaton Hall, Stourbridge.
Leaton Hall is in Bobbington, Staffordshire, but at that time the village received its post via Stourbridge post office. The hall dates to the 18th century and today has been converted to apartments but the 1900 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Staffordshire states, “Leaton Hall, the property of Captain William Henry Moseley, JP, lord of the manor and principal landowner, is a large square mansion, at present occupied by Mrs Charles Peel.”
Perhaps that is a clue as to who sent the unsigned card. Its mundane message reads, “Have just received your letter dated the 20th. Will write letter when I get envelopes. Hope you are in the very best.”
The second card features and young lady holding a circle of flowers with the caption “Vive Ste Catherine”. St Catherine, the early 4th century martyr, is the patron saint of unmarried girls and her symbol is the wheel, so this card was meant for soldiers to send back to their sweethearts.
This card was franked 11th October, 1917, and posted to Miss Mable Chance, 7 Chapel Street, Stourbridge. It carries the poignant message, “My dear little Mable. Just a line hoping you are keeping quite well. With heaps of love and kisses from Daddy.”
An efficient mail service was essential for maintaining the morale of troops on the frontline, in a tradition that stretched back centuries; Edward IV established a Royal Post to support his troops fighting in Scotland in 1482. The Army Post?Office Corps was set up in 1883 to accompany British troops sent to?Egypt that year but in 1913 the system was reorganised into the Royal?Engineers (Postal?Section). The service remained part of the Royal?Engineers until it was transferred to the Royal Logistic Corps in 1993.
In August 1914 300 members of the army postal service travelled with the British Expeditionary Force to France. By the end of the war that number had grown to 4,000 across all spheres of the conflict.
For troops on the battlefield a letter from home could be all that stood between them and succumbing to the horror of the trenches. These postcards offer a tangible link to the past. Looking upon them today we can imagine the young girl in Stourbridge, anxiously awaiting a word from her father at the front line and happily receiving his simple, heartfelt message. We can also picture the soldier father amid the mud and blood, sustained by thoughts of the little daughter he left behind.
Are there any descendants of Mable Chance or Miss M.Sneyd among our readers who may be able to tell us more