The Great War Through Picture Postcards, Guus de Vries

The Great War Through Picture Postcards, Guus de Vries

The postcard was probably the most important means of communication during the First World War, with an estimated 30 billion sent, making up around half of all items sent by post during the war.

The book is organised by theme, so the Western Front gets one chapter, aircraft another and so on. This approach works well, and allows a wider variety of cards to be presented than a more chronological approach would have.

Visually the book is very good, with excellent reproductions of the postcards, each at least at their real size. Many of the cards were visually striking, and this is a much more colourful portrayal of the First World War than normal, with at least half of the cards in colour.

Artistically the cards vary widely in style, ranging from photographs from the front to cartoons and caricature. One style that is absent is the modern art of the period, which is almost totally absent. In contrast similar books on posters of the period, or war paintings, will have a larger proportion of modernist and other styles. One suspects that the key difference here is the commercial aspect of the postcard, perhaps with publishers unwilling to take a risk on publishing cards of limited appeal.

In the majority of chapters the pictures are backed up by a useful text. In some sections (in particular those covering the better known campaigns of the war), I'd have liked more text about the postcards and less background, but in most cases the balance is about right.

I was surprised by the variety of topics covered. The sentimental cards, sanitised pictures 'from the front' and so on are expected, but there are more showing casualties and other gruesome aspects of the war than I'd had expected. We also get satirical cards, humorous cards, propaganda and messages of support.

This is a splendid book, providing a glimpse into the visual world of the participants in the First World War. 

1 - War and Picture Postcards
2 - Themes: From Hatred to Love
3 - The First World War
4 - Countries and Armies
5 - The Western Front
6 - The Other Theatres of War
7 - Old and New Weapons
8 - The War in the Air
9 - Transport and Communication
10 - In the Trenches and Behind the Lines
11 - Dead, Wounded, Taken Prisoner or Missing
12 - The Home Front and the Neutral States

Author: Guus de Vries
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 166
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2016

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