Due to technological advances in printing and photography, the immediate visual record captured during the course of WWI was revolutionary in war history media. As the most popular mode of communication of the time, the postcard medium played many important roles throughout the first global conflict. Professional and amateur artists presented a “staged” portrayal of the war, and in parallel captured a “documentary” record. Postcards actively participated in the war’s course internationally, laden with propaganda, promoting national unity and hatred of the enemy. Furthermore, they carried a lifeline of messages between loved ones. As the war dragged on, the breadth and scope of topics expanded into every aspect of its all-encompassing experience: from military action, artillery and leaders; to basic human needs, relationships and war-time hardships; to the unexpected fleeting moments encountered under extraordinary circumstances. As we delve into the digitization and cataloging of this collection, we’re thrilled to share with you pieces that take our breath away.
POSTCARD PRINTING TECHNIQUES DURING WWI
At the beginning of WWI, Germany was the leader of the postcard printing industry, but by the end of the war its industry had collapsed, and printers in Britain and the United States stepped in to fill that void. A variety of techniques were used to print the postcards, most notably photographic printing and lithography. Colored postcards were in high demand, and manufacturers tried to come up with new techniques that would make their postcards stand out. Hand-colored postcards were made in an assembly line fashion, where workers (usually women) would apply translucent layers of water-soluble paint to black and white photographs, one color at a time. Colored images could also be made mechanically by layering different colored lithographs with patterns of dots and spots over each other, under a black line block print or a lithograph. The colors that were used in making the lithographs were usually red, green and blue. However, printers did have their own preferences when it came to colors and some of them would add layers of tan and gray, to create a subtler mood for the images. One postcard was often made with a mixture of techniques. For example, a photographic print could be overlaid with letter-pressed text, and then parts of the image could be hand-colored for emphasis. Gold leaf, glitter, ribbons, and even flowers were used to decorate postcards, and to make them stand out from the mass in a highly competitive industry.
FEEDING THE TROOPS
It is said that an army marches on its stomach. Many different types of infrastructures were organized to accomplish the fundamental task of feeding soldiers. For example, in the British Army, the responsibility of nutrition lay with the Army Service Corps (ASC), which sent a total of 3.3 million tons of food to the soldiers fighting in France and Belgium during the war. One of the most important units of the ASC was the Field Bakery that produced the staple in the soldiers’ diet. In 1914, there was one Field Bakery for every infantry division, which was not mobile and could not be set up near the front. Staffed with one officer and more than 90 men from the ASC, it could produce bread for more than 20,000 soldiers. Protein and the vegetables were prepared in mobile field kitchens, which consisted of ovens strapped onto horses. (Watch youtube video of WWI footage as a British soldier explains how a mobile field kitchen works to an American soldier.) The German Army also employed dogs to deliver food, carrying a special harness to hold mess tins. In the beginning of the war, the goal of both the British and German armies was to provide their troops fresh or frozen meat and vegetables, totaling close to 4,000 calories each day. However, over time, both sides had to adjust to the canned meat variety, such as canned corn beef. The most hated meal was Maconochie, a stew containing the "finest beef," potatoes, haricot beans, carrots and onions. The directions on the can stated "contents may be eaten hot or cold" and suggested that the unopened can should be heated in boiling water for 30 minutes. These instructions were impossible to follow under most front line circumstances. The accumulation of lumps of fat on top of barely recognizable chunks of meat and vegetables led one reporter to describe Maconochie as "an inferior grade of garbage." (Source: bbc.com)
PRISONERS OF WAR
During World War I, roughly eight million men surrendered and were held in POW camps, including civilians and military personnel. The victors often took POWs for various reasons ranging from bolstering their ego to obtaining intelligence through interrogation. Rules for treatment of POWs largely did not exist until the Geneva Convention (“Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929), established long after the war’s end. These rights proclaimed that POWs are to be treated humanely, given adequate food, clothing, housing, and medical attention, but most importantly, that they must be released quickly after conflicts have been resolved. The International Committee of the Red Cross established the International Prisoners of War Agency immediately after the start of World War I and worked with the National Societies to support medical services. The efforts of the Red Cross, along with inspections of neutral countries greatly improved POW camp conditions. The agency was comprised of volunteer staff members and engaged nurses from around the world, including the United States and Japan. Treatment of POWs in World War II was far worse, as the Red Cross was then funded by the Swiss government which wanted to avoid confrontation with the Nazis. Oddly enough, POWs had a much higher survival rate than their co-combatants who were not captured. Not all prisoners were taken against their will because they realized that surrendering to their enemy improved their chances for survival. Depending on the host nation of the POWs, meals varied from a slice of bread accompanied by a dreadful watery potato soup to the finest road kill available. Taking in POWs caused a great burden on the host, adding the pressure to feed prisoners to the already strained effort of feeding an active army. In Germany, five percent of prisoners died because of the lack of resources. In Russia, starvation was common for prisoners and civilians alike; one quarter of the over 2 million POWs held there died.