Christmas Cards of the Great War

The interior of the 36th (Ulster) Division card for 1917

The interior of the 36th (Ulster) Division card for 1917

As we approach Christmas, I thought I would share a selection of the First World War Christmas cards that have been sent to me, for one reason or another, over the years.

These cards are of two types—those commissioned with an appropriate theme for a unit or formation, and those produced locally for soldiers to buy. The locally produced cards were made to a very high standard and were not confined to Christmas greetings. Made year-round as general souvenirs and to commemorate specific events, many were embroidered in rich colours with patriotic designs. Early in the war the embroidery, on silk organza or similar fine material, was done by women as piecework for companies who then mounted the embroidery on cards with printed messages. Later, the popularity of the cards resulted in machine embroidered cards assembled in factories. It is commonly estimated that as many as 10 million such cards were produced during the war, mainly in France.

The card below was sent home at Christmas 1915 by Private John Atwell of ‘B’ Company, 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers. Atwell was wounded in 1916 and 1917 and captured in March 1918. His brother Edward lost his right leg because of wounds suffered on 1 July 1916.

The card shows the Union Flag and a green flag bearing the crowned, winged-maiden, Irish harp—a flag associated with Ireland in various forms since the 17th Century. The Red Hand of Ulster is surrounded by a wreath of shamrock.

The card shows the Union Flag and a green flag bearing the crowned, winged-maiden, Irish harp—a flag associated with Ireland in various forms since the 17th Century. The Red Hand of Ulster is surrounded by a wreath of shamrock.

This card was sent home, also in 1915, by Sergeant Henry Fox, who became the Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant of 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers in February 1917, incredibly aged only 20 years old. He was wounded in 1917.

The card shows the flags and colours of five of the Allies on a four-leaf clover; clockwise from the top: Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium,and Serbia, with the colours of France making up the central roundel. The flowers at the bottom are probably poppies.

The card shows the flags and colours of five of the Allies on a four-leaf clover; clockwise from the top: Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium,and Serbia, with the colours of France making up the central roundel. The flowers at the bottom are probably poppies.

16th Royal Irish Rifles, the Pioneer Battalion of 36th (Ulster) Division, commissioned this card for Christmas 1915, the Battalion’s first Christmas in France. This card was sent to ‘Mother, Sister and Brother‘ by Private Robert Sergeant.

The front of the card shows the Battalion crest comprising a scroll with the Battalion name, a Tudor crown over the winged-maiden Irish harp, the Regimental motto Quis Separabit [Who shall separate (us)?], the bugle associated with rifle regiments and light infantry, and the descriptor ‘Pioneers’, the role of the Battalion. The interior had space for a photograph (in this case No. 2 Company). The card is tied with a black and green ribbon, the colours traditionally associated with rifle regiments.

The front of the card shows the Battalion crest comprising a scroll with the Battalion name, a Tudor crown over the winged-maiden Irish harp, the Regimental motto Quis Separabit [Who shall separate (us)?], the bugle associated with rifle regiments and light infantry, and the descriptor ‘Pioneers’, the role of the Battalion. The interior had space for a photograph (in this case No. 2 Company). The card is tied with a black and green ribbon, the colours traditionally associated with rifle regiments.

Most of those of whom I have written were killed or wounded in 1916 and I don’t have a 1916 card in my collection. The next card was sent home to his wife at Christmas 1917 by Captain Jim Partridge. He had joined 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers in December 1916 and earned the Military Cross during the Battle of Cambrai. He was killed in action in March 1918. Note the amendment to the front of the card.

The 36th (Ulster) Division Christmas card for 1917 appears to have been printed prior to the Cambrai attack in November 1917—Captain Partridge made the manuscript amendment to include that attack. I particularly like the caricature of sausage-eating Fritz.

The 36th (Ulster) Division Christmas card for 1917 appears to have been printed prior to the Cambrai attack in November 1917—Captain Partridge made the manuscript amendment to include that attack. I particularly like the caricature of sausage-eating Fritz.


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