Battle of the Somme Postcards

About the Somme cards 

The Daily Mail Official War Pictures are well known to collectors of British military picture postcards and to many people with an interest in the Great War 1914-1918. Nevertheless, although freely available and easy to find, it seems that up to now, very little information  about these cards exists.

However, a 'guide' is now available with new information about this remarkable collection of Great War picture postcards. It consists of more than 80-pages (as a downloadable PDF file - which can printed-out)) and looks at the photographers, the selection, the publication and the distribution of these popular WW1 picture postcards.  

Also known as The Daily Mail Battle Pictures the collection numbered 176 cards (in 22 series of 8 cards each) and was based on 105 photographs taken by members of the small band of official photographers that were located on the Western Front. Most of the cards depicted scenes and incidents from the Battle of the Somme 1916. (The 'battle' was not a continuous one, but rather a series of battles and actions that raged from July until November).

The cards were produced in three 'finishes' or formats, colour, silver-print and photogravure. Some of the images were in one format, some in two and a few in all three. .

In addition to a checklist of the complete collection of 176 cards, a special chart also appears in The Guide. It lists the105 photographs in the collection, their title and the format(s) and card number in which each image appeared.


"FIRING A HEAVY HOWITZER IN FRANCE." This card, No. 19 from Series 3, also appears as numbers 32 and 79 in photogravure and silver-print respectively. It has been described as, "June 1916: one of the British 8in. howitzers which took part in the bombardment of the Somme, sending a 200lb. high explosive shell out to a range of up to 10,500 yards." Another source described the photograph as, "British 8 inch firing. The gun layer is holding the lanyard which is still connected to the gun's firing lock in the breech."

The Daily Mail entrusted the production of the collection to four printing companies who - it seems - had their own ideas about how some of the finished images - featuring scenes and incidents from the Battle of the Somme - should look. This resulted in a number of cards carrying  the same number, and appearing either as a photograph or as a 'painting' copied from a photograph. In addition, some cards (with the same number) displayed the original photograph as taken by the official photographers, or as sometimes happened; the image appeared as a 'cropped' version of the original.

Below are examples of two cards from the collection - bearing the same number. However, one is a photograph and the other a painting based on the photograph.

"A WIRING PARTY GOING UP TO THE TRENCHES." Card No.111 from Series 14. The caption on the reverse reads, "Every British trench has its own post-office, with telephone and telegraph wires, A wiring party is here going forward to its special work." However, the caption writer has surely made a mistake. The wiring party is more probably going forward to fix screw-in pickets and barbed wire somewhere along the trench line. A case of the caption writer getting his wires crossed. This image was also described as, "British wiring party Beaumont Hamel, France, July 1916. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment putting up barbed wire in front of their trenches during the Battle of Albert."  Note also the water-pump in the foreground. This image also appeared as a painting (with the same number and shown below) and as card No.135 in photogravure.


Considering the repetition of the images in different formats and the anomalies mentioned above, the Daily Mail postcards can at times seem to be a 'confusing' and 'disorganised' series to collect, even though the cards are numbered from 1 to 176.

The new Guide however, attempts to make some 'sense' of the Daily Mail collection by mainly grouping the cards by theme or topic, rather than studying them in the series they were released.

Since they first appeared in 1916, the cards have been briefly mentioned in several books and publications about the Battle of the Somme 1916 and the Great War in general. The guide book - The Daily Mail Official War Postcards -  is an attempt to show how studying a 'set' of picture postcards produced during the 1914-1918 conflict, often gives rise to fascinating and complex questions, which make collecting them both challenging and more interesting.

The Daily Mail cards are still reasonably priced (£1 - £5) and easy to find, (except maybe some of those in the later series 20-22, which sometimes attract the higher price) however, as already mentioned, it seems that this extraordinary collection has not been looked at before (in print at least) in any detail - until now !

Among the cards in the second half of the collection is a famous photograph of a soldier caressing a huge shell on which is chalked "To Willie with Compliments". An identical shot appears in the Malins/McDowell film The Battle of the Somme, At first it was thought that this was either a still from the film, or more likely a still shot taken by a cameraman with one of the operators. It is now known it was a still shot taken by Ernest Brooks.

“A PRESENT FOR THE KAISER.” Card No.98 in colour. This picture - taken by Ernest Brooks in July 1916 - is also seen as card No.122 in photogravure. The caption on the reverse reads, "Our grand artillerymen like to address a shell before they fire it. This "shell, being of the largest size, is addressed to the Biggest Hun." The picture of the sergeant and the shell also appeared in The Illustrated London News on 12th August 1916.

There are cards and information here that may interest Family Historians


Each of the 22 series of eight cards was issued in an envelope which carried printed details of the cards therein. The four printing company's who produced the cards also designed their own envelopes - although the text for each was similar. Made from paper, the envelopes have been found in several colours, shades, sizes, and style of type.


A special 'Daily Mail Official War Post-cards' album was issued by the newspaper in early October 1916. It was bound in full cloth and available in at least three colours - blue, red and green. On the front of the album was a 'battle scene' and wording in gold. Although the album was advertised as holding 'a collection of 240 cards', with 'stout leaves', only 176 cards were ever issued.

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