Battle of the Somme Postcards

       Family History and the Battle of the Somme


The Daily Mail Official War Postcards eBook, could be a useful source of information for those studying a number of ww1 interests. Here for example, is how it might benefit Family Historians and Genealogists in their never-ending search for information.

Many Family Historians have photographs of ancestors in military uniform who were serving in the Great War; but they do not usually have images of the areas and locations where their soldier served. For instance, did your soldier take part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916?  Well, there is a series of picture postcards named the 'Daily Mail Official War Pictures' and if you were to look at cards from the collection, you might consider that a few of them would make a splendid representation and commemoration of the time your ancestor spent on the Western Front. The Daily Mail newspaper published the cards between August 1916 and April 1917. They are easy to find and still reasonably priced and if you wished, it might still be possible to complete the collection of 176 cards. 

A number of the Mail cards carried photographs of named units and regiments and just as people in 1916, recognised family and friends among the soldiers depicted on the cards, maybe is it still possible to do that today. Could you find an image of your grandfather or great-grandfather on a picture in the collection? A long-shot perhaps - but not impossible. An example of a named group gathering is shown below.

A named group card showing the "EAST YORKS GOING INTO THE TRENCHES" This is card No.101 from series 13. The caption on the reverse says, "Men of the gallant East Yorkshire Regiment marching up to the trenches the night before the attack, are delighted to meet the camera man."



"A GALLANT RESCUE UNDER FIRE. THIS MAN SAVED TWENTY LIVES LIKE THIS." Card No.16 from series 2. It depicts the rescue of a wounded soldier taken from no mans land. On 29th July 1916, The War Illustrated, featured this photograph on its front page and described it as, "THE BEAUTIFUL SIDE OF WAR." and said it was an, "actual photograph of a British soldier bringing in a wounded comrade out of danger. Though all the time under heavy fire this great hero saved as many as twenty stricken men in this war".  On 7th October 1916, under the heading "Postcard Hero", the Daily Mail published the following report, "Much interest has been aroused in postcard number now turns out that the gallant rescuer is Driver Tom Spencer, who enlisted shortly after war broke out..." Apparently, Tom's mother recognised his picture on the postcard and told the newspaper. There is more information in the eBook about the taking of this photograph.

Another named group card from the collection. This card depicting trench-fighters - with trophies and souvenirs - was produced in silver-print and titled "THE 'FIGHTING FIFTH' (NORTHUMBER- LAND FUSILIERS) AFTER THE BATTLE OF ST. ELOI," It is No.53 from Series 7 and carried the following caption: "Assisted by the Royal Fusiliers, the "Fighting Fifth" took with splendid dash the first and second line trenches at St. Eloi." Several men are wearing German helmets and one man appears to be wearing what could be a German gas mask. A padre stands in the middle of the group - obviously enjoying the celebration.


What did your grandfather do in the Great War?

Perhaps your grandfather was an artillery gunner either before, during or after the Battle of the Somme. There are several splendid colour pictures in the Daily Mail Battle Pictures/Daily Mail Official War Pictures collection of the 'big guns' in action, any of which you could use to illustrate a WW1 family connection with the artillery.

If you are lucky enough to have letters or postcards mailed from France by your WW1 ancestor, is there any record of him having seen the King there? King George V visited thousands of his troops in France several times during the conflict. "The King at the Front" was series 11 in the collection and was devoted entirely to depictions of the King's August 1916 visit and produced in the coloured format. Series 12, for some extraordinary reason was an exact repetition of the eight pictures of the King's visit in the proceeding series, except that this time they were in photogravure. A comparison of the two series shows that some of the colour reproductions had been 'touched up' or 'improved'. Any one of these cards would be a good illustration of your ancestors sighting of the King on his tour of the Front.

 Is there a record of your ancestor been given the task of guarding German prisoners of war ? There were seven cards in the collection with titles like, "The Glorious 1st of July, 1916 - OUR FIRST PRISONERS", "THIRSTY GERMAN PRISONERS IN THEIR BARBED WIRE CAGE" and "TAKING IN PRISONERS DURING THE GREAT ADVANCE". Interestingly, postcard No.1 in the collection and the last one -  No.176, both featured captured German soldiers.

In the Daily Mail Official War Pictures collection there are scenes from the trenches with which you could illustrate your soldiers time there. For example, card No.12 was in colour and depicted "Tommy's lookout in a captured German trench at Ovillers," Card No.116 from series 15, depicted a soldier on observation duty "Keeping a sharp look out" through a loophole in a wall of sand-bags.

Anzac's in France

 Was your ancestor one of the ANZACS who served on the Western Front during the Somme offensive? In January 1917, two new series of cards got a mention in The Times. They were titled "ANZACS IN FRANCE" They were numbered 19 (Australian) and 20 (New Zealand) respectively and each contained eight photographs in photogravure." Titles included, "OVER THE TOP", "CROSSING NO MAN'S LAND", "A WIRING PARTY GOING FORWARD",

Was your ancestor a medic or an army chaplain during the 1916 offensive? There were a number of cards in the collection depicting both these occupations. For instance, "R.A.M.C. PICKING UP WOUNDED IN A CAPTURED VILLAGE", "HELPING AN AMBULANCE THROUGH THE MUD", "A CHAPLAIN WRITING HOME FOR TOMMY",  "CHURCH SERVICE BEFORE BATTLE",  "A Burial on the Battlefield" and "THE BURIAL OF TWO BRITISH SOLDIERS ON THE BATTLEFIELD" On 16th September, the Daily Mail drew attention to this card and told its readers the names of the men. They are named in the eBook.

If your soldier was wounded in one of the Somme battles, he would have been transported from the front line aid-post to the rear area by horse-drawn or motor-ambulance. There are two pictures in colour of these vehicles and the battle destruction around them is evident. (The banner at the top of this page is taken from one of the images)

The Daily Mail continued to publish the cards as the battles continued on the Somme. The cards are a tangible and physical link with that period of the conflict. But even better - perhaps you could find the face of your WW1 ancestor on one of the cards!


The first of the two cards featured below, shows an example of a presumably easily identifiable picture off four soldiers in a trench. The second one depicts a group of anonymous soldiers loading a trench mortar. (Their faces are hidden).


The faces of these men would have been easily recognizable to friend and relatives  This well-known picture, “TOMMY” AT HOME IN THE GERMAN DUG-OUTS.” is No.20 from Series 3 in the Mail collection. The caption says: ‘Our “Tommies” soon make themselves at home in the German dug-outs, where they have driven out their tenants with shell, bomb and bayonet." Items of kit and personal possessions are strewn around the dug-outs.

These men presumably would not have been recognised by family and friends. However, all their names are now known and mentioned in the guide to The Daily Mail Official War Postcards eBook. “LOADING A TRENCH MORTAR.” Card No.115. This 9.45 heavy trench mortar was being loaded by Australian troops. A caption on the reverse of the card reads, "Tommy’s nickname for a trench mortar is a “flying pig” and this picture shows some of our men loading one of these useful weapons." The location is the Somme during the Battle of Pozieres in August 1916.


As the battles continued on the Somme, the Daily Mail carried on publishing its collection of picture postcards. Today, the cards are a tangible and physical link with that period of the conflict. But even better - perhaps you could find the face of your WW1 ancestor on one of the them!




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