The First World War was probably one of the most gruesome events in human history. It was a global war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history. Millions of soldiers lost their lives on the battlefields all across Europe. In those short moments when those brave men were not fighting, buried in the dirty trenches of the front lines, they were thinking of their families and most often wrote letters for them. The letters filled with love and with wishes to be back home with the loved ones were the only way of communication for the soldiers. They tried to depict their life on the front as best as they could. Some of them even drew sketches of the scenery from their point of view and sent them back home. This is a story about those truly amazing, personal, postcards. The postcards shown here are part of an exhibition that took place last year at The Printing Museum in Huston, Texas.
The exhibition called Postcards from the Trenches: Germans and Americans Visualize the Great War centers on the art created by German and American soldiers on opposite sides of No Man’s Land. Hand-painted trench postcards, sketches, ink drawings, and graphic works made by soldiers in the midst of the conflict, juxtaposed with mass-produced postcards and government propaganda, movingly illuminate the personal landscapes and bitter truths of the Great War (postcardsfromthetrenches). These “works of art” are a tribute to the creativity of men, even in the saddest and hardest moments.
The following beautifully hand-drawn postcards were made by a German soldier called Otto. They are all addressed to his wife Irma. In the personal messages written on them, you can feel the affection he had for his wife and the agony he felt when he didn’t hear back from her for a long time.
This postcard is titled “Evening in a small town”. The text on it reads: “Dear Irma, got your letter, many thanks, your Otto”
Here Otto wrote: “Dear Irma, many greetings from the land of the enemy. It is constantly raining. Bad weather day after day. Do you have snow at home? Today I sent a card to everyone at home. Hopefully, they will get there. Also wrote to your brother. Your Otto. Many greetings to your parents [the rest is unclear]”
This postcard titled “French type” is probably a depiction of a french man. Oto wrote: “Dear Irma, yesterday I got the letter and newspaper. Now I am curious what the photo will look like? Hopefully very nice. You write that you have such nice weather at home [more, but unclear]. Farewell, all the best, greet those at home. Letter as soon as I can. Uncle Gustav also sent me a package”
“1000 greetings for Sunday, your Otto.”
“My dear Irma, 1000 greetings, your Otto. Many greetings to your family, most of all to your brother.”
Otto named this one “Noon Break in our quarters!?”. The text reads: “Dear Irma, many, many thanks for your dear letter. Hope you get everything. With 1000 thanks, your Otto”
“Many greetings, your Otto.”
The image speaks for itself. “Full moon at the front”.
On this postcard, titled “Village beauty”, Otto wrote: (Message begins on the back) “Dear Irma, for two days no news from you. Hopefully, my greeting card will find you in perfect mood and health. How long will it take? This evening received your letter.Continues on front: The wonderful Christmas celebration will soon be here. I hope it will bring much joy to all of you at home. Now the second Christmas at the front, I don’t want to think about it. When I remember how wonderful the winter semester was at the academy I could go crazy. May life be good to you, am sending 1000 heartfelt wishes, your Otto.”
“My dear Irma, got your letter last night. How nice it must have been in [unclear]. How much I would have liked to be there also. Let us hope for next winter, shall we? Many greetings to your dear parents. [Unclear] with Feldpostkarten. Soon I will run out. Maybe you can send me a few of the kind like the last ones, it is very easy to paint on them. I hope you are well. Letter will follow. Your Otto.”
It is titled “Building a trench,” Otto wrote: “Dear Irma, 1000 greetings, your Otto.”