French Postcards 17
30 May 1915
My dear little one,
I am writing as soon as I got up and after having had my juice. I am in the forest, in the house of a forest guard; we are comfortable but it is not as good as being next to you nevertheless. I am on watch with the bugle and when there is a boche plane I warn the colleagues by sounding the bugle; the work is not painful but it is boring.
[the rest is about a parcel he sent and about the garden- he is asking whether the cherries and strawberries are good]
Legend: The war in Lorraine in 1914
Lunéville: Before they left Lunéville the Germans blew up the Viller bridge - on the right is the burnt down cereal processing plant
27 October 1914
Very dear mother,
I have just received your parcel today - 2 pairs of socks and a jumper and a bar of chocolate. I am very pleased to have received them so that I am not cold. Very dear mother, at the moment we
are in Prussia - that means in Germany - we are roughly 10 [meters? ] from the frontier further on. I am still in good health and I hope that it is the same for you. Pass on my greetings to
Roch[…] [..] I have seen him again yesterday and to B[…]. Here it is, that’s all for the time being. Receive from your son his best wishes. [name]
Note: Lunéville was the first French town to be attacked by the Germans. It was bombarded by a German plane one hour before the official war declaration on 3 August 1914. Lunéville was subsequently occupied by the Germans for three weeks from 22 August until 12 September and both inhabitants and buildings greatly suffered not only from the German occupation but also from collateral damage during its liberation by the French troops. Being close to the German frontier, the town has been repeatedly occupied by German troops who stayed there for three years after the 1870-1801 war and for more than 4 years during WW2.
The occupation during WW1 only lasted three weeks but had a lasting impact on the population as the Germans terrorised the locals by starving them to death and by taking thirteen civilian hostages from all social classes to discourage any acts of rebellion. They cut off all food supplies from outside and many children and adults died as a result. On 25 and 26 August they also executed civilians in the street, burnt down the Hotel de Ville and 110 private dwellings as retaliation for the killing of German soldiers.
This postcard was written just a few weeks after the liberation of Lunéville and the picture is an outcry against German destruction. The mention of the cereal processing plant is especially poignant as, during the German occupation, flour was confiscated and many locals (especially children) starved to death.
Saint Brieuc 7 February 1916
I have just received your letter and I answer immediately. I let you know that I am still in hospital but I am well now although they are not sending me back to military quarters yet as I am still weak as I have not eaten for eight days. I must also tell you that yesterday, Sunday, we went for a stroll in town and then we went to see the sea with one of my friends who was in hospital with me. We were lucky as the sea had just gone down and we were able to look for shells. Ah it is a beautiful view - you can see a vast stretch of water – it looks like it touches the sky. I would like you to see that..
Postcard 19: 28 February 1915
Dear little darling Lucie
Thank you once again for the kind words you have sent me. You are so good and how you are delicately nursing my poor injured heart. What comfort you bring to my heart, you can’t imagine; and your
duty leads you to continue providing such care. Yes, little Lucie, write to me often; dedicate me, if that’s not asking too much, a little moment every day. Maybe I am asking a lot but I am so
happy when I receive your missives that are so desired. They help me to occupy with less sadness days that are so sad and monotonous. I will write to you at more length in 99 days. We have
so much work at the moment and we are so badly set up at L. Ch. We are all in an attic on straw; kitchen, office, meeting room are all in the same room, a large campaign room, cold and humid
where we are shivering the whole day even when standing next to the fire. Since the last few days it has been freezing cold; it is icy and we have to walk around to warm up a bit. It
will be even worse apparently if we move forward. Luckily the good weather should come soon. Good bye darling friend. I have accepted with pleasure the little kiss that you have sent me and I
answer by giving you my lips languorously. Paul
…in a moment of illusion, life is so bizarre. Whatever happens my great friend, I will always remember you, your eyes so good, all these little things that came from your gracious person and that have charmed me from the very first moment. When will that war finish; my God how sad this is; so many dead, wounded, left disabled. We are now in full battle and the canon is incessantly sounding its big voice. In the region where we are, they use, apparently, so they say, around thirty thousand shells every day. We are still in that little place. We are ready to get onto the ambulance. Meanwhile we are killing time: wake up at 7; have a wash; walk in the fields (the countryside is quite picturesque); back again; accounting then lunch. Then walk again on foot, or sometimes horse-riding when I need to go somewhere for service which is quite frequent. The accounting, correspondence; at 6pm diner; traditional game of cards and go to bed. Moments of freedom are used for reading (have you received Popole) and for thinking about all sorts. In the evening before falling asleep I picture Nillotte and my Lucie and I fall asleep dreaming about you. Write to me quickly and give me plenty of news. What’s new over there. Have you got troops. What is happening to Madame Mangeot. The photo is a little bit dark. I am waiting for a print out to send to her. Bye my dear little Lucie and whilst waiting for your next letter I kiss with love your little eyes that I love. Paul.
Postcard 21: 15 April 1915
My dear little Lucie
Do not think that I have forgotten you, on the contrary, but our life now is so different from before that I have not had time to write to you. On the contrary, I regularly receive your dear missives and thank you very much. We are right on the front line in the region of Sparges, Marcheville, and the fighting is hot. We have large quantities of injured (4 to 5 every day) to care for and it is exhausting. One should not complain of one’s fate. Shells and bombs are falling on our village but until now no one among our staff has been injured. My God, it is so long; what sad scenes you see and when is all that going to end. What a relief, I am in good health if a little tired. After a period of wind and rain the beautiful sun, that had abandoned us, is coming back to visit and bring some consolation in this sad spectacle. With this good weather, one would be happy having a rest in Villotte near a dear little friend about whom you think very often. I hope that you are in good health dear little Lucie; how much I envy your calm and monotonous life. I don’t have time to read at the moment; I miss it; this was my only distraction. I hope for better days. We might see each other during the next leave; because of our heavy losses they might have to send us home? Maybe again on your side? Bye dear little friend and let me give you a long, very long kiss. Paul
Postcard 25: postmarked 25 Oct 1916
24 October 1916
My dear Thomas, Your new address has reached me this afternoon. Have you received my postcards from Lyon and Bordeaux where I was on military leave? I came back the day before yesterday. I will write to you more at length about these days. I hope that you will continue to do well in your successive postings. Cordially to you. [name]
Top above the postal stamp: English army in France
On the left: Sgt E[chard] Sely detachment of the 8th […]
Note: A postcard from a French soldier (the handwriting is typically French) to an English soldier. The sender is posted in Montbéliard, close to the German and Swiss frontiers. Maybe the result of a friendship that had developed on the front between an English soldier and his French counterpart. Maybe more than that as is suggested by the romantic message on front of the postcard? Pansies and a sweet thought. A very special postcard indeed.
On the disruption in perceptions of sexuality and gender norms that arose during WW1 see http://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/sexuality_sexual_relations_homosexuality
Emotional and physical closeness in the trenches and in military tents did forge strong links between soldiers and gender issues were sometimes blurred. See Jason Crouthamel’s comments ( link above):
“The trench experience made it acceptable for men to find emotional intimacy with other men, especially within the framework of “comradeship.” In the distorted and traumatic universe of the trenches, some men also invented a world where they could fantasize about crossing genders. However, their crossing from masculine to feminine was an attempt to find temporary relief rather than a deeper shift in identity. Within an environment of comradeship that included male-male emotional bonds, homosexual men were able to define their love as acceptable, or even ideal, for the military environment. Gay men idealized their form of love and sexuality as perfectly suited for the emotional strain of modern war. “
Legend: The Military Chauffeuse (female driver)
With me, the direct approach is always welcome
The spark is provided by the chauffeuse and the contact is at the soldier's place
The brakes are taken off and there is no holding back from the plunge ... as wished
The car has lights but these aren't needed
The soldier must pay attention to his little carburettor
His distributor gets only kisses
The bends are taken very slowly with no shaking
He always steers a straight course
In the mountains her car always reaches heaven
In retreat they prefer to go forward
Her costume is very simple and even in bad weather she doesn't want a hood
When speeding there is no fear that the wheels will fail
Message: My dear beloved 6-9-18
My tender heart is always good for you. After coming back from drinking a litre of wine with my comrades I am coming to share a couple of words with you.
My sweet souvenirs and my sweet kisses are always for you. I have been keeping patient for a long time but I hope that our happiness will come. I never cease to think about you my beloved who does not forget and longs to see each other. Your good friend for ever who kisses you. Farewell my beloved.
Top right corner: Your little love for ever. Paul
Top left corner: Going on a march tomorrow.
Note: A postcard from a soldier pouring out his heart to the love of his life after a drinking session with his mates.
- Once for all could you tell me why they always show us their behinds?
- Easy!!! That’s all that their officers have taught them to show….
Tuesday 8 May 1919
My dear little Adrien
I think that you were happy to see your Marcelle and your maman; there’s only one thing- it’s too short; never mind that’s better than nothing. My dear little one you must have courage and most of all you must be careful and not drink water especially when you have been walking. My brother came this morning..[text continues on second postcard?]
Note: Water was distributed every day to soldiers but queues were sometimes long and it was tempting for thirsty soldiers to drink water from shell holes. This seemed to
have happened a lot during WW1 and resulted in severe illness.
Legend: Permission to love
Due to his good behaviour the soldier sending this card is authorised to join you soon if yourself, in return, give him the permission to do so.
The commanding office: A. Tenmoi
Note: This is a word play on the French term for military leave, “permission”. The French means both “military leave” and “permission” (like in English).
The commanding officer’s signature is A. Tenmoi, phonetically the same as “attends-moi” which means “wait for me”. The stamp continues with the same theme and reads as follows: Shock battalion of love.
Legend: One to one yes all is forgotten, and we adore each other madly
29.12.1917 Saturday evening
My dear beloved little wife
I have not received any news from you for several days but I expected this little delay due to the extra mail generated by the New Year and also perhaps because of the lack of time caused
by work. Today I have received news from our parents. Tomorrow Sunday I will write more at length to attenuate, as much is possible, this intolerable life, being far from you!
Receive my little Ninette from your little man his infinite caresses. I kiss you very tenderly just I love you. To you for life. Fernand
Comments: This particular correspondent named Fernand liked to add his own hand-written legends to this particular series of cards. This way of personalizing a mass produced card was not uncommon and handwritten comments are quite frequently found on the front of postcards.
Postcard 36: 26th December 1917
My dear little beloved wife
May this letter bring you my very best wishes for the New Year; wishes of happiness that I would very much see realised by my return, bringing you all the hope, joy and happiness that you dream about through our legitimate union of love and fidelity. I will write to our parents tonight. At the moment I am on guard duty at the explosives for 24 hours. Snow is falling and fingers are slightly frozen. I am tracing these lines ..like a grenade. Waiting for news from you, please receive my dear little wife whom I love my infinite kisses and my mad caresses. To you for life. Your beloved. Fernand.
Note: A postcard from a soldier reminding his wife of her marriage vows perhaps. The mention of “fidelity” is important here. Marital infidelity was a great concern for soldiers. Women suddenly enjoyed a lot more freedom and financial independence. Some made the most of it (quite rightly).
Postcard 37: 21st November 1917
Legend: handwritten- After a long wait
If the offensive is rough on the front
[rest is not legible]
B…21 Novembre 1917
My dear little wife whom I adore
I have received your lovely card from Mon[…] this morning and it brought back lovely memories that soon, I hope, will come back alive again like in happy days. It is still likely that we will depart at the end of the week or at the beginning of next; so we will soon have the joy to see each other and to love each other tenderly.
Receive dear little Ninette my infinite caresses and sincere kisses.
Your little man for life
Postcard 38: 23rd July 1916
Warm embraces to all the family on my behalf and receive my most tender caresses from the bottom of my heart.
Note: A very amusing postcard. The chubby babies are depicted doing what the poilus would have done during quiet times: washing, cooking and cleaning their settlement. The rural setting is interesting as it does reflect the fact that troops would have sometimes stayed in barns or other buildings owned by the locals. This card was obviously made to amuse and delight the receiver with all its entertaining little details like the baby peeing on the roof. A tender perspective on what was really a very grim war. A very suitable postcard to send to children and family to cheer them up and make them smile in difficult times.
Postcard: 39: 11/12/1917