What is it about?
This articles explores the multiple functions of postcards in the maintenance of relationships between soldiers and civilians during the First World War.
Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash
Why is it important?
Postcards are an underused source in Anglophone histories of 1914-1918. Yet, the were an expansive form of Edwardian mass-media and were used by people, rich and poor, across society. As such, once the conflict began, they became a key bridge in the divide between soldiers at war and the people they left behind. Their multiple functions supplemented letters and parcels, but also offered other opportunities to nurture distant relationships.
Read the Original
This page is a summary of: ‘A War Imagined’: Postcards and the Maintenance of Long-Distance Relationships during the Great War, War in History, November 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0968344519831039.
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'Hoping for Victorious Peace: Morale and the Future on the Western Front, 1914-1918'
This chapter begins by discussing how visions of peace emerged on the Western Front, before discussing exactly what 'hope' means in a psychological context. It argues that soldiers' hope became focused on victorious peace, which formed around visions of a future devoid of war. The chapter highlights the role of hope in English soldiers' morale – underlining the ways in which internalised visions of the future were prevalent and contrasted with and combated the men's present. It examines men's desire for peace across the war and consider how this interrelated with morale, before arguing that their frame of reference – the war and the Western Front – constrained their perspective on the world. Peace offered the opportunity for men to plan the consolidation of all that was good in their lives and encouraged them to live with a vision of this possibly idealised future.
'Making Sense of the Western Front: English Infantrymen's Morale and Perception of Crisis during the First World War'
This thesis reappraises military morale during the First World War, looking at the relationship between morale and perceptions of crisis. It analyses the resilience of English infantrymen serving on the Western Front during three acute ‘crisis’ periods faced by the British Army in 1914, 1916, and 1917/1918. Through the examination of contemporary sources, it reveals how infantrymen’s long-term experiential perceptions of war and the Western Front functioned to promote resilience. Generally focussing on moments outside of combat, it argues that many combatants perceived the war itself as a prolonged chronic crisis. Adaptations deflected experiences of chronic crisis and soldiers often failed to register acute crisis and did not distinguish these phases as ones of ‘crisis’ at the time. The dissertation draws on untapped archival material, mainly using sources written during or shortly after the events being studied. It investigates the interrelationship between soldiers’ social and physical environment, and their psychological environment. Deploying theory from anthropology, sociology and social psychology, it goes further than previous work in its interdisciplinary scope. The individual chapters reflect the themes that emerged most forcefully from the primary material. The first four describe the ways in which men overcame chronic crisis, while the final chapter analyses the emergence of acute crisis. ‘Attachment’ explores how men familiarised themselves with the physical environment of the Western Front, normalised it and found meaning in it. ‘Exhaustion’ analyses the experience of winter, showing how this subsumed other concerns and changed men’s perspective on war during other seasons of the year. ‘Obligation’ reinterprets the ways in which concepts of duty influenced soldiers’ actions and interpretation of the conflict. ‘Imagination’ develops a fresh perspective on the ways in which men’s perceptions and dreams of England became a coping mechanism and furnished a justification of their suffering. ‘Hope’ argues that visions of peace proved to be sustaining and were inextricably linked to ideas of victory. The thesis offers new insights into the psychology of the soldiers of 1914-18, and the conclusion suggests that human adaptability and the ability to construe events constructively, to have goals and see clear pathways to these goals, helped men to cope with the Great War.
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