Munitionettes and Magic Lantern Slides

Figure 1: Punch 27th March 1918, p.208

I have started to add glass lantern slides to my collection because of the clarity of the photograph, which has been transferred onto the glass slide. Initially the materiality of the object was not my focus but once my first slides were delivered I questioned why such objects existed, what were they used for, how were the images on the slides disseminated, engaged with, what was the original market or even the manufacturing process. I now have 9 in my collection all relating to First World War female munition workers. This Blog will discuss my findings as to the scenes depicted on the slides and the reasons for their existence. I had always assumed that Magic Lanterns were a Victorian phenomenon, something that historian Joss Marsh has documented, arguing that although ‘its popularity peaked in Britain around 1805…. it died out as a headlining popular entertainment in the 1830s…’ but it was still a form of entertainment into the 1920s coinciding with the growth of cinema.[1] With this in mind these glass slides are not unusual.


Figure 2: An example of a British Magic Lantern date unknown. http://www.magiclantern.org.uk/history/

The History of Magic Lanterns

According to the Magic Lantern Society a magic lantern was ‘part of a marvellous world of optical projection’.[2] The Society maintains that the origins of projecting images goes back hundreds of thousands of years but for the purposes of this blog I will be concerned with the First World War and the specific slides in my collection. The Magic Lantern Society has a brief history of the magic lantern claiming that the trade was vibrant in the late 1870s and 1880s. According to the website in this period there were over 30 companies producing lanterns and slides in London alone. These companies included Carpenter & Westley, York & Son, Newton & Co. and James Bamforth. While the cinema may have overtaken the magic lantern for public entertainment, according to the society, lantern shows continued to disseminate education and religious instruction. ‘From the 1900s onwards many of the smaller family lantern or slide businesses disappeared or were amalgamated with larger firms, but there were still lantern and slide suppliers trading until after the Second World War.’[3] Searching through Punch I came across an ‘advertisement’ offering the services of a magic lantern, slides and an operator in 1920.


Figure 3 Punch 28th January 1920 p.7

According to the informative 1898 book, The Magic Lantern written by J. A. Manton, the President of the Sheffield Lantern Society: ‘The optical lantern is simply a modified form of microscope whose function is to project on to a suitable surface an enlarged image…the size of the picture being limited only by the size of the room.’[4] This fascinating book details the mechanics of the magic lantern, the recommended ways of illumination and includes detailed drawings. A magic lantern contained a luminant (light), 2 optical lenses to magnify the image and a sliding cradle to hold the glass slide. The diagram (Figure 4) from the book displays the principle of the projection with the light (L) shining through 2 convex lenses (C), the refracted light is then transmitted through the picture, to come together at F where the image is shown on the screen.

Figure 4: Manton, J.A, The Magic Lantern. London: Iliffe, Sons & Sturmey Ltd. 1898, p.10

Manton explained two ways to create photographic slides for the keen enthusiast, which were either by reduction or contact. Having read Manton’s description and closely examined my slides I am able to deduce that they were produced by the ‘Reduction’ technique. Manton describes this process as follows:

the negative is again photographed on a reduced scale, and the resulting picture, when washed and dried, is masked and framed……by a piece of opaque paper, and then protected from injury by a cover-glass of exactly the same dimensions.[5]

Object Analysis

Women’s work was discussed nationally in many forms such as newspaper articles, films, cartoons and on postcards, to name a few formats. Thus, the dissemination of the contribution of women to the war effort in the form of Magic Lantern talks was not unusual. However, what struck me is the contradiction between this ‘old-fashioned’ medium and the modernity of First World War warfare and the appearance of women in their ‘modern’ workwear that was depicted on the slides.

The N.W.S.C

Interestingly, each of these slides have a hand-written descriptive sentence in white ink explaining the scene depicted and at the top (again in white ink) is the sentence ‘NWSC Women’s Work). I was intrigued by these initials and originally expected them to be representative of a women’s political organisation, perhaps with roots in the Suffrage movement. But I could not find any evidence for this. In the end I Googled these initials and found that they represented the ‘National War Savings Committee’. At first, I was sceptical about this result. I decided to research the British Library’s online Newspaper Archive to see if there were any advertisements for magic lantern talks to see if this approach would help in determining the meaning of the initialism N.W.S.C. Some of the photographs shown on the slides I recognised from the collection held in the archives of the IWM. These were taken by the Horace Nicholls, who was the official Government photographer tasked with touring the country recording the work being carried out for the war. I was intrigued as to how these ‘official’ photographs had found their way onto these commercial items, convinced as I was that the initials N.W.S.C was some form of national women’s organisation. The search of the newspaper archive resulted in finding a notice in the Burnley News Saturday 19th October 1918 which announced the following:


Figure 5: Burnley News Saturday 19th October 1918

Having seen this notice the perplexing question behind the meaning of these initials and the purpose of these slides was clear. The Government had allowed the photographs taken by Horace Nicholls to be used to facilitate raising funds for the war effort. How much money was raised by the sale of these slides is something that perhaps may never be known.


The Slides

The slides are 3mm thick glass, measuring 8.1cm square and weigh 49 grams each. The edges are protected with black papery tape. The image has a black tissue like paper border glued onto one side of the slide which is then protected by another glass slide. One corner of each slide has a label stuck diagonally across the slide that it is slightly hidden by the border tape. By carefully peeling back some of the tape (Figure 6) the writing on the label is revealed as ‘Maker Newton & Co 37, King St Covent Garden London’ (one of the main manufacturers mentioned by the Magic Lantern Society). On each on the slides there is also a circular numbered sticker indicating that there was an order to the slides, or that they were part of a series. I now own numbers 43, 44, 45, 47, 49, 52, 53, 54 and 57.

Figure 6: Author’s own glass slide showing the labels and notations

Slide 43 (Figure 7) was taken inside a factory. The notation reads ‘making fuses’. In the foreground a long workbench is divided into 2 by a long piece of wood across the length of the workbench. The end of the workbench has 2 metal numbers nailed to it – a number 9 and 10. The workbench has two different processes being carried out by 10 women seated each side. The group of women sat on the left appear to be packing the fuses into boxes. On the other side of the workbench are operating some sort of drilling machines. Once they have filled a box of the fuses, they are set in the middle of the table for the women on the other side to continue with the process. Looking closely at the picture this division of workstations and procedures is repeated throughout the factory as can be seen by the pulleys and straps that stretch up to the ceiling and which drive the motors for the machinery.

Figure 7: Slide 43 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide

Slide 44 (Figure 8) features two women working on a Condenser Tube, according to the description. The inside of the factory shows just how little consideration was given to health and safety as we know it today. The women are sat on make-shift seating comprising of two piles of stones, or perhaps wood, with two planks of wood stretching from one pile to the other. The female munition workers sit on the planks of wood and are possibly screwing or tightening nuts on the tube unit. Both women wear mob caps and blouses underneath their overalls. From the angle of the photograph, we cannot see whether these women are wearing trousers or long gowned overalls over everyday clothing.

Figure 8: Slide 44 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide

Slide 45 (Figure 9) is titled milling machine is one example of where these images were used in other forms. This slide shows a female munition worker using a milling machine. She wears dark coloured overalls and a striped mob cap. She appears to be wearing a broach at the neckline of her overall. The most striking element of this photograph is the lack of personal protection the woman wears considering her work exposes her to sharp pieces of metal. The IWM Sound Archives hold oral testimonies of the injuries sustained by the workers, including metal filings becoming embedded in workers’ eyes, or injuries to hands etc.[6] Figure 10 shows how this same image was disseminated across other media and publications.

Figure 9: Slide 45 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide
Figure 10: The Graphic, 19th February 1916 p.253 Author’s own collection

Slide 47 (Figure 11) features two women ‘testing mines’, as described on the slide. One of the women is obscured by the large spherical mine so we are unable to see any of her clothing. The woman in the forefront is tightening 1 of 4 nuts on the side of the mine with a spanner. (Incidentally on a visit to the archives held at Loughborough University, I was able to examine a spanner used by trainee munition workers at the technical school and was surprised by the weight of this heavy metal tool.) The way in which this woman holds the spanner conveys the weight of the instrument but also the strength in her arms, wrists and hands. Her workwear appears to comprise of a tunic under which she is perhaps wearing trousers, but as the condition of the photograph has deteriorated in the corners it is hard to ascertain whether she is wearing boots or puttees, a form of bandage used to prevent any excess fabric catching in machinery. The mine itself appears to be resting on rails, held in place by planks of wood and a gauge at protruding from the top displays the pressure. Again, the scene demonstrates through the women’s clothing and the working environment, the industrial and dirty nature of the work.

Figure 11: Slide 47 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide

Slide 49 (Figure 12) ‘Ship Building’ is the clearest of all the slides I own. It was taken in a dockyard in front of a partially built warship surrounded in scaffolding. The forefront of the picture is filled with what I thought to be lines of piled planks of wood, which are being picked up and moved by 4 women. The same image was printed in the Illustrated London News, 10th June 1916, (Figure 13) captioned as ‘handling long steel bars’. Three of the women furthest away from the camera wear dark mob cabs, trousers and tunics, under which light coloured blouses can be seen. To the left of these women another lady, on her own, carrying the majority of the weight of the steel bar. She wears a very light outfit, that may have been off white or pale blue in colour, which would have signified her superior position (possibly a supervisor). Again, she wears a mob cap, trousers and tunic and blouse underneath. The background, not surprisingly for an industrial port, is filled with other industrial buildings. There appears to be a small crowd of either of workers or visiting dignitaries, some women visible in the crowd, wear large-brimmed hats, as was the fashion for more mature, upper-class women. During the war factories received visitors, whether army officials, other factory managers, politicians and royalty and these visits were recorded for a variety of reasons; company records, the country’s morale and propaganda. This was the third slide I purchased because I recognised the image as being one taken by Horace Nicholls and in the collection of the Imperial War Museum. Originally this slice had confused me slightly, as I could not understand how this image being part of the Government’s official record of the war, had transformed into a commercial object.


Figure 12: Slide 49 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide
Figure 13: Illustrated London News, 10th June 1916, p.8

Slide 52 (Figure 14) ‘Police Corps. On duty in Munition Works’ shows munition workers lined up alongside a single gauge railway track that snakes its way into the distance. The women are wearing heavy, thick tunics and trousers that look extremely similar to those worn at the Gretna factory. A policewoman is inspecting and tidying one of the girl’s outfit and I suspect the reason the women are on parade is that the King and Queen were visiting the factory. Figure 15 is taken from a book I acquired on a visit to the Devil’s Porridge Archives, Gretna. It shows the King touring the extensive factory complex, which stretched over 9 miles from Dornock, Scotland to Mossband, England.

Figure 14: Slide 52 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide
Figure 15: ‘The Royal Party greeted by Munitions Girls at Gaillard Towers, Dornock’. Routledge, Gordon. L. Miracles and Munitions. Longtown, Cumbria: Arthuret, 2003, p.41

Slide 53 (Figure 16) is labelled ‘Railway Carriage Cleaners’. Twenty-four women either standing on the track outside a railway carriage, on ladders or inside in the process of cleaning the windows or the inside compartment. All of the women are wearing tunics, trousers and mob caps. The colour seems to be uniform, but a couple of women do appear to be wearing a darker shade of workwear and are perhaps the supervisors.

Figure 16: Slide 53 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide

Slide 54 (Figure 17) is this time labelled as ‘N.W.S.C Navy’ and ‘munition works’. In the forefront a female munition worker sits with her back to the camera on a vehicle, seemingly on a track that moves the heavier shells and munitions around the factory. On her left women are tightening the tops of the shells, which one assumes will be then lifted onto the empty racks for transportation. A large notice is attached to a pillar that reads Smoking is strictly prohibited in the shell filling factory. If any worker was found to be smoking, they faced instant dismissal. The women wear all-in-one boiler suits which we can see from the seated worker are fastened down the back with buttons. The woman driver also wears a blouse out, over her workwear, perhaps to look ‘nice’ for the photograph, or this may have been how the women liked to feminise their workwear.

Figure 17: Slide 54 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide

Slice 57 (Figure 18) the final slide in the collection, thus far, has the actual location of the factory, unlike the others, probably because it depicts the canteen and not any of the ammunition making processes. The picture is of a large group of women workers in the Woolwich Canteen. All the women pictured are on a break during their shifts and are wearing their overalls and mobcaps. The garments show the traces of their dirty, greasy work and the variation in the colours, signifying the supervisory roles, can also be seen. Many of the women’s overalls have different coloured sleeves to the body of the overall or ‘gown’ as it was referred to by A. K. Foxwell in her book Munition Lasses.[7]

Figure 18: Slide 57 – Author’s own Magic Lantern Slide

The main reason behind the purchases of these slides was for the clarity of the image, but it has shown me another nuanced way in which the work of munition workers was disseminated during the conflict. The convergence of these images of the modern means of production for a war that necessitated a modern approach to established methods of warfare, the unusual-dressed appearance of women to carry out roles in previously male only occupations and the old-fashioned method of projection is striking.


[1] Foxwell, A. K. Munitions Lasses, Six Months as Principal Overlooker in Danger Buildings. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1917. Print

[2] https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/9-women-reveal-the-dangers-of-working-in-a-first-world-war-munitions-factory

[3] Ibid p.60

[4] Manton, J.A, The Magic Lantern. London: Iliffe, Sons & Sturmey Ltd. 1898, p.9

[5] http://www.magiclantern.org.uk/history/

[6] http://www.magiclantern.org.uk/history/

7] Marsh, Joss, “Dickensian ‘Dissolving Views’: The Magic Lantern, Visual Story-Telling, and the Victorian Technological Innovation”, Comparative Critical Studies: 6:3. pp 333-346. p. 334



Permit Book no 155148

When Permit Book No 155148 appeared on eBay for sale I knew immediately I had to add it to my collection. It is the most expensive single item in my collection of photographs and ephemera associated with female munition workers from the First World War. The regulations required the owner of this permit book to document their appearance, height and include a photograph. Photographic technology of this time was limited to black and white, which is frustrating to our modern eyes. As a dress historian I long to see the colour of the clothing worn so descriptions are extremely important. The fact that we can imagine Emily’s complexion from the description gives her picture a little more vitality and, strangely, humanity. Identifying the person, or people, in the photographs from the First World War has become increasingly more important to me; perhaps as a way to memorialise these long forgotten individuals.

The front cover of this Permit Book (Figure 1) besides detailing the issue number also provides instructions if the document was lost. The cover is also stamped with the King’s Coat of Arms and the phrase ‘Defence of the Realm’ to authenticate it as an official document. 

Figure 1: The Permit Book Cover of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own collection

Defence of the Realm Act 

The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed on the 8th August 1914, only 4 days after the declaration of war. The Act granted the Government the power to acquire land and to control the range of resources necessary for the administration and/or procurement of the war. Originally the wording of the Act was brief but, importantly, its brevity and vagueness allowed the Government to increase its scope as and when required.[1] DORA also introduced restricted opening hours for public houses, which still exist today, as Lloyd George, who initiated and triumphed a campaign to observe abstinence, exclaimed that the Empire had 3 enemies – ‘Germany, Austria and drink… the greatest of these three deadly foes is drink!’[2] This quote even appeared on temperance pledge cards such as the one in Figure 2.[3] Interestingly David Thomas was a young boy when he signed this card, he was 7 in 1911 and Lloyd George made this speech in 1915 (Figure 3). To justify the limited opening hours of public houses, drink had been blamed for the loss of factory production hours. Following the Shell Scandal of 1915, when the shortage of ammunition had been made public by Sir John French, the efficient manufacture of munitions was critical. The Ministry of Munitions was founded in May 1915 and the form munitions production took was reformed, so that by 1917 there were 150 times the amount of shells being produced, compared with the quantity of 1914.[4]

Figure 2: Pledge card signed by David Thomas. Author’s own collection.
Figure 3: 1911 Census record for David Thomas and family 3, Nicholl Street, Swansea. Courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk.

One of the greatest concerns of the Government was the protection of the country’s security. There was thus, heightened secrecy surrounding the location of certain factories, the reporting of explosions and the developmental research of warfare. The existence of ‘Enemy Aliens’ was such that the movement and internment of foreign nationals, or their immediate descendants, was strictly controlled under DORA. Anti-German fervour led to the boycotting and, in circumstances, the destruction of German businesses, many of whom anglicised their names as a result. 

Permit Books

The most likely reason for the use of these permit books was to explain the presence of citizens in certain locations. For example, Figure 4 shows an example held in the Imperial War Museum belonging to a Miss Dorothy Florence Sweet of 15 Woodside Park Road, North Finchley, was granted permission to sketch and paint for business in the East Sussex area.[5] Tales of espionage abounded during this period so to see someone sketching may have aroused suspicions, especially if Dorothy Florence was sketching near any military camps located in and around East Sussex towns such as Lewes or Shoreham, for example. Security surrounding military areas was of paramount concern so the movement of people was strictly controlled in a combination of bureaucracy, legislation, transportation and these books were early examples of identity cards.

Figure 4: Dorothy Florence Sweet permit identification page. https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/defence-realm-permit-book-great-war-1779339832 

Permit Book No 155148

My permit book was issued at Dartford on the 19th May 1917. (Figure 5) It was issued to a Miss Emily Adelaide Hill, who gave her address as 44, Priory Road, Dartford, Kent. The ‘Personal Description’ notes her height as being 5 foot 4 inches with a medium build. She has been described as having fair hair and blue eyes with no distinguishing marks. The black and white photograph shows her looking slightly away from the camera lens displaying no facial expression. She has long hair, which is presumably pinned behind her head into a bun and has a pretty, simple, beaded hair grip on the right side of her head. She is 28 at this point and, although unmarried, it was the fashionable at that time for a young women of her age to wear their hair in this style, rather than loose, or in a long plait. She wears a plain white but smart shirt with a brooch at the top of the neckline.

Page 2 (Figure 6) comprises of a ‘Declaration of Identity’ in which Emily has detailed her Christian names, nationality, date of birth (27th October 1889), place of birth (Plumstead, Kent) and importantly for me – her occupation as a munition worker. Page 3 gives her father’s details as William Hill and documents both her parents as being ‘English’. Interestingly, page 4 reveals that she has no ‘male relatives (fatherhusbanddaughter’s husbandsons or brothers only) in arms for or against His Majesty and Allies during the present war’. This is perhaps surprising as there is a presumption of later generations, because of the publicly accepted narrative of the First World War, that every family had a relative serving in some branch of the armed forces.

Figure 5: Page 1 of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own collection
Figure 6: Page 2 of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own Collection

Page 5 (Figure 7) had to be countersigned by two persons, who witness the applicant’s own signature in order to verify their identity (which is particularly significant in Emily’s post war story – I’ll explain why later). A Mr S. G. White of 41, Priory Road, Dartford, an Engine Driver by profession is the first signatory. The second witness is a Mrs Cutter of 40 Priory Road, who described her occupation as an Engine Fitter.

Figure 8: Page 5 of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own Collection

Figure 9 confirms that permission for Emily A. Hill had been granted and authorised on page 7 of the document, giving the permit number as C5059. She has been granted permission to visit the Isle of Sheppey between 22 May 1917 until 28 April 1918. The Isle of Sheppey contained military and naval bases as well as munition factories and was thus designated a military zone. It was due to this status as a military zone that the permit requirements were enforced. Permits would be checked at the railway station, which served as a barrier checking travellers’ identities before they could enter or leave the Isle of Sheppey. A strict curfew prevented civilians entering or leaving the island between 9 pm and 5 am. The railway was the only way in or out of the island as civilians were not allowed to travel by road. The rest of the book contains blank permits, which would have been completed if Emily Adelaide had had to move around the country through work, one assumes.

Figure 9: Page 7 of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own Collection

Emily Adelaide Hill

This little permit book contained only so much information and I wished to find out more about this Munitionette. So I searched for Emily Adelaide Hill on ancestry.co.uk to see what I could find. An Emily Adelaide Hill, whose details match those in the Permit Book, appears on a Family Tree that has been created on the website.[6] Further searching resulted in finding Emily on the 1891 and 1911 censes. In 1891 Emily is listed as aged 1 living with her parents William, Emma and 1 month old sister Dorothea, who died a year later. Plumstead is in the Registration District of Woolwich and is geographically very close to Woolwich, where the Royal Arsenal is situated. Her father’s occupation was a ‘Hammerman’ or ‘Smith’ and may have worked at the Arsenal or in a dockyard. By the 1911 Census Emily is residing at 44, Lawson Villas, Priory Road, the address written in the Permit Book. (Figure 10).

Figure 10: 1911 census showing Emily Hill residing at Priory Road: courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk

The 1911 census notes her as the niece of the head of the household and her occupation is listed as a bookbinder. Her Uncle is a papermaker, perhaps she worked for him or he recommended her to an employer. Her male cousins, who reside at the same property are all involved in engineering, one at a Gun Factory. Dartford was largely an industrial area, which included many munitions and engineering manufacturing companies. As was common during this period, processions were a popular way of celebrating and promoting occupations, patriotism and as employment drive, as seen in Figure 11 of female munition workers parading through Dartford. Following the end of the war, Emily married a Henry Charles White on 14th February 1920 at the age of 30 at Holy Trinity Parish Church, High Street, Dartford. Her husband, a Henry Charles White, was the son of Samuel George White, who was the counter signatory on her Permit Book and lived a few doors away at 41 Priory Road. There do not appear any records showing Emily and Henry had children. This left me wondering whether in fact her work in the munition industry affected her ability to conceive as this was one of the many side effects of working for such prolonged periods of time with toxic chemicals. Some of the serious reactions to the chemicals included: jaundice, nasal and throat problems, headaches, chest pains, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, skin rashes, fainting, swollen hands and feet, drowsiness, depression, blurred vision, changes in menstruation, irritability and loss of appetite.[7] Emily died age 76 in Dartford in 1966. Her husband, Henry, lived for another year dying on 23rd July 1967 aged 80. They had been married for 46 years both passing away in the same local hospital.

Figure 11: Women workers parade http://kentww1.com/dartford/

[1] Hughes-Wilson, John, A History of the First World War in 100 Objects. London: Octopus Publishing Group, 2014. Print, p.42

[2] The Right Hon. Lloyd George, 15th March 1915 Speech made to the Shipbuilding Employers Federation, https://theconversation.com/the-enemy-within-the-battle-over-alcohol-in-world-war-i-30441

[3] David Thomas was still a young boy when he signed this particular card. I found him on the 1911 Census aged 7. 

[4] Hughes-Wilson (2014) p.137

[5] Permit Book no. 343102 Miss Dorothy Florence Sweet https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/defence-realm-permit-book-great-war-1779339832 Accessed 4th August 2020

[6]https://www.ancestry.co.uk/family-tree/person/tree/4866992/person/-698312653/story?_phsrc=CzE203&_phstart=successSource

[7] Richardson, Jenny, Female Munition Workers’ Workwear in Britain, 1914-1918: A Visual and Material Cultural Analysis. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Brighton, 2019.

Love from Dad

As a little girl I used to watch my Grandmother empty and clean the items in one of her display cabinets. While she took out each object she would tell me its history, who it belonged to (mostly family members) and how it came into her possession. I think looking back, it was this ritual that sparked my interest in Material Culture and, along with her ‘hoarding’ gene, has helped developed the sentimentality I have for the traces of lives lived, left on, or by existing objects. It is for this reason that I had to purchase the three postcards I’m going to share with you in this blog post. All three postcards date from the First World War and were posted from the Front by fathers serving in the army to their children, back in ‘Blighty’. The messages on the reverse are endearing and must have been very precious to the children, albeit the briefest forms of contact from their fathers. It saddens me to have found them separated from the recipients and I endeavoured to search for the fathers in the hope that they survived the war.

My Dear Sonny

The first of the examples that I purchased is addressed to a Master G Dobson, who was living at 21 Unity Grove, Harrogate, Yorkshire. ‘Dad’ has written ‘On Active Service’, which entitled those serving at the Front free postage for the duration of the war.[1] This postcard, like many others, although manufactured in Britain, as is notated on the reverse, has the caption translated in English and French on the front. This suggests that the postcard may well have been purchased across the Channel in France or Belgium. Anti-German sentiments are subtly conveyed by the phrase ‘British Manufacture Throughout’ printed on the reverse.

Author’s own postcard

The use of children to represent adults during this time was not usual, as I discuss in my PhD. [2] The fact that the father soldier has chosen this postcard may have been due to sentimental reasons -perhaps the illustration reminded him of his young son. The young boy wears an officer’s cap and his sorrowful eyes convey the emotional strain of absence. The message on the reverse is quite revealing and stark. Beginning with ‘My Dear Sonny’ the father tenderly hopes that his ‘little man’ and ‘mammy’ are well. He then writes ‘I am just going in nasty trenches for a few days. Ta-Ta. From your Dad.’ One hopes that this sentence did not upset Master G Dobson or Mammy, who may have had to read out the card to her son, not knowing by the time the card reached Unity Grove, if her husband had survived possibly going over the top. This loaded phrase acknowledges the father’s strain and it seemed strange for him to admit to such feelings to his son. It was this last sentence that stayed with me and I determined to discover whether or not Master G Dobson’s father survived. And so began my apprehensive search through the online archives of ancestry.com.

Eventually I found a George Robert Dobson age 33, a private chauffeur living at 25 Wharfdale Place in Harrogate, see image below of the 1911 Census record. He lived there with his wife Maggie Dobson age 27 and 2 year old Geoffrey.

 

Further digging revealed that George Robert Dobson attested on the 6th August, 1914 into the Army Service Corps and the low numbers of his service number, 1195, clearly demonstrate just how eagerly he volunteered two days after war was declared. According to his service record, he had previously served in the Army Service Corps and, although the document notes that his attestation would last for one year, or as long as the war continued, he actually served for a total of 6 years until 1920. On the 1911 census his birthplace was listed as unknown but his service record details this as Driffield, Yorkshire. 

I was able to find the document, below, which details George Robert Dobson’s pre-war record in the Royal Army Corps, also describing his fresh complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair. It appears that he served in France and Gallipoli being awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and rose through the ranks from Private to Warrant Officer Class 2.

George Robert Dobson lived until 1967 in Wharfdale. His son Geoffrey, to whom the card was addressed, lived until he was 89 in 1998. Geoffrey’s wife Elsie, who was 2 years younger died in 1996. Geoffrey and Elsie had 2 children, although 1 passed away, their surviving son Brian Peter Dobson was born in 1939 and died in 2007. Brian was survived by his wife Doreen, nee O’Neill.

I am reassured that George returned home after the First World War and his family continued and survived. We do not know however, if he was affected in any way by his experiences during the War and tantalising questions remain as to how this emotive exchange between father and son was cut adrift.

Dear Curly Babs

The postcard ‘And I’m doing my share’ features another childlike individual representing an adult. The winking boiler-suit clad Munitionette wears an enormous blue bow atop of her curly bobbed haircut. She stands with her hands thrust on her hips and in the background a factory belches smoke out of its chimneys. This cartoon caught my eye firstly, because of the character of the Munitionette and the fact that she is wearing trousers. However, it was the fact that the two identical cards had been sent by serving soldiers in Belgium, or France, back home to their children that compelled me to add them to my collection . 

Author’s own Postcard

The first I collected of the identical postcard design, shown above. There is no address written on the reverse, which would most probably have been included with a letter to the soldier’s wife. As Kate Cole explains in her chapter on the exchange of postcards between father soldiers and their children this was a frequent occurrence.[3] The written message intimates that the image on the front reminded the father of his daughter as he has written ‘Belgium. To my Dear Curly Babs, With Love and Kisses From Dad.’ Sadly, no further information can be obtained from either the card, or the message itself as to the people involved in this exchange, unlike my other example.

Dear Bernie

The second version of this card has a ‘Field Post Office’ postmark dated 2 July 1918 and censor number 3920 has cleared it for postage.[4] The postcard is addressed to Master Bernard M Richardson, 15 Kings Avenue, Muswell Hill, London N10 and the message reads:

Dear Bernie, I am sending this to your new home. I wish I could come and see it. I will as soon as I can. Fond love & greetings from Daddy.

Searching the online census records I found Bernard May Richardson age 1 living at 58 Beckwith Road, Herne Hill London. He, along with his sister Marjorie Christine, age 2, lived with their parents and their paternal grandparents – William May and Ann Richardson. ‘Daddy’, Ernest May Richardson, was listed as a commercial Traveller (a salesman) age 34, born in Lincoln. His wife, Harty Sophie, nee Kirk/Kite, who he married in 1907, was born in 1883 in Sutton.

Courtesy of ancestry.com 1911 census record

During the First World War Ernest May Richardson served in the 16th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles), according to his service record, his service number was 90080.

Ernest May Richardson’s attestation form courtesy of ancestry.com

He attested in 1916 aged 39 but survived the war. According to the Regiment’s history Ernest’s battalion saw action in 1916 at the beginning of July at Gommecourt, south of Arras, part of the Battle of the Somme.[5] The 1939 electoral records show Ernest May Richardson living with his wife Harty and his incapacitated elderly mother.

Ernest May Richardson died in 1940, aged 63, at Epsom and Ewell Hospital in Epsom. He was survived by his widow Harty Sophia Richardson and left £845 of effects. Harty died in 1954.

Bernard May Richardson, the little boy to whom the postcard was addressed was born 14th December 1909 in Harrow and it appears that he followed his father’s example by volunteering for service, although he chose the Royal Artillery. He attested a few days after the Second World War was declared on the 6th September 1939. Bernard’s service number was 1479786 and embarked to Malaya on 6th December 1941.

Courtesy of http://www.forces-war-records.co.uk

His record card above details him as on a ‘Stragglers’ list in 1942. Stragglers were soldiers, who did not surrender and presumably hid and survived in the jungles of East Asia trying to avoid capture. Searching the Forces War Records website I discovered Bernard’s Prisoner of War record card, which shows his father as deceased and his mother as next of kin and dates his status as a prisoner of war in 1943.

Courtesy of http://www.forces-war-records.co.uk

Sadly though this is where his story falters, as I cannot find any further records of him.

Ta-Ta

Nicholas J Saunders recently noted that:

as first-hand memory disappears, our views are inevitably shaped by the physical remains, and by the interpretations of those who had no part in their design, production or original purpose.’[6]

It is on the reverse of these now delicate postcards where we share the father’s emotional exchanges with their children in the midst of the horror of the First World War and realise how precious these brief messages were to the children themselves to have survived over 100 years later.


[1] Doyle, Peter, British Postcards of the First World War. Oxford: Shire, 2014. Kindle Loc. 463

[2] Richardson, Jennifer, Female Munition Workers’ Workwear in Britain, 1914-1918: A Visual and Material Cultural Analysis. University of Brighton, 2019. Unpublished PhD Thesis

[3] Cole, Kate, Postcards from the Front 1914-1918. London: Amberley, 2016. Kindle.

[4] The Field Post Office would at this point been the Divisional or Brigade headquarters, or at rail heads.

[5]https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/4899/london-regiment/ accessed 16 July 2020

[6] Saunders, Nicholas J. (Ed). Matters of Conflict: Material culture, memory and the First World War. Abingdon: Routledge, 2004. Print. p.5

References

Cole, Kate, Postcards from the Front 1914-1918. London: Amberley, 2016. Kindle.

de Vries, Guus, The Great War Through Picture Postcards. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2016. Print

Doyle, Peter, British Postcards of the First World War. Oxford: Shire, 2014. Kindle Loc.

Richardson, Jennifer, Female Munition Workers’ Workwear in Britain, 1914-1918: A Visual and Material Cultural Analysis. University of Brighton, 2019. Unpublished PhD Thesis

Saunders, Nicholas J. (Ed). Matters of Conflict: Material culture, memory and the First World War. Abingdon: Routledge, 2004. Print.

A Postcard is better!!

Welcome to the first “Cartoons, Close-ups” Blog!

I am a dress historian, which means I look at history through the clothing worn by women, specifically. I am fascinated by the period just before, during and, after the First World War because of the questions being raised in British society about the role of women. The involvement of women in politics, work opportunities and their demands for ‘independence’ were observed and reflected in debates and representations of fashion, gender and respectability. The reality, however, was less dramatic, especially for working-class women. I am fascinated by the contradictions in society and how working-class women juggled expectations of respectability, work versus homelife, motherhood and duty, survival and bettering oneself.

My PhD thesis researched the specific range of workwear worn by female munition workers in Britain between 1914-1918. I was fascinated by the shock and disgust that was expressed over the sight of women wearing trousers, which are now regarded as acceptable and practical garments worn by women in 21st Century Britain. Since 2014 I have been collecting First World War portrait postcards and cartoons, which depict trouser wearing Munitionettes, as female munition workers were nicknamed. Taking inspiration from the descriptive noun ‘Suffragette’, which was applied to those involved in the pre-war campaign for the women’s vote, the noun ‘Munitionette’ first appeared in print in The Sphere in 1915. I’ve christened this Blog site Cartoons, Close-ups after the cartoon and photographic postcards that I have collected, examples of both I’m going to share with you.

Now Look pleasant!

Portrait photography was particularly popular at this time. Recording yourself and sending it to sweethearts or male relatives fighting at the Front was encouraged in cartoons and on postcards. See Figure 2 which shows a cartoon of a photographer encouraging a soldier in uniform to look his best! Photographic studios featured prominently on high streets across the country and with the introduction of postcard backing, effectively turning the photograph into a postcard, the cost of having one’s portrait captured became much cheaper.[1] An article in the Yorkshire Evening Post, 31st October 1916, detailed the ‘new craze’ among female munition workers to have their photographs taken. Reporting that female munition workers ‘see in the new and cheap photograph a means of obtaining a permanent record of how they “did their bit” in the great war….’[2] The article goes on to report of one Leeds photographer charging 1s 3d and 1s 9d for a dozen copies acknowledging that friends may have clubbed together to share the cost.[3] The importance of having one’s portrait taken and exchanging these cards with sweethearts, friends and family was clearly common practice. Suggestions on how to have a perfect photograph taken as a lovely memento for the soldier sweetheart to take to the front, appeared in an article in Home Notes, June 10, 1916:

“I want a really good photo of you, dear, to take out there with me” is the cry of every soldier just leaving for the Front “and I won’t be put off with any cheap postcard affair – let’s have something really like you.” …When a man says that of course he means “something that is really like you at your best”. So, do please take care that the photographer catches you in one of your happiest moments.[4]

Where a dedication to a relative or friend has been written on the reverse of these postcards, the brief but sentimental exchange of feelings, not only suggests a desire to preserve one’s unusual appearance, but it also contains the implicit desire to present oneself at one’s best, as the cartoons on the postcard below demonstrates. (Figures 1).

Figure 1: Author’s own postcard.

A postcard’s better!

The picture postcard was a hugely successful form of mass communication at the beginning of the twentieth century. According to Esther Milne in her book Letters, Postcards, Emails: technologies of presence, the British postcard market was slower to develop than that of its European neighbours, in particular Germany.[5] This was mainly because of the strict Post Office Regulations in England, that had, until the late 1890s, maintained a monopoly over the production of picture postcards. A change in the Post Office’s regulations allowing pictures on one side and the cost of postage starting off at half a penny, meant it was an affordable means of mass communication with as many as six deliveries per day.[6] James Taylor has explained the scale of postal deliveries to and from the Front during the War, estimating that the number of items handled on a daily basis by the Post Office amounted to over 2 billion a day. Guus de Vries has calculated that at least 30 billion postcards were sent by, or received by, soldiers on the Front over the period of the War.[9] This figure does not include the domestic market. In a recent book Comics and the World Wars: A Cultural Record the authors describe humour as being ‘dependent upon the society in which it exists, adapting and evolving with it..’ reflecting the discourses of a particular moment in time.[10]

Figure 2: Author’s own postcard

Postcards also became very sought after as collectors’ items and souvenirs and were not only sent as communications in their own right but were included with letters:

of these the comic artist-drawn cards counted for a significant proportion, running into millions. In addition, there were millions of cards that were also acquired not for posting but to be added to a personal collection, for exchange or to be given as a gift in person.[7]

James Taylor argues that postcards were not only a form of whimsical communication but they also formed a part of the propaganda activities to encourage the Nation’s continued support of the war, alongside the posters, marching bands, films, lectures, music-hall and theatrical performances, rousing speeches held at rallies as well as town processions and gala days.[8] 

Annebella Pollen has written about the cruel humour contained in Victorian Vinegar Valentine cards, where insults are explicitly expressed.[11] The cartoon postcard beneath features two unmarried women, one a seemingly middle aged spinster who is reading from a  letter. Miss Dainty is unforgivingly catty in her response to the romantic anecdote that Miss Dial’s photograph saved her soldier sweetheart. The difference in age is reinforced by the shorter dress worn by Miss Dainty, which is the height of fashion as opposed to the longer, more modest outfit of Miss Dial. The sender of the card does not refer to the joke cartoon merely telling her daughter that they travelled to Betws-y-Coed, in Wales, from Llandudno by motor bus that day! 

Figure 3: Author’s own postcard

Postcards are commercial items and the artists designed them to be eye-catching through colourful designs and humour. The artists played with topics, which featured concerns prevalent in public debates. These recognisable tropes and commentaries enabled the buyer and recipient to share the joke and experience the camaraderie required by the nation during the war. Postcards were also a quick and public means of communication, so that much like the way we use modern text messaging, the notes are often brief and mostly discuss travel plans, comments on the weather only occasionally acknowledging the cartoon content. In my next blog I’m going to share with you some of the heartwarming postcards sent by serving soldiers to their children back in ‘Blighty.’ 

I hope you have enjoyed this very brief introduction that I will continue to share with you over future blog posts.

References

Chapman, Jane, Anna Hoyles, Andrew Kerr and Adam Sheriff, Comics and the World Wars: A Cultural Record. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Print. 

De Vries, Guus, The Great War through picture postcards. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2016. Print

Milne, Esther, Letters, Postcards, Emails: technologies of presence. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Pollen, Annebella, ”Love Letters and Hate mail: Victorian Vinegar Valentines”, 8 September 2014 https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2014/09/08/love-letters-and-hate-mail-victorian-vinegar-valentines/

Richardson, Jennifer, Female Munition Workers’ Workwear in Britain, 1914-1918:

A Visual and Material Culture Analysis. Unpublished PhD, University of Brighton, 2019

Taylor, James, Pack up your troubles: How Humorous Postcards Helped to Win World War 1. London: Conway, 2016. Kindle.


[1] Evidence that postcard photographs cost 2/4d each has been found on a high street photographer’s shop window in Swindon from 1906 https://www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/7428065156/in/photostream/ and in an advertisement in a regimental magazine for a photographer in Eastbourne. The Sussex Patrol, Incorporating the Sussex Signal; Dec 1, 1916; 1, 7; Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War pg. 0 Imperial War Museum, London at 3/- per dozen.

[2] The Girls’ Record of their War Work. Photographs in munition suits.” Yorkshire Evening Post 31st October 1916, p.5

[3] Ibid

[4] “A Portrait for you Soldier Boy”, Home Notes, No 1170, Vol XC, 10th June 1916, Print. p. 403

[5] Milne, Esther, Letters, Postcards, Emails: technologies of presence. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010. Print. p.105.  

[6] tp://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/projects/EVIIpc/index.php Accessed 3.10.14 

[7] Taylor, J (2016) Loc.211

[8] Ibid (2016) Loc. Loc.1266 

[9] De Vries (2016) p.11

[10] Chapman, Hoyles, Kerr and Sheriff (2015) p.37

[11] Pollen, Annebella, ”Love Letters and Hate mail: Victorian Vinegar Valentines”, 8 September 2014 https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2014/09/08/love-letters-and-hate-mail-victorian-vinegar-valentines/