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. 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.
The use of children to represent adults during this time was not usual, as I discuss in my PhD.  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 .
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Sadly though this is where his story falters, as I cannot find any further records of him.
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.’
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.
 Doyle, Peter, British Postcards of the First World War. Oxford: Shire, 2014. Kindle Loc. 463
 Richardson, Jennifer, Female Munition Workers’ Workwear in Britain, 1914-1918: A Visual and Material Cultural Analysis. University of Brighton, 2019. Unpublished PhD Thesis
 Cole, Kate, Postcards from the Front 1914-1918. London: Amberley, 2016. Kindle.
 The Field Post Office would at this point been the Divisional or Brigade headquarters, or at rail heads.
https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/4899/london-regiment/ accessed 16 July 2020
 Saunders, Nicholas J. (Ed). Matters of Conflict: Material culture, memory and the First World War. Abingdon: Routledge, 2004. Print. p.5
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.