From the years of 1914 to 1918, print media devoted a significant effort toward goal of raising and sustaining national support for the war effort through the accessible and easily distributed medium of postcards. During the First World War, subjects of national identity and commitment to conflict were brought to the forefront in propaganda through reoccurring themes of personal intimacy, gender, and sexuality. Within this selection of previously undigitized wartime postcards, the personal connection between distant servicemen and their romantic partners on the Home Front is a reoccurring image with a distinct purpose. Through the interpretation of this selection of wartime postcards we may gain understanding of defining themes of gender and national identity within political media of the First World War.
A regularly utilized platform for political commentary in modern print media, the female body plays a major role in this selection of wartime postcards. Often functioning as symbols of nation and responsibility to the Home Front, these pieces are more than politicized depictions of couples separated by war – a concept further explored in Gendered Nationalism and the Female Body in Wartime Postcard Media. Regularly shown awaiting the return of their absent partner, three of the five women in this selection of postcards are seen seated reading letters from the Front – one in five seen reading while standing. Each piece in this selection depicts women loyally awaiting the return of enlisted soldiers – creating print media aiming to both strengthen national support on the Home Front and reinforce commitment to the conflict through the image of isolated women and absent male figures.
Perhaps the most evident symbol within this selection of wartime postcards is that of the absent male figure. In three of these five examples, the soldier – either of the intended sender or recipient of the postcard– is entirely absent from view; only one of the five pieces features the visage of a faraway figure in combat. The fifth postcard shown exists as the only piece in the selection featuring a male figure; displaying two partners embracing, heralding love over international conflict. Alternately, the male figure within this image could also be read as absent; representative of couples disconnected by war and only connected through memory. The overwhelming symbolic absence of male figures within this selection of wartime postcards represents a harrowing reality of the First World War which separated countless partners and families through the millions of casualties inflicted by war.
Although disconnected from the primary theme of intimacy, nationhood, and separated lovers, attention should be paid to the overwhelming motif of nature and the outdoors, shown in five of the five pieces in varying formats. Within the first three postcards shown, a return to nature plays a major role in the scenes presented through the use of painted backdrops. Creating seemingly natural environments within photography studios, the rural scenes shown serve a particular function within the context of the First World War. During a conflict which redefined the art of war through emergent military technologies, the rural scenes depicted within postcards one through three act as a peaceful departure from the changing realities of war. Pieces one and three within this selection use the image of a mill as a focal point – maintaining thematic continuity while placing a strong emphasis on this traditional symbol of energy and progress. The fourth and fifth postcards in this series feature rural imagery in more subtle ways than the first three pieces – the fourth postcard shown depicting a woman reading indoors seated before a painting of a natural landscape, transforming into the image of her partner at war, while in the fifth postcard uses a subtle natural motif as a faded backdrop against the focal image of embraced lovers. Although functioning primarily as an environmental motif, the use of rural scenes within this selection of wartime print media serve a significant political function – bolstering national progress in the context of the First World War.
Utilizing the visage of sentimentality veiled in politicized purpose, seemingly saccharine pieces of print media often propagated gendered ideas of commitment, nationalism, and wartime youth culture in the European theatre. Ranging from messages of hopeful affection to powerful images national perseverance, this compilation of previously undigitized works exist as valuable tools while facing the task of understanding the functionality of gendered political print during the First World War.