An Ocean Apart...

Letters, mascots, charms and reminders from home helped ease the pain of separation during the First World War.

27th August 2014

One of the hardest things for a soldier to bear was the separation from loved ones; this was especially true for the families left behind. With an ocean between them, lucky charms, letters and reminders of home were sent to soldiers; whilst letters and keepsakes were sent to families. Popular items that were used for this purpose were the ‘WW1 silks’ and the ‘sweetheart brooches’.

Teddy (ID 52747)Many soldiers carried lucky charms from home, one such person was Captain Patrick O’Dowd, who had enlisted in 1914 into the Tank Corps. His particular lucky charm was a teddy (right), this would have been kept or carried near him whilst fighting in France. Whilst there is little known about the history of the bear, it is possible that the bear could have been a token from his wife Ruth. This was common practice among soldier’s sweethearts, as it would serve as a reminder of home.

The embroidered postcards (below) that originated in France around 1900; became popular during the First World War and are known as WW1 silks. The silk was made by hand by French and Belgian refugees and then sent on to factories, where it would be cut and mounted onto card. A flap could be added which would allow a small printed card to be inserted inside. WW1 Silks became wildly popular with the British and American soldiers on duty. This is the reason why most of the silks that were produced, included patriotic imagery, such as British and American flags or symbols. It is estimated that around 10 million of these handmade cards were produced. The popularity for these cards declined after the war and are not found after 1923. Whilst these cards were reintroduced in 1930, they were completely machine made and never regained the popularity that the silks had enjoyed in the First World War.

Brooches (ID 52748)The sweetheart brooches (left) were given by soldiers to their loved ones, before they were sent off to fight in France. These badges could take the form of regimental badges, tanks, aircraft or wings. These badges became increasingly popular which led to their mass production. Hundreds of designs were made with a variety of materials, ranging from base metal to platinum. This meant that even the poorest soldier could afford to give a keepsake to his sweetheart. These tokens were used as a way for loved ones to show support for their men’s regiment; and was a visual example of the thoughts between the civilian population and the soldiers on the front.

Keepsakes were used in a variety of ways: for good luck, relationships and encouraged further patriotism within the civilian population. However, the most important thing that these tokens were used for, was to remember and believe that those soldiers would return home to their families.