Tuesday 27 May 2008 by Pen Roberts. 4 comments
News, Collection, Ephemera

The Memorial holds a small collection of paper napkin souvenirs from the era of the First World War. Printed on crepe paper from Japan, their fragility defies their survival for over 90 years.

Here is a napkin printed for the wedding of Lieutenant Colonel Athelstan Markham Martyn DSO, RAE (Royal Australian Engineers) to Miss Stella Swifte at St Mary Abbot's Church in Kensington, London, on 21 October 1916.

Lt Col Markham served at Gallipoli and the Western Front. By the end of the First World War his many awards included a Distinguished Service Order, the French Croix de Guerre, five Mentioned in Despatches and a Companion of the Order of St Michael & St George. This napkin was collected by Lt Cyril Lawrence RAE. (Souvenirs collection 23/6/1)

Paper napkins were a popular form of advertising from the mid 19th century in England. This method of promotion was also adopted in Australia. The Canowindra Town Band in New South Wales played a benefit in support of the Belgian Fund. It was an international programme with ‘Rule Britannia', ‘La Marseillaise' and the ‘Tipperary' march on the bill. The napkin contains the message ‘Every programme sold means a loaf of bread to starving Belgians.'

Assist the Belgians. (Souvenirs 5: 1/1/1)

From weddings and bands to prize fights and flights over the Atlantic, paper napkins contained advertisements for anything and everything. A ‘Visit of the British Tank’ to persuade the British public to buy National War Bonds or War Savings Certificates is recorded on the napkin shown below. Pictured is a British Mk IV Male tank, circa 1917. After the tour, the tank was ‘sent to the Front to send a different kind of message to the enemy.’

Tank visit souvenir. (Souvenirs collection 23/2/1)

The Memorial has 'GRIT', a Mk IV Female tank armed with Lewis machine guns. (See RELAWM05040.001)

These napkins are one of the more unusual forms of material held in our souvenir collections. Other popular souvenir items include: programmes for concerts and commemorative and sporting events, tickets, badges, invitations, menus and food labels.


John Scott Palmer

I have a number of hankerchiefs, doilies and other embroidered items from WW1 and WW2 brought back by my grandfather and some of my great uncles. They come from France, Belgium, Egypt and Syria and were souvenirs for our family back home, particularly the great aunts who were teenagers at the time in WW1. They are very special - various postcards were sent back with them with some of the details where they were bought. It is interesting that the WW2 items from Egypt look very much the same as the WW1 ones! Also saved was the program for the first ANZAC commemoration in Sydney in 1916 and the Armistice commemoration in 1918. Thank you for a very interesting blog!

Charles Nozzi

I have inherited souvenir napkins from the Titanic and Lusitania tragedies from my great grand mother. I have not found any similar until now. I am interested in starting a collection, any advise?

R Robinson

After the tour, the tank was ‘sent to the Front to send a different kind of message to the enemy.’ Touring tanks were used in Britain, Canada, the USA and, of course Australia, to raise funds and aid recruitment. None went to the front as by that time the Mk IV tank was being replaced by the MkV. The British touring tanks were male and the Canadian, US and Australian ones female. The reference to British tanks and God save the King would suggest the napkin refers to a visit in Canada or Ausalia - in which case the photo is incorrect .One touring tank is, as said, still in Australia. One is alleged to be on display in the US at the Aberdeen Museum (however this is incorrect as numerous photos show the US and Canadian touring tank to have had a large hatch in the cab roof and various other mods not present on the Aberdeen tank which is probably a Mk IV supplied to the US for training in late 1918) The US tank was last recorded at a S Carolina base in 1919 and was probably later scrapped as were the British touring tanks.

Pen Roberts

Reply to R Robinson: Thank you for your blog post and all your excellent information. I still think the napkin pictured is from an English fundraising program, as "God save The King" was used commonly there!