Thursday 12 February 2009 by Alexandra Orr. 4 comments
News, Personal Stories, Family history, New acquisitions, Collection, First World War, Postcard, Valentine's Day, sweetheart

As with other special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays, having to spend Valentine's Day apart from loved ones would have been sad and distressing for many serving men and women, and for those at home eagerly awaiting the safe return of their sweethearts and friends.

Fortunately, there is little that can stand in the way of love and many people overcame distance and time to send messages of love and admiration, not only for Valentine's Day, but throughout the course of wartime.

Postcards were an easy method of expressing such thoughts and feelings. Popular at any time, a variety of designs have been created since their invention in order to send that special message to that special someone.

Many Australian servicemen and women were able to take advantage of this market, particularly during the First World War, and some very interesting examples are held in the Australian War Memorial's collection.

RC08136 Love Ration Card RC08136 Love Ration Card

One fun example collected by an Australian from Britain, pictured above, was playing on the situation of rationing during the First World War (RC08136). ‘The Love Controller', from the ‘Ministry of Love, Spooning Lane', issued the card to a lucky recipient, who on collecting a certain number of coupons could exchange them for anything from half an hour of squeezing (requiring 1/4 of a coupon) to ‘ALL YOURS' (requiring four full coupons).

A charming expression of close friendship is found in this beautiful Italian postcard below from the First World War, featuring a courting couple, ‘The shy young maid' and ‘the lover bold', sent by Les, an Australian soldier in Egypt, to his friend Ruby in 1916 (RC07788). The unknown couple on the front are depicted in lavish colour by the seaside.

Front of RC07788 Front of RC07788

Les thought the card would remind Ruby of ‘moonlight nights and balcony windows and small hours'.

Reverse side of RC07788 Reverse side of RC07788

Many postcards featured embossed designs, often with use of colour. The example on the left side below, written by a wife to her soldier husband (RC08160) includes a verse and an image of a young woman with pansies (the popular meaning of pansies at the time was 'you occupy my thoughts'). The message on the back reads: ‘To my darling, with [all my] Love it shows, I wish I had you by my side now as I miss you more every day. [Do not] lose heart... Love from your loving wife'.

The example on the right includes a verse surrounded by coloured flowers and an embossed border (RC08164). The message on the reverse, from an Australian soldier in France, reads ‘To my dear sweetheart, I remain unfailingly yours...'

RC08160 and RC08164 RC08160 and RC08164

Designs with glitter brought something fancy to postcards, and were not very common. The example below was sent from a loving husband to ‘My dear wife' in 1917 (RC08162).

RC08162 Remember Me, April 1917 RC08162 Remember Me, April 1917

While many cards were produced as part of a whole series with a particular theme, some also contained a theme of remembering duty despite the hardship of separation. The cards below illustrate these themes (RC08166-8168).

RC08166, RC08168 and RC08167 RC08166, RC08168 and RC08167

Other cards became quite unique and elaborate, such as this lovely example below, ‘To my dear Sweetheart', which uses fabric and glitter to create a pressed flower (RC08165). It is also unusual in that the backing is made of plastic.

RC08165 To my dear Sweetheart RC08165 To my dear Sweetheart

Embroidered silk postcards were a popular design during the First World War. Many examples are held in the Memorial's collection. They were mostly embroidered by French women in their homes and then sent to company factories for cutting and mounting on postcards. Embroidered messages on the cards aimed at sweethearts and affectionate friends, range from ‘To My Darling', ‘To My Dear Wife From Your Loving Husband' to ‘To My Dear Sweetheart'. Many of these and other silk postcards may be viewed on the Memorial's website at this link:


It is clear from the Memorial's First World War postcard collections that servicemen and their loved ones favoured a variety of designs produced in many countries, some humorous, some elaborate, some themed, and almost always romantic.

From the ‘Ministry of Love, Spooning Lane', here's wishing everyone around the world, and especially our current serving men and women and their loved ones at home, a very happy Valentine's Day!


Colonel Marcus Fielding

Alexandra, A terrific short story on a very human dimension. Thank you for putting this together. As a service member curretly deployed in Baghdad, Iraq it certainly struck a chord with me. There's a lot to be said for a 'Ministry of Love'. Regards, Marcus Fielding

Alexandra Orr says:

Thank you for your comments, Marcus. I hope that currently serving ADF members will hang on to some of those love letters and emails to deposit in our collection some day!

Pauline Mitchell

My uncle, John Bryden Wells served with the 2/4 Australian Infantry in Egypt, Greece and Crete and Palestine during WW2.He had a movie camera and I have some interesting footage which he shot whilst on these campaigns. He has filmed several weddings which obviously took place where his battallion was based. I have digitised copies of this footage and the originals rest in the AWM archives. How wonderful it would be for the descendents of these brides and grooms to see the footage of their forbears. Pauline Mitchell

Emma Campbell

Thank you for your comments, Pauline. As it happens, the Memorial is currently endeavouring to track down the descendants of a particular couple whose wedding was captured on film by your uncle. The film footage is likely to be shown as part of our upcoming exhibition, Love and War, opening later this year.