Collection Number: Souvenirs 17
Title: Sympathy Cards Souvenirs Collection
Scope and content note: This collection contains sympathy cards sent during the First World War by individuals and official organisations.
Provenance: Items in this collection have been collected from a variety of different sources and donors.
Extent: 1 folder
Location: Published and Digitised Collections, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.
Related collections: Memorial Services, Memorial and Funeral Services for Individuals
Processing history: Collection arranged and re-numbered in 2005.
Publication rights: Contact the Senior Curator, Published & Digitised Collections.
Copyright: Contact the Senior Curator, Published & Digitised Collections.
Preferred citation: Sympathy Cards Souvenirs Collection, Australian War Memorial, Souvenirs 17.
Funeral and mourning rituals in Australia were never as extravagant as in Britain, but the British and Irish rituals were transmitted in similar forms to colonial Australia. Writing condolence letters was an important mourning ritual, although Christian modes of consolation were in marked decline by 1918 and becoming increasingly secularised. There were no clear alternative resources for grieving and many still drew on traditional nineteenth century mourning customs to varying degrees, adopting them to a new secularist temper in society in response to the First World War. During the war, relatives were unable to say goodbye, view the body or attend the funeral of loved ones who died on active service but they were still able to find consoling ways to mourn their loss. They drew on those traditional customs which did not demand Christian faith, notably those that honoured and recalled their memory.
Condolence letters played a significant role in mourning rituals in colonial Australia by rallying the support and sympathy of extended family, friends and community around a family that reinforced the role of the funeral. Since colonial families were often isolated by distance from their original families and communities in Europe, this activity assumed greater importance. This is evident through the use of sympathy cards during the First World War. Black-edged stationery was used less and for shorter periods in colonial Australia than in Britain. In Britain, black-edged stationery was printed with varying border widths to allow for gradual dilution during the mourning period. Two years' mourning was held to be appropriate for a widow, one year for a widower and one year for a parent. The broadest border was usually 12.5mm, and black-edged stationery was very popular during the First World War. Bereaved families usually found condolence letters comforting, despite the additional burden of having to compose appropriate replies.
- Joy Damousi , The Labour of Loss: Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavement in Australia (Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1999)
- Pat Jalland , Australian Ways of Death: A Social and Cultural History 1840-1918 (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2002)
- Maurice Rickards , The Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator and Historian (Routledge, New York, 2000)