Postcards From the Front

Beautiful embroidered postcards from France – WWI. Photo courtesy Felicity Matthews.

Making lace and silk-embroidered postcards and souvenirs for homesick Australian soldiers became a cottage industry for many Frenchwomen during the long, hard years of World War One.

The examples sent home by my grandfather are exquisite – cards decorated with fine hand-made lace and colourful silk embroidery. Some were in the form of envelopes on the front of the card in which could be placed tiny cards, smaller than today’s business cards, with printed messages such as Merry Christmas; To my dear Wife; To my darling Son; etc.

Other items he sent home were embroidered silk stocking covers; delicate handkerchiefs; silk-painted pillow shams and antimacassars fringed with wide lace borders that gave them an appearance of luxury. One very special cushion cover had a painting of buildings on fire and was entitled, The Burning of Arras. Obviously a commemoration of one of the great tragedies of the war.

The fine hand-made lace, the sheen of the silk and the painting of these artefacts is magnificent and the fact that they are still in existence today, as bright and beautiful as ever, is a testament to both the quality of the materials and the work of these wonderful and talented Frenchwomen of the Great War.

The Angel of Mons

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

I first heard of the Angel of Mons (note the singular) several years ago when I was watching an interview on SBS with an old WW1 Digger. Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the soldier or the SBS series.

What I do remember is how he described what happened during a retreat from a battle in which the BEF were out-gunned and outnumbered many times by the enemy which pursued, cutting them up badly. And what I will never forget is the look on his face when the interviewer asked him if there could possibly be another explanation for what he had witnessed. ‘Oh, no,’ he replied, in his quiet, humble voice. ‘It was an angel sent from God.’

He said that, just when they all believed they were going to be killed before they could make it to safety, a bright light appeared; stood between them and the enemy, turning back the German forces and allowing the BEF to retreat without further bombardment.

When the interviewer asked him more questions, he said it was just a light: a bright light that had frightened off the enemy; reiterating that he believed it to be an angel sent from God. Nothing could move him from this stance and the sincerity and faith on that old soldier’s face has stayed with me, more convincing than any words, despite what is now on the internet.

Then, there was just the mention of a light; one light; that stood between the enemy and retreating troops; that those who saw it believed it to be divine intervention;and that, if it had not done so, few, if any, would have survived.

Now, to my astonishment, we see a host of material, mostly inspired, as far as I can tell, by the Revelation: forty thousand horsemen etc. The angel is no longer singular but plural. And finally, that it is all a fiction made up by British journalist, Arthur Machen and published in September of the same year, just a few weeks after the retreat.

I find it interesting that the journalist in question wrote this so soon after the event and I believe the two are linked.

Over the years, I have become more and more convinced that there is a collective consciousness at the level of the subconscious. This is the well, I believe, from which creativity springs. Had the journalist written his story before the retreat, I would be more inclined to believe that the real event may not have happened.

As it is, I think he picked up on it through the collective consciousness, embroidered and embellished it according to his journalistic instincts and published it, in all sincerity, believing it to be entirely a product of his own imagination. It is interesting to note that, according to one source, he wasn’t happy with it. To me, this means that he believed he got it wrong. Satisfaction only comes from the creative flow being accurately recorded.

Most men, then, as today, would be reluctant to admit to a visitation from the supernatural.

However, the fact remains that, at Mons, on the 22nd 23rd of August, 1914, something inexplicable happened to stop the carnage on men hard-pressed in retreat.

Only those who were there know what it was.

And if, a little over a hundred years ago, exhausted men, debilitated beyond endurance; facing the most overwhelming odds; were granted a vision to re-energise their retreat to safety; who are we to say it wasn’t real? Or that it didn’t come from God?