“Tommy Atkins” & the Camera Eye




About This Exhibit

The British Army had used the generic name “Tommy Atkins” to refer to its common soldiers since the days of the Napoleonic wars. During the First World War British soldiers were frequently referred to as “Tommies”. This gallery commemorates another form of postcard – the portrait card. Although photography was maturing as a technology, many people had not had their own photographs taken by 1914. Enterprising photographers often set up impromptu studios near training centers or rest stations nearer the front lines. Soldiers could spend their pay on postcard photographs of themselves. For many, it would be the first, and last time, they would every be photographed.

Go to the Camera Eye Gallery to comment on any of these postcards.




A Typical Tommy

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Pals

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Commercial Circulation

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“27.6.1915 – All Well here very busy at war work for Hosp! Have you found a house you like yet? I do hope so. Trust all are well. All loving thoughts from The Antique”



Chasing the Kaiser

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“I have chased old Bill across the Rhine and am still on watch am Rhine mix come home until after the finish. I hope that you an all of the family are well I suppose Clement is back and well I saw quite a few Haverhill boys here from the infantry from your old friend good by. Felix D McKenna (Don’t faint when you see this Photo”

This card from an American dough boy was sent during the last weeks of the war in the autumn of 1918.



Brothers in Arms

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“H.M.S. IMPREGNABLE photo card. Gus(?) Springham [illegible] Billy Springham Fontinettes”

A “fontinette” was a lift lock system in France. It is unclear what the term refers to in the context of this card. The card does recall that many families had multiple sons and brothers in different branches of the service at the same time.



Sharing Experiences

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“We had guns like this at Horsham [training base in England]. They can do quite a bit of damage.”



More Gunnery

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“30/4/16. These are very pretty guns and I wouldn’t mind being on one. Am very busy this week & can’t write today.”



Life in the Trenches

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All correspondence from enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers had to pass through censors. As a result, very few photographs from the front captured the horrors associated with life in the trenches. This card is an exception.



Death in the Trenches

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Even rarer are postcards that actually show dead soldiers. These images were controlled very carefully by the forces of all combatant nations. In most instances the production of cards such as this one emanated from a neutral state like the Netherlands.



These German Cards Reveal many Similar Themes

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Go to the Camera Eye Gallery to post comments on these postcards.

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