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Western prof collects 500 Christmas postcards from wartime

Western University professor Jonathan Vance collects vintage postcards sent home by soldiers during WWI and WWII. He has more than 500 postcards, housed at the university.

Western history professor Jonathan Vance collects Christmas postcards from WWI and WII

Dr. Jonathan Vance's collection of 500-600 military postcards from WWI and WWI is housed in Lawson Hall at Western University. (Submitted by Jonathan Vance)
This Austrian postcards from WWI was purchased behind the front lines. (Submitted by Jonathan Vance)

What started as an interest in ephemera has grown into a collection of vintage Christmastime postcards for Western University history professor Jonathan Vance. 

"I've always been interested in the stuff people usually throw away," said Vance, who owns more than five hundred greeting cards sent home by soldiers during WWI and WWII. He was struck by how the postcards re-envisioned Christmas as a military event, an "inappropriate" combination. 

'Feeling of normalcy'

Greeting cards are a peacetime ritual that gave people a feeling of normalcy, said Vance. Sometimes they were purchased locally by soldiers, in other cases aid agencies such as Red Cross provided them free of charge. Vance also owns hand-drawn, amateur postcards designed by soldiers themselves. 

"Some of these are beautiful works of art," he said. To save space in mail bags, a number of greeting cards were photographed on film, shipped overseas and developed at home. 

Western University history professor Jonathan Vance described this as the type of imagery meant to comfort people back home. " (Submitted by Jonathan Vance)

Vance said he grew his collection through a combination of donations and online bidding. The 500-600 postcards are housed at Western University's Lawson Hall, with a fraction posted online

'I'll be home for Christmas'

The most common message handwritten on the cards is "I'll be home for Christmas." The season was seen as the measure of success, but also a marker of time. Many soldiers noted how many Christmases they'd been away, assuring family it would be their last. Others wrote to acknowledge children or much younger siblings they hadn't yet met. 

History professor Jonathan Vance said this postcard was likely drawn by a soldier during wartime. (Submitted by Jonathan Vance)

"By the time they get home, they'll have missed four or five Christmases. At holidays, that is hard to swallow," said Vance.

"You can imagine how they're seeing the passage of time."

Allison Devereaux

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