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Remembered Today:

Cards on houses of serving soldiers

Mark Barrett

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I was reading an article about one of the slum areas of London in WWI and it referred to "coloured cards" on the houses of serving soldiers (see attached image).

Does anyone know what these cards were, what was the purpose, or anything at all really?

Thanks if anyone can throw any light.



From England After the War by Charles Masterman.jpg

Edited by Mark Barrett
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The cards were the precursor of the street shrine movement.  http://www.northstoneham.org.uk/warshrine/history/movement.html

Initially spontaneous especially in poorer areas people would put the cards in their windows and later if a soldier was killed make memorial tributes and displays in their windows to indicate their sacrifice.

 In the main local initiatives, it was a way of communicating and expressing pride of service.  It was however, picked up by newspapers and encouraged by the propaganda machine.  The printing of 'window cards' as a means of communication was commonplace and no doubt some enterprising printers promoted their use.

It remained essentially a community initiative in poorer districts until July 1916 when a national flag day in October to support of the Red Cross and its work with the wounded was announced.  The flag day was supported by the King and Queen and one suggestion to raise money was to encourage everyone with a soldier in service to buy a window card for a penny.  This approval by the monarch meant the practice gained widespread support.

Ephemeral, I'm not sure if any of these cards which continued to be produced until the Armistice have survived.

 One example which is from 1914 and an initiative of the Earl of Arundel in 1914 can be seen Here on this commercial site

(usual caveat no connection etc just posted for info).

Perhaps you could date the article.

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Known as the 'Window Order of Patriotism' and seems to have originated in West Sussex in mid 1915 before spreading across the country. The cards were purchased by local communities and distributed free of charge to families with men and women serving in the armed forces.


Street shrines were very common indeed especially in the tightly knit communities of industrial areas. I have seen several photographs of the memorials put up in working class areas of Bradford. Hull famously had several hundred of them some of which survive to this day



West Sussex Gazette BNA


Edited by ilkley remembers
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12 hours ago, ilkley remembers said:

Known as the 'Window Order of Patriotism' and seems to have originated in West Sussex in mid 1915 before spreading across the country. 


‘The window order of patriotism’ looks very much a bit of journalistic opportunism apparently copyrighted by the West Sussex Gazette - the example posted is one of the Earl of Arundel’s cards.  

He, in turn exploited a working class tradition especially popular amongst the communities of the poor in the East End of London. 

‘Mourning cards’ were sold for a few pennies and often placed in the window.  The urban poor had no other financial means to express their grief and loss.  The tradition predated the war by many years.



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Thank you very much for the replies. Really fantastic.

I have access to the British Newspaper Archive so they put me in a position to do some more digging and I have come up with some more snippets of information.

The earliest mention I could find for the patriotic window cards was November 1914. See attachment. More to follow.



Edited by Mark Barrett
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By July of 1915 The West Sussex Gazette seem to have taken ownership of this concept and was supplying the cards not just locally but as far afield as Scotland and Ireland.

They published this great big advert - which I am posting in 2 pieces to make it as legible as possible.

They continued advertising the cards for sale right through to 1917 - see third image.





19170215 Same ad 1915 thru 1917.jpg

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17 minutes ago, ALAN MCMAHON said:

   Is there any reference or source for this statement?

I think that is self evident from the original post ‘an article about the slum areas of London’. 

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Reference my original post - where I said "article" I should actually have said that it was in a published book titled "Britain After War" by Charles Masterman.

The book was published in 1922 so in this description he was obviously looking back to the war years. But unfortunately no date or even period given when he saw these cards in the windows of the houses.

Thanks again for the original replies which enabled me to pursue further research.



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19 hours ago, ALAN MCMAHON said:

Regret I do not agree with you.  There is a very great deal of difference between "the slum areas of London"   and "the communities of the poor in the East End of London".   2 comments:

1)   Many areas of the East of London regarded as poor in present times were not so at the time of the Great War- eg. Hackney and Bromley

2)  Poorer areas existed all over London-  The famed work of Charles Booth shows poverty all over the place. Have a look at the famous "poverty maps".  Or Mrs Cecil Chesterton "Life in West London".

    It is a mistake from the days of Mayhew (who wrote much about poverty in immediate South London-Rotherhithe) or Dickens (Seven Dials in Covent Garden) to conflate London Poverty with the "East End"- and similarly a mistake to consider the East End being nothing but poverty-stricken. 

I do not need to be educated on the social and economic geography or history of London and am well aware of the above sources.  Incidentally, Bromley was not in the East End but a middle class suburb https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromley  It was admittedly in the Metropolitan Police District from 1840, but then so was Epsom.

In response to an on topic query concerning "window cards" the response was the use of these cards to advertise services, rooms to let etc and the practice of displaying of 'mourning cards' had history that predated the Great War.  It was recognised as a working class phenomenon and a cheap way of advertising or sending a message. The tradition was picked up by either the aristocratic Earl of Arundel, or the Mayoress of Arundel (depending on which conflicting version is accepted) to promote recruitment. There was urban poverty in cities and towns throughout the United Kingdom, and in rural Britain a rigid, almost feudal, class system, epitomised by "the rich man in his castle the poor man at the gate."

It was promoted and 'copyrighted' by the Sussex Gazette as "The Window Order of Patriotism" as cited in the extracts above.  The editor or proprietor of the newspaper apparently identified not only a journalistic 'scoop' but also a commercial opportunity for promotion of the newspaper.  Newspapers, as can be seen from many advertisements both pre and post the Great War,  often printed cards, pamphlets and other ephemera presumably not as a public service but to boost profits.  So another opportunity was created for a local, limited circulation newspaper. 

It was provocative and very much akin to the notorious 'Order of the white feather' movement  begun by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald in Folkestone. The window cards applied psychological pressure to boost recruitment during the voluntary period. It is even more distasteful that a local newspaper should seek to profit from the practice.  Recruitment in rural areas was much less successful than in urban areas as was discussed in Parliament (Hansard). 

A man could not walk far without his manhood being impugned if he did not volunteer, "as he left for work he saw in his neighbours windows, cards which read, "THIS HOUSE HAS SENT A MAN TO FIGHT FOR KING AND COUNTRY" alternatively a disc which read: "NOT AT HOME A MAN FROM THIS HOUSE IS NOW SERVING IN THE FORCES". ('Dear Old Blighty' E.S. Turner)

The East End was poor, as most working class districts were and the illness and poor development caused by poverty was rife. To get back to the GWF this is evidenced by the fact that in 1914 150 men from Stepney presented themselves for recruitment, only fifteen were declared fit (cited in "Zeppelin Nights" Jerry White). 

As to mourning cards these have a long tradition as detailed in this article from the Ephemera Society


This account was reported by the syndicated 'London Correspondent' at the time of the death of King Edward VII in May 1910, there is little doubt all such observations are viewed through the prism of middle class prejudice and apologies for the language expressed at the time:

I was down in Whitechapel today and realised as never before the full extent of the popular grief at the death of the monarch.
The East End Londoners and the swarming Jews of the Ghetto cannot afford to buy black clothes. But after their own fashion they can testify to their feelings in little eloquent tokens.  As one walks about the mean streets one sees stuck in the windows cards with King Edward’s portrait on them, or a little crepe tied Union Jack hung up, or a black bar painted across the shutters.  Mourning cards the East Ender loves.  They are being printed in their thousands, and the hawkers in the big thoroughfares are driving an enormous trade.  Each bears its little epitaph and it’s little verse and is it is significant of what most nearly touches the poor that in every cassette chief stress is laid upon the King’s service in the cause of peace.  Another very popular symbol is the mourning button.  There are many sorts on sale for a penny or twopence, of all shapes and with a wealth of different inscriptions.  The plain black disc, with a simple ‘In Loving Memory on it , is the most popular

Whitechapel, last time I looked, is in the East End of London.  The article would suggest the use of mourning cards was an existing practice at least before 1914.  The East End, and Hackney in particular, is credited with creating the first street shrines to the fallen as in the link posted in my previous post.

Again from "Our London Correspondent (syndicated October 1916):-

"Street war Shrines
The “war shrine “ idea has spread rapidly of late. In fact it had made great headway before the newspapers began to boom it.  It doubtless originated with the window cards announcing the names of members of the family serving their king and  country. Then people in some of the poorer streets, in cases where their relatives made the supreme sacrifice, arranged little memorials in their windows; and very soon neighbours began to jointly commemorate their common losses.  The movement arose spontaneously, so to speak, in the poor districts and attracted the notice and encouragement of the clergy.  Since the imprimatur of royal patronage has been given to it, it has advanced in leaps and bounds and “fashionable” localities are rather more elaborately following suit.
The idea idea like many others that spring from the people is a peculiarly happy one, and many of the shrines are quite happy and artistic.  Some of them have the distinct flavour of the way side shrines in Roman Catholic countries; in other cases the crucifix is dispensed with and the chief decoration is the flags of the allies, but the ‘roll of honour’ and flowers are always prominent."

In fact the war brought much needed prosperity to the East End of London, the garment trade prospered and the demand for 'Khaki' meant not enough workers could be sourced as the demand for uniforms expanded exponentially.  In the Docks both North and South of the river organised labour was much in demand therefore men were retained and well paid for this vital war work. Separate arrangements were made after conscription.

Yes, local battalions were formed in the second great period of recruitment of 1914, the so called "Pals' or locally raised Battalions.  Yes, there were rent strikes for the first time in many years and the Army was slow to pay the separation allowance but the opportunities for women to work increased to such an extent that their wages and allowances far exceeded pre-war incomes.

As Catriona Pennell points out on her study of  the first three months of the war it would be naive to think there was one single response to the conflict https://www.westernfrontassociation.com/the-latest-wwi-podcast/ep-120-popular-responses-to-the-outbreak-of-ww1-prof-catriona-pennell/

The myth of the 'rush to the colours' has been discussed on many occasions. It is also clear that in the London it was the service industries which initially suffered from the declaration of war, and continued to do so. Many recruits came from those industries and locations rather than working class districts.  There have been published studies on the demographics of recruitment as well as discussions here on the GWF.

Of more relevance to the study of the Great War than those cited in your post is the updated version of Booth's study which showed family poverty in London had fallen from 38%  to around 6% by 1930 as a consequence of the war.  The cost of living had increased as a result of wartime inflation but so had wages. As Jerry White (ibid) observed "The war was the watershed here and it washed away for ever the scourge of mass poverty that had made the East End of London a byword for degradation before 1914."  New Survey of London Life and Labour Volume III


This is a collaborative internet forum not GCSE History, you can take it or leave it or as evidenced by this thread be encouraged undertake your own research.  When you have 100 posts no doubt the GWF will take great pleasure in welcoming you to Skindles where I'm sure you will find a home and warm welcome in the Pedant's Corner.



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12 hours ago, Mark Barrett said:

Reference my original post - where I said "article" I should actually have said that it was in a published book titled "Britain After War" by Charles Masterman.

The book was published in 1922 so in this description he was obviously looking back to the war years. But unfortunately no date or even period given when he saw these cards in the windows of the houses.


The  chapter" The Return of the Abyss" is available online, and the quote appears on page 124 . England after war; a study by Charles F G Masterman




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2 hours ago, ALAN MCMAHON said:

Your source for their use at the moment is a Sussex newspaper. Sussex is not part of the East End.

The source for both the 1910 and 1916 accounts is a report, not in a Sussex newspaper but from the syndicated, "London Correspondent" which can be found in a number of newspapers who subscribed to the service (I don't know if the Sussex Gazette did but I'v not seen the byline there) and begins "I was down in Whitechapel today..."

We can make the distinction between "East End" or "East London" but by either definition most people would place Whitechapel in the East of the city which I would suggest begins at what is now the Old Street Roundabout.  The Eastern End is more poorly defined perhaps we can agree on East Ham.  As for Bromley-by-Bow I worked in Bow for five years in the 1980s and only ever heard it referred to as the tube station, the area was simply "Bow".

The use of selective quotations seems to be missing the point of my argument which was not about the East End per se this after all, is the Great War Forumthough I am quite happy to discuss the history of London, but that the use of window cards, which was principally a working class practice (the middle classes might have used them but it seems more likely they would use newspapers - which I acknowledge may also have been used by the working class) to boost recruitment in Arundel and it's adoption by the local newspaper as the "Window Order of  Patriotism" had a chilling resemblance to the self styled "Order of the White Feather" which originated in Folkestone.  In my opinion both sinister ways to encourage recruitment in the 'voluntary period'.

Hackney may lay claim to the first street shrine, in the same context Sussex may claim to be the first to use window cards to boost recruitment.  Whether we accept either premise is moot, but what is clear is that in their own time both movements became nationwide phenomenon during the war.  I was certainly not suggesting poverty or poor physical development of the working classes as a bar to recruitment was exclusive to "certain areas" of London.  That situation prevailed in all the urban centres of Empire in the United Kingdom.


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