This postcard depicts Germany’s leader, Kaiser Wilhelm, with his flamboyant moustache and military uniform, at the start of World War I. He is described as ‘The Ravager’ and there appearss to be a tear falling from the right eye. It is when the card is turned upside down that ‘The Ravages of War’ he was responsible for are made clear.
His nose and moustache become an eagle with a crown above its head – the German imperial symbol – atop a marble column. The falling tear has become a lion – a symbol for Britain – which is trying to climb the column to reach the eagle. And the lower eyelashes now spell out the names of the first Belgian cities that fell to the Germans – Liège and Namur.
Both cities had been ringed with forts by 1892 and the Battle for Liège was the first engagement of the war. It began on 5 August 1914 and lasted until 16 August when the last fort surrendered. The attack on Belgium drew the British into the war. German troops then turned their attention to the forts around Namur on 20 August, bombarding them with heavy artillery, including the massive Big Bertha (a 420mm siege howitzer). Belgian forces withdrew and the city was evacuated and left to the attackers on 23 August. Magazines at the time such Punch referred to the Belgiums as steadfast in standing up to the Germans but ultimately being flattened by its might – ‘plucky little Belgium‘.
So the card was probably produced in the autumn of 1914. Like Alfred Leete’s famous Your Country Needs You cover from London Opinion, it was a visceral reaction to the war.
Turning back to the card, the detail on the Kaiser’s tunic portrays Belgian troops in front of a church facing cannon fire. One side of the collar depicts a German soldier bayoneting a mother in front of her child. The other side shows a line of troops firing on a fleeing family. The chinstrap depicts three lions.
The helmet shows two French armies with a smaller British force. The helmet’s ‘dome’ turns into howitzers firing at a dove that is falling from the sky, with an explosion to one side and a burning house on the other.
The card was issued as part of the ‘Dainty’ series (probably from Britain’s first mass-producer of postcards, E.T.W. Dennis) and has an unclear signature at the bottom right: possibly Victor Edmunds Pickup.
Most British magazines and postcards did not show out-and-out brutality, instead hinting at illegal actions with slogans such as ‘Remember Belgium’ but French magazines certainly did.