Roses are red

Roses are red


‘Roses are red …’ is the title of the next Australian War Memorial (AWM) talk on historical documents known as silk post cards.

At 12.30pm on 02 May 2019 in the Research Centre’s reading Room, one of the AWM’s paid researchers will talk on how messages were hidden in silk post cards intended for a specific recipient during war time. These cardboard and textile documents are classified by conservationists and archivists as ‘militaria’.

Often the message held within the silk post card said something universal such as:

“Roses are red, violets are blue, and flowers say more than ‘I love you’.”

During the First World War, Australian soldiers sent thousands of embroidered silk postcards to their loved ones and friends at home.

The AWM invites members of the public to join in a conversation and learn about the symbolism of the flowers stitched into these small but beautiful works of art.

In 1900 during the Paris Exhibition in France, the country cottage industry of silk embroidered postcards began. This was an international exhibition of all things beautiful where the best of a country’s arts and crafts, design and manufacturing was on show.

During World War 1 (1914-19) the Victorian language of flowers sewn into silk fragments and adhered to cardboard postcards as souvenirs of their time serving overseas. This gentle artistic activity began a story of love and devotion between Commonwealth service men and women and their families and friends.

The Australian soldiers were on a good pay packet each month and were able to afford to purchase one or two silk postcards to send home to their families.

Saying it with flowers, particularly for anniversaries, birthdays and annual celebrations was a cheaper method of sending tokens of affection to girlfriends or wives, mothers or daughters. The essential message was ‘sending my love to you’.

In a time of uncertainty and doubt, sharing feelings of love and sincerity were paramount to the soldiers. After several weeks of marine travel, the postcards would arrive carrying special importance to someone of personal significance to the sender. Receiving such a postcard helped to reduce the receiver’s sense of distance from their loved one and address their emotional yearning for connection and reunion.

As the silk postcards were patriotic sentiments, they were usually written/embroidered in English. Flags were also popular with the Scottish thistle representing Scotland (Alba) and the four-leaf clover depicting Ireland (Eire). For English soldiers, the Tudor rose represented the country of Great Britain. The embroidered thread’s colours of red/white/blue signified the battlefield itself.

The Blue Cornflowers were the flower chosen by battlefield survivors of the war to indicate that they had fought and still loved.

The pansies, violets and other purple flowers indicated that the sender was expressing loving thoughts and faithfulness. The iris represented inspiration.

The daisy was a humble flower and meant gentleness and innocence. Pink roses indicated friendship and gratitude. The ivy signified fidelity and red roses meant passionate love.

The silk embroideries sere undertaken by French women living at home and provided a small but regular income for incidentals. The embroiderers were given the designs by the manufacturing organizers. They bought cheap silk and skeins of thread in a variety of colours to undertake their cottage craftwork.

Some of the silk postcards were sewn with a hidden flap pocket where the sender could insert a secret message.

Last century, the thought of sending someone a postcard was considered an indication of good thoughts and caring for another person. As was customary at that time, in receiving the postcard, the recipient knew that someone was thinking of them and cared about their situation.

Text uploaded 28 February 2019.
Copyright Fiona Rothchilds with quotations from the Australian War Memorial (AWM) Canberra.
Photographs copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2019 and uploaded 6 March 2019.
Silk postcard images from the AWM Collection.


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