Mystery supporter donates postcards from the past to Sheringham RNLI

Just Regional
Mar 22, 2016 3 mins read

Lifesavers at the RNLI in Sheringham were perplexed after a mystery person donated a collection of exquisite silk postcards dating back to the early 1900s.

The treasure trove of embroidered postcards – believed to have been handmade before the First World War – were left at the Norfolk town’s RNLI shop, leaving lifeboat fundraisers delighted, if somewhat bemused.

The donor left no name or contact details, only a carrier bag containing more than 100 postcards of differing designs. They were handed to volunteers at the shop with instructions to auction them and donate the profits to the charity that saves lives at sea.

Embroidered silk postcards were a common souvenir of the First World War and were popular with British soldiers who often sent them home. They were seldom sent through the post because they were too fragile, and many bear no message or postal markings because they were usually sent with an accompanying letter.

Brian Farrow, Lifeboat Operations manager at Sheringham RNLI, said the gesture has left the lifeboat community scratching their heads: “I was upstairs in a meeting when our volunteer shop manager, Anne Little, came in with a carrier bag. It was  only when the two of us reached inside and pulled out a handful of the postcards did we realise quite what they were.

‘They are absolutely beautiful. The care and skill that went into making them is obvious – we felt like we were holding a real piece of British history. But we have no idea where they came from or who they belonged to.’

Production of embroidered silk postcards peaked during 1914-18 war, as the format proved especially popular with British soldiers. The hand-embroidery is thought to have been carried out in domestic houses as ‘out-work’ by civilians in France and Belgium, and in the UK by Belgian refugees.

Among the collection donated to Sheringham RNLI are postcards bearing Christmas greetings, a woman in traditional Portuguese dress, and a star made up of different Allied nations flags, which is dated 25 December 1916.

The RNLI now plans to make enquiries with auction houses to see how much the postcards might be worth. A popular internet auction website shows similar items ranging from a few pence each up to around £30 for some items.

Anne Little, Sheringham RNLI shop manager, said: ‘From the research I have done I understand postcards were often sent home by soldiers who, tragically, never returned from the war. In that sense the postcards were probably very precious to some individuals, which makes it all the more poignant that they were given to us. Obviously the owner wanted them to do some good and help to save lives at sea.

‘But be they worth pennies or pounds, the identity of the donor remains a mystery to us. We’d like to express our thanks and gratitude to whoever donated them. Thank you so much for thinking of us and for giving us such a precious collection.’

RNLI Postcards

RNLI Postcards

RNLI Postcards

RNLI Postcards

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