The harsh conditions and horrific nature of World War One are well documented, from having to live in trenches and deal with hazardous weather conditions to killing an enemy soldier and paying the ultimate price. What is often overlooked is perhaps the biggest hurdle British soldiers had to face, the mental challenge. It is hard to imagine how the soldiers coped with not only the war itself but also the pain of missing loved ones. One way that soldiers got through this was by carrying lucky charms with them that often had special meanings and allowed soldiers to escape from the horrendous reality of the War.
Good morale was vital and good luck charms played a huge part in keeping spirits high. But what kinds of good luck tokens did soldiers carry with them? Photographs were one of the most popular good luck tokens, they were a way of soldiers reminding themselves of those they had left behind and the reason they were fighting in the first place. Letters were also vital as this was the only contact they would get with their loved ones and were treasured by the men who received them. MP Alan Johnson writing for the BBC said that letters were crucial because “For some, it was a welcome distraction from the horrors of the trenches”. Astonishingly 12 million letters were sent to the front line every week! The huge numbers of letters were, along with photos, essential to morale and without them the task of war would have been immeasurably more difficult for the soldiers.
Other popular charms included a gift from the soldiers’ sweetheart. These included necklaces with a photo inside, bracelets and even buttons! While this may not seem much it would make the world of difference to a soldier and was a crucial personal ‘boost’ when morale was low. Crucifixes, ornaments and “Tommy Touchwud” dolls (a wooden doll that was supposed to bring luck, one of the many superstitions people invested in at that time!) were amongst other good luck charms soldiers treasured.
The fascinating thing about good luck charms that were taken to the frontline is that every man had something different that meant something unique and special to them. They are a humanizing feature of World War One and greatly improved morale of the soldiers, something that was essential to victory.