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Souvenir Handkerchief

World War I souvenir handkerchief.To many, the concept of a "war souvenir" would seem an oxymoron. Why would soldiers wish to take home objects from the battlefield as a reminder of death and tragedy?

But war souvenirs do serve a purpose. They provide a continual link to life-altering events. They also are visual tools for illustrating war's events and personalities. Whatever the reason, soldiers often return home with souvenirs, whether it be a fallen Nazi officer's 9mm or a handful of sand from the Persian Gulf.

War souvenirs sometimes are mass-produced, as in the case of this silk handkerchief sold in France at the end of World War I. Lieutenant Arthur Ericsson of Emporia, Kansas, purchased two of these souvenir handkerchiefs in 1918 for his nieces back home. In English the text on the handkerchief reads, "Souvenir of the Great War." Unlike battlefield objects, this handkerchief was produced by the victors with the intention of promoting certain aspects of the war. Some of the Allies' most influential people and weapons are featured in its lithographed images.

At the top of the handkerchief are portraits of five Allied political figures whose influence was felt throughout the war. Their longevity was somewhat unusual in that, by war's end in 1918, many of the initial monarchs and ministers no longer held office. In the center is Raymond Poincare, President of France from 1913 to 1920. Flanking Poincare's right is the George V, King of Great Britain from 1910 to1936. George was the grandson of Queen Victoria, and cousin to both Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, both of whom had abdicated by the end of the war. To Poincare's left is Albert I, King of Belgium from 1909 to 1934. Below Albert is Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. To the right of Wilson is Victor Emmanuel III, who was King of Italy from 1900 to 1946. The length of the latter's reign allowed him to be a part of both world wars.

Featured in smaller portraits at the bottom of the handkerchief are the two Allied commanders of the French and British armies. On the left is Joseph Joffre, appointed Chief of Staff of the French Army in 1911. He often is credited for having saved France during Germany's early march toward Paris in 1914. After failing to break through the trenches of the Western Front, though, Joffre was removed from his post and promoted to the ceremonial position as Marshal of France in 1916. Pictured on the right is John French, who also was appointed to the Chief of Staff but of the British Army in 1911, and commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the continent against Germany's initial advance. French resigned from this post in 1915, only one year into the Great War.

Flanking the seven portraits are images of a French Farman bomber and a French 75 mm artillery cannon, two objects of military technology that greatly influenced the outcome of the first world war. Though the airplane had been invented only in 1903, by the end of World War I it had become a critical tool of battlefield observation. Artillery had been in use for decades, but during the first world war the volume of artillery fire reached unprecedented levels in an effort to break the stagnant Western Front. The plane and cannon pictured on the handkerchief were of French design but were utilized and manufactured by all the Allied countries.

Arthur Ericsson

Arthur Ericsson most likely picked up this handkerchief returning from the Meuse-Argonne front in eastern France. Ericsson was a Second Lieutenant with the 35th Infantry Division, and on September 16 he led his company in the major American offensive of 1918. On the fifth day of battle he was wounded and hospitalized.

The military career of Arthur Ericsson spanned 36 years in the Kansas Army National Guard. The youngest of ten children, he enlisted in the Guard in 1912 and was commissioned as an officer one year later. He bravely served in the Mexican border campaign of 1916, and commanded a German and Japanese prisoner of war camp in Medford, Oregon during World War II. After 1945 he was assigned as commandant at Brake, Germany, the only military police school in the European theater. In 1948, Ericsson retired with rank of Colonel.

Ericsson's contributions were not limited to the military. From 1923-1926 he served in the Kansas House of Representatives. He later became Superintendent of the Boy's Industrial Reformatory and then Utilities Commissioner for the City of Emporia. During his retirement Ericsson spoke publicly on the subjects of American History and Freedom to eighth-grade students in the Emporia area.

Not only does Ericsson's souvenir handkerchief give a visual depiction of the powerful men and machines of the Great War, but it also links us to the outstanding biography of a Kansas hero. Perhaps that is the greatest function of all war souvenirs.

Entry: Souvenir Handkerchief

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2002

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.