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Autographs: collecting memories

What does a wartime autograph book contain?

The contents of friendship books show a lot of humour and often make fun of aspects of Army life. Soldiers spent long periods of time travelling and waiting to go into the front line trenches, so composing poems and doing drawing provided some amusement and helped to pass the time.  

Uncensored accounts:

Some of the entries in friendship books are more sentimental and describe memories of home and the loved ones the soldier left behind. Unlike postcards or letters that would be posted home, friendship books were kept with a soldier’s belongings and not checked by his superiors. This allowed those who contributed to the book to express their true feelings without censorship.


The quality of the artwork and writing in Joe Smalley’s friendship book varies quite a lot. Some drawings and poems show real artistic skill, but other entries in the book could be described as scribbles and doodles. Most are done in pencil or black ink because access to drawing and writing materials would have been limited.  

However, one of the images in the book is a coloured painting (below right). This suggests that one soldier was an artist who considered his paints so essential that he took them to war with him. 


Censorship – In wartime, taking out any words, images or information in a document that could be used by the enemy
Essential - Something that is important and necessary
Sentimental - Focusing on feelings and emotions

View other relevant My Learning WW1 resources.

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic or see the teachers' notes  page for discussion and activity ideas.

Drawing of an exhausted postman whose entire delivery is addressed to Sergeant Joe Smalley
Pen and ink sketch of the cap badge of the York and Lancaster Regiment, surrounded by fifteen autographs of members of the Regiment, from several battalions
Printed image pasted into the book, showing a romantic couple looking out over the moonlit sea
Watercolour of an empty boat about to sail under a bridge