IN 1914, the seaside post-card went to war.

The outbreak of the Great War on August 4 was reflected - directly, and immediately- on the holiday beaches of Southend and Clacton.

Literally overnight, one of the great British icons, the saucy postcard switched its main fixation. Buxom women and saucy sailors , previously the mainstay of comic postcards, were sidelined. In their place arrived a new source of humour, the Hun.

Martyn Kay, from Wickford, has been collecting Essex seaside postcards for 30 years

He says: “The seaside holiday was a national institution before and after the First World War, and sending picture post-cards was part of that ritual.”

The main Essex resorts, Southend and Clacton alone accounted for almost 5million holidaymakers and day-trippers, mostly from London, in the course of the summer holiday season.

“Just about every one of those visitors would have sent out ppcs to friends and relatives, usually signed off with the famous line 'Wish you were here',” says Martyn.“It was a great activity in bad weather. When it rained in Southend in August, post-card scribbling reached an industrial scale.”

To meet the vast demand, new post-cards were put on sale every day. Around 80 per cent of hese cards consisted of scenic views, but 20 per cent fell into a category described by contemporaries as “rude”, “saucy” or “vulgar” - although they look pretty tame by today's standards.

Martyn takes careful note of the date stamps on cards. “You can see a change take place almost overnight between August 4 and August 5,” he says. “The rude postcards are still being churned out. But all those well upholstered, skimpily dressed girls, and the red-faced young men on their wedding nights, they've gone. There's now a new star – the Kaiser.”

Picture post cards had become weaponised. In the first month of the war, they specialised in cheerful abuse of everything Germanic.

Another new theme was the world of raw recruits. Hundreds of thousands of civilians signed up for the forces in 1914. Cartoonists milked the humour of this rite of passage, as the recruits faced up to tough sergeant majors and parade ground discipline for the first time.

One post-card, for instance, shows

Then, as the casualty rate mounted, the good humour starts to fade.

Martyn says: “In the dark years of bloodshed, the very notion of seaside postcards looked frivolous. Cards with a date stamp between 1915 and 1918 are a tr;stovr rarity.”

Yet the spirit of the humorous seaside post-card did not die. Instead, it migrated to th Western Front itself. Soldier's publications like the famous Wipers Times [CHECK] were full of naughty cartoons.

And a former post-card designer, Capt Bruce Bairnsfather, was to create one of the most popular of all humorous cartoon characters out of the experience of war.