Public Archive Spotlight: The Ralph Lonon Sanford World War I Postcard Archive

Emily Sienkiewicz

November 8, 2023
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Postcard of American soldiers lining up outside of a Salvation Army aid tent at the front during WW1 in France
American soldiers lining up outside of a Salvation Army aid tent at the front during WW1 in France.

Honoring Veterans Day

This Veterans Day, we’d like to spotlight a special archive that captures the experiences of a WWI medic through postcards. Created by Greg Martin in honor of his wife’s grandfather, The Ralph Lonon Sanford World War I Postcard Archive features historic images from the war and messages that he wrote home, all of which can be used to give people a sense of what that period of was like. Today marks the 105th anniversary of the war’s end, so take a moment to explore the archive to get a sense of how that “war to end all wars” impacted our global history. 

Postcard of French General Joseph Joffre meeting with American General John J. Pershing; both leaders during WW1.
French General Joseph Joffre meeting with American General John J. Pershing; both leaders during WW1.

A Soldier’s Experience

The postcards were penned just after the war’s end and describe Ralph Lonon Sanford’s time while still stationed overseas in France. After the war he visited many historic buildings, churches, and landmarks, including the Bourges Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the Grande Roue de Paris while waiting to return home.

The archive’s creator, Greg Martin, hopes that people can learn “the experiences of an American soldier in Europe during and after World War I and the effects of the war on the people and places of Europe.” These effects are illustrated clearly with several postcards in the collection that depict the damage caused by the war as seen below. 

Postcard depicting the destruction WW1 had on the area of Château-Thierry. The battle fought there would be seen as a major turning point in the war.
The destruction caused by the war on the area of Château-Thierry.

In addition to the physical damage of the countries and the tremendous loss of life, when reading the postcards, you can also get a sense for the personal toll the war took on soldiers like Sanford, especially when so far away from family and the comforts of home. One postcard described this longing for home a little less than a month after the armistice was signed.

“Have just read in the day paper that the 39[th] Div. would be among the first to leave Frances for the states, but is a question with us whether we belong to the 39[th] Div. now or not. I think most of the boys left here are in the casuals. No doubt when you see this statement you will expect me to come with my old Div. May come but seems to[o] good to be true. You tell ’em hope every bit comes true.” –Message from Ralph Lonon Sanford, 12-3-1918

Martin noted that his favorite feature when creating the archive was the “ease of uploading images” on Permanent. This ease allowed him to seamlessly share his files with his family members who “appreciated seeing the postcards.”

We hope that this archive not only inspires you to learn more about our historical past in honor of Veterans Day, but that it encourages you to create public archives of your own. We’d like to extend a special thank you for Greg Martin for allowing us to spotlight his incredible archive.

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