Saturday, November 16, 2013

About this website

If, like the gentleman here, you are scratching your head and wondering what this blog is all about, then this is a good place to begin. The purpose of this website is to catalog online the wartime sketches of Fergus Mackain, who served in World War One and documented his experiences through illustrations, most of which were used on postcards. The hope is that this website will promote awareness of, and serve as a source of knowledge for, this less celebrated artist, and encourage the sharing of information about his life and works.

The website will include his best-known – and some less well-known – pictures, and will be updated as new facts and sketches are uncovered. The timing of the site precedes the centenary of the start of the war in 1914, and hopefully serves in some way to recognize all of the soldiers who gave their lives for their country. It is not the purpose of this website to provide a detailed biography of Mackain and an analysis of his life before and after the war, nor to catalogue all of his lifetime’s artwork.

Fergus H E Mackain was born in Canada in 1886, the second of seven children of a civil engineer who emigrated from England to North America at the age of 16, became a naturalized American, and died in Augusta when his son Fergus was just 10. At the start of World War One, Fergus left his job and young family in New York and sailed to England to enlist, initially serving with 30th (Reserve) Battalion, and then 23rd (Sportsman’s) Battalion, of the Royal Fusiliers regiment.

Mackain sailed to France in 1916 and fought with 23rd as part of the Somme offensive, was wounded at the Battle of Delville Wood, and was later transferred to the Army Service Corps as a result of illness. After demobilization, Fergus published a children’s book before returning to his family in New York in 1920. In 1923, Fergus contracted pulmonary tuberculosis, and died at the age of 38 in Oteen Veterans Hospital (Asheville, NC).

While serving in France, Fergus Mackain published a series of illustrated postcards that documented the experiences of a soldier who goes through training before being shipped out to the front to fight in the British Expeditionary Force. At least 70 unique illustrated cards were created by Mackain, possibly as many as 100. The cards were produced by two printers, Gaultier and Savigny, with many cards being reprinted as they gained in popularity.

In addition to the postcards, Mackain created an illustrated letter for his son back at home, and it is believed he also provided drawings for a soldier’s French phrase book. It is unknown whether he created other artwork while serving in the army, but there is always hope that other examples will come to light as a result of websites like this.

The blog is organized with static pages accessed by links in the menu on the left of the page:


An Introduction to Fergus Mackain’s “Sketches of Tommy’s Life” series of postcards by guest writer Marika Pirie.

Tommy’s Life

Four series of Mackain’s best known postcards, “In Training”, “At the Base”, “Up the Line”, and “Out on Rest”, with an index of the cards printed by Gaultier and Savigny, plus a supporting commentary for each card.

“Greetings” Set

A series of 10 Mackain postcards that were printed by Savigny with winter or festive themes.

The Cheerful Tommy

A further series of 6 Mackain postcards printed by Gaultier in 1918.

Other Postcards

Some other Mackain postcards from World War One that were not part of the above series.

Familiar French Phrasebook

A small French phrasebook that contains a Mackain advertisement and, it is suspected, some illustrations by him as well.

Illustrated Letter

The “Dear Mackie” letter from Mackain to his son in New York that was published in Scribner’s magazine.

Supporting Pictures

Relevant photographs and other pictures from World War One that serve to provide a context for Mackain’s time in France and his sketches.


A summary timeline of Mackain’s life and his service in 23rd Royal Fusiliers.

Bibliography / Reading List

Recommended books, articles, and other sources of information on Fergus Mackain and World War One.

Help Needed!

What you can do to help improve this site!

More information is being added all the time. Comments and questions are always welcome, either directly through the comments sections in the blogs and pages, or by email to