I enjoy learning all about the 1940's, including the letter writing going back and forth during the war. I thought I would share some of what I have learned, and some of the "letters" that I and my brother wrote to demonstrate what letter writing was like during the war. (None of the letters are real)
Receiving letters from home was important to keep up the troops moral. It was depressing not to have your named called during mail call. Those serving their country on the water probably had the hardest time of it. While at sea it could take months for your mail to catch up with you. In one case, a ship went without mail for almost seven months.
With the war, letter writing certainly changed for both the families and the soldiers. They had to adjust to censoring, and try to outwit it by writing in code. Postage requirements for servicemen also changed during the war. In March of 1942, Soldiers no longer had to pay postage on first class mail. Instead of a postage stamp, they wrote “free” up in the corner.
Letters written by soldiers were censored by their officers. Their officers would read their letters and cut out any information that was deemed sensitive, ex. Ship names, troop locations, etc. Obviously, this annoyed the families of the soldiers who received these Swiss cheese letters, which might be lacking lots of information. It also was annoying to the soldiers who wished to write love letters. They knew that anything they wrote would be read by the censor. This most certainly hampered their enthusiasm.
Many soldiers worked out codes that would inform their families and loved ones where they were. Sometimes these worked and sometimes they didn't! In some cases, the censor understood the soldier's game and was able to censor the code. The types of codes that I used in my demonstration letters were actually used by servicemen during WWII. Some codes were used with more success than others.
This code starts with the crossed out word in the first paragraph. This indicated to the recipients that the first letter in every succeeding paragraph was a clue to uncovering the sailor's location. When all of the letters were combined, they would spell the location. In this letter, all the clues are in order, but to throw off the censor, the paragraphs could be written in a random order. The letters would then just have to be unscrambled. I will let you figure out where this sailor was!
This last letter includes a more sophisticated form of code. By referencing locations from his hometown, he was giving his family clues as to his whereabouts. Upon receiving this letter, his wife would take the hometown map and lay it on a map of the general region where her husband was serving. She would then use the coordinates provided by her husband in his letter to pinpoint his location. Once she found the local landmark on the map, she could look at the spot directly under it on the second map and know where he was or where he had been. I do know that this type of code was used, and without success, as the censoring officer was from the same hometown!
With thousands and thousands of men in the service, you can imagine that there were heaps and heaps of mail to be shipped overseas. V-mail was intended to help make the process of sending mail to and from servicemen a more efficient process.
V-mail referred to letters and correspondences written on standard stationary that acted as both paper and envelope. Some v-mail forms acted as greeting cards, displaying a cartoon and saying instead of a written letter. V-mail was used both by the soldiers and the civilian populace back home.
Once mailed, V-mail letters would be censored by making sensitive information illegible by blocking it out with ink. After being censored, they would be copied to microfilm and shipped around the world. Microfilmed letters took less space and weighed less helping make mail service more efficient, although in some cases it was easier just to send the original v-mail letter. Once they arrived at their destination, the microfilm letters would be reprinted, though on a smaller scale.
You can imagine that the authors of the original V-mail letters had to make sure that they didn't write too small. Otherwise when the letter was shrunk, the recipient wouldn't be able to read the minuscule type!
I hope you enjoyed this history of wartime mail as much as I did writing the letters!
Sarah loves to sew, learn more about sewing, and create items with a vintage flair. Her arch enemy is clipping curves, and she has a tolerable relationship with the seam ripper.
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