Bestselling Australian Author
Bestselling Australian Author
I have been in Australia for over 18 years now and tomorrow, 25 April 2014, we will remember our ANZAC heroes and heroines. I hope my Aussie and New Zealand friends and family will allow me to remember my paternal Welsh great uncles at this time, and impart some fascinating history of mail crossing the Channel during The First World War.
My Welsh great uncles
These boys sent many standard issue cards home to their mother, my great great grandmother, Alice Clutton née Bates. Alice had been left a widow in September 1913. She had eight children and one adopted daughter.
From the moment they signed up, Frank and James sent postcards from Rhyl, Llandudno, Cerrig y Drudion, Betwys y Coed and Bala (Wales). On to Winchester and Salisbury (England) - all the places they were first deployed for training, before moving to the front in France where they continued to send letters and cards home.
As with the time, they began their letters with, 'Dear Mother' and they signed their cards and postcards, 'I remain, your loving son.'
Viewing the original notices of death sent to Alice from the Army Council is heartbreaking. A standard typed letter with space for hand written insertions of name, rank, number and date of death or presumed date of death.
This is a typical standard issue card a soldier could send to his loved one or his family and this is a photo of one my family is in possession of, undoubtedly sent to Alice from either Frank, James or her other son in the war.
Whilst searching the internet for photographs of similar cards and stories, I came across something I hadn’t considered before – how did our soldiers send and receive their letters, cards, gifts and missives?
Well, it's truly fascinating!
My information comes from the BBC. Take a look at the link for much more, but here are some points that really grabbed my interest ...
12.5 million letters left the home depot every week for the journey across the Channel to France (Le Havre, Boulogne or Calais).
19,000 mail bags crossed the Channel each day.
It took only 2 days for a letter to reach the front in France. Two days! Astounding expertise for the second decade of the 1900s. (250 men staffed the original London depot, growing to 4,000 by the end of the war.)
At Christmas 1917, 550,000 mail sacks were sent to France. 100 trains carried the mail and 6,000 lorries (trucks) despatched the mail to field post offices.
By the war’s end, 2 billion letters and 114 million parcels had passed through the sorting depot at Regents Park.
Letters to and from our soldiers were important, but for two very different reasons
Obviously, receiving mail heightened morale for our soldiers, but the worst of it as far as I’m concerned, was that mountains were moved (up to 375,000 letters or 4 tonnes of mail per day at the height of the war) to ensure loved ones and families back in Blighty kept up their support for the war. Censorship was not only for keeping the enemy uninformed, but also to keep the families of our soldiers happy about continued support for the war.
One option was the Field Postcard, where soldiers had the chance to choose a descriptive, for example: I am quite well. I have been admitted into hospital (and am going on well OR and hope to be discharged soon). I am being sent down to the base. I have received no letter from you. Letter follows at first opportunity.
Another form of censorship was the ‘honour envelope’ where the soldiers had to sign a declaration that they hadn’t enclosed any forbidden information. These honour letters would then only be read by British postal workers, and not by their superiors in the trenches.
As I think we can probably understand, regardless of the censorship, apparently most soldiers were not keen to give any truths to their families about the horrors they were enduring anyway.