World War I Trench Warfare: Cards and Letters Home

Figure 1.--This postcard was sent home by a British soldier in the trenches of the Western front in 1918. It was a New Years card. The sentimentality of the cards speaks of what was on the mens' minds. Click on the image to see the back of the card. Image courtesy of the MD collection.

The letters and cards that the men who manned the World War I trenches are heart breaking. As HBC focuses heavily on photography and other visual images, we are especially struck by both the postcards selected by the British Tommies and the messages on the back. We note that the British Tommies in France and Belgium selected sentinental French post cards to send home. Some of the cards were of inniocent children with sentimental messages. They surely myst have reminded them of their children back home in England. Some of the cards had to pass through the censors. We do not know at this time how this affected the messages penned.


We have a number of cards mailed by World War I soldiers from the trenches to their loved ones at home. The cards HBC has archived so far or cards sent from France and Belgium by British Tommies. We also have some German cards. We hope to eventually acquire cards from French, German, and other countries that participated in World War I. Hopefully HBC readers from those countries will provide us some information on their soldiers. We hope to eventually add cards from soldiers of other combattant countries. The interesting aspect of these cards is the similarity of the cards chosen and the emotionns expresed in the cards.


Because of the large conscript armies, mail in World war I was a major operation. One estimate suggests that 12.5 million letters were sent to the the Western Front every week. The Postal Section of the British Royal Engineers in 1914 had a staff of 250 men. This obviusly had to be expanded. The British Army Postal Service by 1918 employed 4,000 soldiers. Families in Britain could write to their lovevones in the Western Front trenches and they would arrive in 2-3 days. Frontline soldiers received letters on a daily basis. The British Army encouraged men to write letters home to Britain. Relatively few men graphically described what they endured in the trenches. Most authotities believed that this was becaus they did not want toallarm their families.

The Censors

We note that some of these cards were viewed by censors.


The British Parliament passed the Defence of the Realm Act in 1914. As a result, letters from British soldiers were or should have been read. A reader writes, "Not all the cards I own that were sent home from France have the censors mark. I believe that sometimes the cards might have been enclosed with a letter in an envelope." If I can find out anything further then I'll be in touch. Some of the cards sent by British soldiers are maked "Passed by Censor" followed by a number. I believe that every censor reading the mail had a stamp with his own individual number. That way of course a person letting sensitive information through could be identified. We have no information at this time on the differing censor regulations of the combatant counties. The principal question we have is how the censorship affected the messages sent home. The messages certainly were not graphic. Here we think that the soldiers simply did not want to alarm their relatives. But the censors may have also affected what they wrote. Some report that this was done y their junior officers. Some officers did not believe that it was right to read their men's personal letters. Thus many letters ere delivereduncensored. But would they have numbered censor stamps? A HBC reader writes, "Yes, I always understood that Officers censored the letters of their men, perhaps this duty was taken away from them later in the war and official censors were employed who had the stamps."


A French reader tells us that in France, "Mail sent and recieved by the soldiers were censored." We have few details at this time on French censorship.


We notice censor stamps rather like the English ones. We have, however, not details about the German censoring of mail from the Front.

French Post Cards

Postcards today or a rather minor matter, primarily relegated to tourist spot. In the early 20th century, post cards were big business nd much more commonly used for family communication. Remember in 1914-18 that there were no cell phones and a telephone call from France back to England would have been a major undertaking. Only the families of some wealthy officers would hav had telephones in their homes. A cll home from France would have been mmajor event. HBC readers may want to visit the pgeon rench post cards for back ground on these cards.

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main World War I trench warfare page]
[Return to Main military style page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [Essays] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: January 16, 2003
Last updated: January 20, 2003