Winton M. Blount Symposium on Postal History
"When the Mail Goes to War"
September 26-27, 2008
Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington, D.C.

Abstracts of Papers and Panels

PANEL 1 – Winning on the Home Front

Postal and Treasury Saving Stamps Systems:
The War Years
Harry K. Charles, Jr., Ph.D.

The Postal and Treasury Savings Stamp Systems and their associated stamps (and collection certificates and booklets) played an integral role in our country’s history during the twentieth century, especially during both World Wars.  These savings stamp systems were in existence, in one form or another, from 1911 through 1970 – about sixty years.  The Postal Savings Account System was officially abolished in 1966, but the sale of savings stamps for bond purchase continued until 1970.  These systems raised billions of dollars for the government while giving the saver a fair, secure return on their money.  The importance of these savings stamp systems to the war efforts cannot be over emphasized.  They allowed everyone in the country, rich or poor, young or old to save and contribute to the war effort.  School children saved pennies and brought stamps, workers brought stamps every payday, people took their change from store purchases in stamps – every where one looked there were reminders to contribute to the war effort through the purchase of war and postal savings stamps. The stamps were a convenient method to accumulate, a little bit at a time, the necessary money to buy savings certificates.

This paper traces the development of the Postal and Treasury Savings Stamp systems throughout their history with emphasis on the World War I and World War II periods.  The material will be structured to illustrate stamp designs, printings, format types (sheets, booklets, and coils), and other interesting facts about the various stamp series.   In particular, the 25¢Thrift and the $5.00 War Savings Certificate stamps of 1917 will be discussed along with their accumulation bi-fold and tri-fold cards.  The unique specimen of these stamps affixed to gray card will be shown.  In addition, the four succeeding $5.00 War Savings Certificate stamps and the $1.00 Treasury Savings Stamp issued during and shortly after World War I will be described.
During World War II, the discussion will be focused on the stamps and collection booklets of both the Postal Defense (“America on Guard”) series of 1941 and the War Savings Stamp series issued starting in 1942.  Certain ephemera that are closely allied with these stamp series will also be presented as necessary to help create the atmosphere and importance of the monumental fund raising effects associated with these stamps.

“Food Will Win the War”:

The Farm-To-Table Postal Delivery Program, 1917-18
Robert G. Cullen

This paper focuses on an ambitious U.S. postal delivery effort that took place during World War I and arguably even contributed to the Allied victory in that conflict.   It involved a further expansion of the Rural Free Delivery (RFD) program that had first been established about two decades earlier and enlarged in 1913 to include parcel post service.  The U.S. Post Office Department had begun the widespread use of automobiles on RFD routes in July 1915.  Within a short amount of time thereafter, motorized transportation was regularly employed on 43,562 of those routes serving farmers and others in rural areas; only 288 of those routes, however, emanated from the 50 largest U.S. cities.

The farm-to-table program had been planned and approved as a peacetime initiative, but its actual implementation would occur during the U.S. involvement in World War I. This mail-delivery initiative, as a matter of fact, would be seen as an integral part of the geographically distant efforts of the U.S. and its allies to defeat the Central Powers.   A key example of the civilians back home helping the “doughboys” in France involved food conservation.  U.S. Food Administrator (and future president) Herbert Hoover exhorted everyone to avoid wasting food so that enough of it could be shipped overseas to feed U.S. troops and their allies.  Meatless Mondays and wheatless Wednesdays became a regular part of each person’s monthly calendar.  “Food Will Win the War” was Hoover’s rallying cry and that mantra appeared on posters and signs all over. 

The farm-to-table postal delivery program – in expediting the delivery of butter, eggs, poultry, vegetables, and other produce -- was singled out by Hoover and others as a vital part of that food conservation campaign to keep the troops fed.  After all, those shipments helped cut back by 50 percent the amount of food that otherwise might rot or go unused back at the farm due to a lack of timely transportation.  “Motor truck service will ultimately be one of the biggest things in the history of the Post Office Department,” proclaimed Fourth Assistant Postmaster General James I. Blakslee in a 1918 New York Times article discussing the farm-to-table initiative.  The increased use of trucks by postal employees and others during World War I, and the heightened need to maintain and strengthen the roads carrying those vehicles, would indeed become a lasting legacy of that era that remains with us 90 years after that conflict ended. 

The Island in the Stream or One Man’s War:
 The Wartime Diary of Percy Jacobson
John Willis

The Second World War was a conflict that played itself out on all the main continents of the world. Planetary in scope, in the public mind, the vantage point from with the conflict is traditionally portrayed usually focuses upon a battlefield in North Africa, the South Pacific or the beaches of Normandy. A number of publications, consisting of collections of wartime letters not to mention the recent documentary series of Ken Burns, are helping us to bring the home front more firmly into the picture. War, from 1939 to 1945 meant global war. The events touched upon everyone’s lives, those at home and abroad.

Throughout the duration of the war, Percy Jacobson, part owner of a furniture retail business in Montréal, kept a diary. Jacobs never saw active service. A father of three, born in 1885, he was too old for that.   Yet his life was unmistakably marked by the events in Europe and around the globe and in Montréal. Jacobson kept up a regular correspondence with his son Joe, who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in June of 1940.  Traces of this correspondence permeate the diary both prior to and after Joe’s death in 1942. A constant stream of Joe’s friends and acquaintances visited and or stayed at the Jacobson home; they kept in touch afterward, by mail.  A pair of young English girls moved in with the Percy and May Jacobson at their Montréal home, for the better part of the war, safe from the bombs and destruction of their hometown, London England. Greetings were exchanged sometimes by telegram but more often than not by mail back and forth across the Atlantic.

The mail figures prominently in Percy’s prose; as does the war itself.  The horrors of the Nazi war offensives and holocaust fuelled a potent sense of indignation on the part of this Canadian-born Jew. Jacobson maintains a steady commentary on the big events of the war, as learned through the predominant media of the day: newspapers, radio. He recounts what he sees on the home-front. He also goes about his daily life attending pictures shows, concerts and the theatre. He listens constantly to the radio. A man of his time he was immersed in the media of his time. He attended to his writing, was an amateur playwright, packed the children off for weekend trips up to the Laurentians, and wandered ponderously through neighbourhood parks and along the downtown streets of Montréal displaying no small degree of anxiety over the future of mankind.

In the course of this paper I will endeavor to show the manifold impact of the war on the daily life of this Montrealer. I will endeavor to show how the various strands of communication, the post and other media, helped define his life. I will try to tell one man’s story bearing in mind the social edifice on which his life rested in accordance with the poet’s dictum. “No man is an island entire of itself; Each is a piece of the continent; A part of the main.” (John Donne)


PANEL 2 – Strategizing Morale

Morse Code V for Victory: Morale through the Mail in WWII
Diane DeBlois & Robert Dalton Harris

Before there was V-Mail, before Churchill held up his famous 2-fingered V for Victory, the three dots and a dash of International Morse Code had become accepted as a way to signal resistance to the German presence in the ‘overrun countries’ of Western Europe. This decision to adopt “V” as the best symbol was made by the BBC’s Belgian program organizer, announced 14 January 1941. Belgians were inventive at incorporating the morale-boosting code into daily life: the postman rapped it on doors, urchins chalked in on walls, everyone whistled it. Prime Minister Churchill famously began to signal “victory” with two raised fingers of the right hand. On 27 June 1941, ‘Colonel Britton’ of the BBC established the code’s musical association - using the opening notes of the movement in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony called “Fate knocking at the door” – which then drew counter attack from German Propaganda Minister Goebbels.

We will illustrate the cultural impact of this campaign with a barrage of images of the Morse Code V in everyday usage, and their echoes in both private and official U.S. and international mail. We will trace the development of this powerful propaganda tool – from U.S. support for England and the Commonwealth at war in 1941, through Pearl Harbor, War Bonds and V Mail, the intense mobilization of the Home Front in 1942, a continuing tocsin in 1943 and 1944, to the V.E. Day crescendo in 1945.

Philatelists were enthusiastic adopters of the Morse Code, and particularly in its conjunction with the sign of the letter V, both in the Armed Forces and on the Home Front. Cachet makers opened retail outlets in department stores, formed clubs to trade designs, and used every means to spread the message: drawn, handstamped, printed on stickers, incorporated in slogan cancellations. Emboldened by a stamp collector in the White House, philatelists became patriotic agents.

The Holy See and Communications during WWII

Gregorio Pirozzi, Ph.D.

“Nulla è perduto con la pace, tutto può esserlo con la guerra!”
“Nothing is lost with peace, everything can be with war!”

Pope Pius XII - 1939

The horrors and devastation of World War II divided millions of families world-wide.  During the war, and for several years after the end of hostilities, the Holy See played a significant and largely overlooked role in communications between POWs, civilian internees and separated families with the establishment and operation of a unique message service.  Through a vast international network of diplomatic Nunciatures, Apostolic Delegations, Bishoprics, local parishes and various Catholic organizations, the Holy See was able to establish and maintain communications in often impossible situations.  The organizational intermediary for this supra-national communication network was the Vatican Office of Information (Ufficio Informazioni), established shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939.  An integral part of the Vatican message service was the essential role played by Vatican Radio, which transmitted over one million messages from 1940 to 1945.  In addition, as part of its humanitarian efforts throughout and after the war, the Holy See established a Pontifical Commission for Assistance which was involved in the repatriation of large numbers of POWs and displaced persons and in some measure was also involved in communications between separated individuals.
The relatively scarce philatelic/postal-historical evidence for this Vatican communication network is little known, and to my knowledge has been examined only in a fragmentary manner.  The worldwide scope of the message service operated by the Vatican Office of Information exceeded contacts with over 50 nations on every continent.  Remarkably, the efficiency of the Vatican message service was extraordinary, at times reaching a success rate of up to 70% of all inquiries received. The purpose of this paper is twofold.  The first is to present a representative survey of examples of this material to illustrate the international scope and wide variety of channels that were used to convey the messages.  The second is to place the material, and the communications they convey, in context with the historical events of the period to allow the reader a more personal perspective into the turmoil of this tragic time.

The Role of the Central Tracing Agency of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Restoring and Maintaining Family Links in Times of Armed Conflict

Jens-Martin Mehler

Restoration of family links between victims of armed conflict is a longstanding activity of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and of the international network of national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The existence of front lines and security imperatives dictated by the parties to the conflict often lead to a breakdown in traditional means of communication (postal services, telephone links, etc.) and, at the same time, restrict or prohibit people's freedom of movement.

The suffering of families separated by war is huge, and the task to re-establish and maintain family links between separated family members is immense. The ICRC sets up and coordinates efforts for the restoration of family links, both in areas directly affected by the conflict and in those areas receiving displaced people and refugees. This network is coordinated by the Central Tracing Agency (CTA) and is both a postal service, which collects and delivers family news and a tracing service to locate the whereabouts and fate of missing persons.

The history of the CTA goes back to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Since then the CTA has done everything in its power to bring what comfort it could to millions of victims of armed conflict throughout the world. For example, during World War II, it distributed 36 million Red Cross parcels; it exchanged 120 million letters between prisoners of war and their families and 23 million letters between civilians in the different countries at war. According to one estimate, 700,000 people in Europe alone were reunited with their families thanks to the Agency.

Today, ICRC strategy to maintain family links continues to focus on offering to the persons directly affected by the war (i.e. internally displaced persons, refugees, inhabitants remaining in the conflict zones, detainees, prisoners of war, etc) a means by which they can contact their relatives and inform them of their whereabouts. The means vary from one emergency context to another, depending on the prevailing political and military situation, on existing needs and on the resources available.


PANEL 3 – Challenging Systems of States and Governmental Mails

A Nation at Civil War:  Contrasting Postal Systems
Van Koppersmith and Wade E. Saadi

This presentation will contrast the postal systems of the Union and Confederate Mails.

The Union was more prosperous and industrial before and during the war and their postal system was not impacted as much as that of the agrarian and rural Confederacy.  Important factors discussed will include the blockade of the southern ports by the powerful northern navy and the fact that more of the conflict actually took place in the partially occupied South.

Wade will discuss the fancy and patriotic cancels of the Union and Van will discuss the southern side, including unusual uses and various adversity covers that were dictated by the war.

Collecting and Exhibiting Military Mail
Alfred F. Kugel

I suppose that I can claim to be a military postal historian of long standing, having been active in the field now for more than 50 years.  However, I have been an exhibitor for a much shorter period, starting just 15 years ago.  To give you an idea of what collectors do with the military mail that has been created, I will show examples of the broad scope of the subject focusing on U.S. soldiers’ covers over the past century and a half.

Covers to be shown include examples from the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Uprising, the Vera Cruz Expedition, World War I, Intervention in the Caribbean, Intervention in China, World War II, Post World War II, Korean War, Coast Guard Mail, Peace Corps Mail, Viet Nam War, and Desert Shield.  Special military postal stations were opened to handle the letters. Several American postal stations were established.  Registered mail is especially scarce from these campaigns.

Of course, with the situation as it is in the world, new wars keep being created.  However, one new problem for military mail collectors is that most of the communications today are sent by e-mail, not old-fashioned letters, so they are difficult to show and discuss.


PANEL 4 – Examining Censorship due to War

Postal Censorship and Military Intelligence during World War II
Ann Pfau

Just days after the nation declared war on Japan, the U.S. Army adopted a policy of censoring personal correspondence, restricting the flow of information between soldiers and civilians.  Although military security was the primary goal of postal censorship, a secondary objective was to gather data on servicemen’s behavior, beliefs, morale, and even marital difficulties.  Focusing on the Office of the Theater Censor in Europe and in the Pacific, this paper will examine the practice and goals of military censorship.  It will explore what censorship documents tell us about the men and women who served and, perhaps as important, what military officials did not wish American civilians or the nation’s enemies to learn.

A branch of Army Intelligence (G2), the Office of the Theater Censor was responsible for training unit censors; spot-checking outgoing and incoming letters and parcels; inspecting all film and telegrams; and reporting on morale and misconduct among American troops.  Despite this intrusion, soldiers’ letters to their friends and loved ones were extremely revealing.  Servicemen and women commonly violated censorship regulations by using codes to communicate their locations and destinations to worried parents and spouses.  Others concealed sentimental messages beneath stamps and envelope flaps.  Postal censors, particularly in the Pacific, uncovered troubling instances of mistreatment of enemy prisoners and desecration of enemy corpses—both violations of the rules of land warfare.

Extracts from censored letters were and are important sources of information about both individual soldiers and troop culture.  In the early months of 1943, for example, extracts from censored letter alerted G2 to a growing problem—servicemen’s hostility toward their female counterparts.  Later that year, this hostility grew into a slander campaign that threatened to undermine the Army’s effort to recruit female soldiers.  By censoring slanderous allegations about the Women’s Army Corps, the Army sought, unsuccessfully, to mitigate the damage.  The same censorship documents that record such rumors—comment sheets, morale reports, and investigations—also help historians understand male soldiers’ attitudes toward the women’s corps.

Intercepted in Bermuda: The Censorship of

Transatlantic Mail during the Second World War
Peter A. Flynn, MD

This presentation will discuss the postal history of the origin, evolution, organization, scope, and consequences of transatlantic transit civil mail examination in Bermuda by British Imperial Censorship of Posts and Telegraphs Censorship. It will include pertinent information about the movement of international mails during WW II. Britain’s prewar plan to censor all sea-borne transatlantic mail at Liverpool and Gibraltar was ended by the German conquest of NW Europe, most of Scandinavia, and by Italy declaring war.

This was the time of “the Battle of Britain”, the sinking of the HMS Hood, and the predations of Nazi submarine warfare. Britain’s resulting inability to maintain a Censorship ‘ring’ about the Axis in the Eastern Atlantic was compounded by Pan American Airway’s new FAM18 transatlantic air service, est. May/ June 1939, completely bypassing British sea power and carrying growing volumes of mail.
Bermuda was close to or on established transatlantic sea and air routes in the Western Atlantic, which were the final common pathways of mail between the Americas and the Continent. It was an ideal location to anchor a new Censorship ‘ring’. So Bermuda, Censorship’s Western Hemisphere Regional Headquarters,* became the world’s largest transit censorship operation*, with a peak examiner strength of 700± in July 1941. Bermuda met the urgent need for a new location with efficient and effective mail screening and examination. Bermuda was pivotal in its access to effect and effect on international mails. Covers censored there are still one of the few generally available artifacts of the urgent clandestine struggle taking place in the shadows of total war. 

Censorship during Napoleon’s Exile on St. Helena

Arthur H. Groten M.D.

In the annals of postal censorship there is perhaps no more fascinating story than that concerning the attempts by the British to censor Napoleon’s communications during his Exile on St. Helena and the methods used by the Exiles to avoid that censorship.

Through examination of original documents and letters (some unpublished) the speaker proposes to outline how the censorship worked, after putting its rationale into context.  These documents permit discussion of how the authorities adapted their Regulations over time in response to real or imagined circumvention.

This case stands as a paradigm for all such attempts at censorship, clearly demonstrating that such methods, even under the tightest possible control, cannot be fully effective.


PANEL 5 – Analyzing Logistics and Systems in Adversity

The Impact of the First World War on the
 Production of Postal History in British Colonies
Dr. Richard Maisel, FRPSL

There was a great increase in the volume of mail handled by postal authorities through out the world during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This upward trend was interrupted by events such as wars, depressions and natural disasters. The proposed paper will examine the growth in various categories of mail (letters, cards, printed matter and parcels) during the period 1900-1937 in a number of British Crown Colonies. It will show how the trend was due in part to increases in population but mostly due to the increased usage of the mail that accompanied the economic and social development of the colonies. It will then examine how the trend was effected by the First World War. The analysis will show that the effect was pronounced during the war years but that it was temporary with almost no long term effect on the growth in postal traffic. The effect of the war will be compared to that of the great depression of the late 1920’ and early 1930’s and with natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Most of the data used in the analysis will be taken from the Statistical Abstracts of the British Empire, an annual publication produced by the British Board of Trade for Parliament. The publication appeared under different titles in different year but provided consistent series of data on the volume of mail handled by various British possessions during the period from 1900 through 1937. It also provided data on the population, economy and size of government in various parts of the Empire. The data will be analyzed using standard statistical tools for time series analysis and the results will be viewed from the perspective of a system in a state of equilibrium that is impacted by external events.

The Impact of World War II on Airmail Routes

 from Switzerland to Foreign Countries, 1939-1945
Robert G. Zeigler

The Second World War brought profound change to the patterns of mail delivery, accelerating the pace of change and creating massive disruption in normal mail service worldwide.  As a small neutral country in the heart of the storm, Switzerland sought persistently to keep its mail moving to other countries despite all manner of interruptions, whether the reason was invasion, censorship, or alterations or outright cessation of normal airmail service.  For a substantial period of time, from November 1942 until early 1945, Switzerland was entirely surrounded by Axis-occupied territory, becoming a neutral island of uneasy peace in a sea of violence and madness. 

Airmail was then a relatively new phenomenon.  Many of the intercontinental airmail routes had only recently opened in the Thirties, giving mailers more and more options.  The coming of war shut down many options and profoundly distorted others.  This presentation will briefly survey the salient changes in airmail routes wrought by the war, and the ingenious, or perhaps at times desperate, efforts of the harried Swiss postal authorities to cope with the evolving situation. 

Airmail within the European continent, especially eastbound, was drastically affected from the start.  By mid-1941, with ascendant Axis forces dominating most of Europe, mailers who did not want their mail seen and censored by Germany, or in some cases by Great Britain, were sending mail to the Americas, Asia, and even the Middle East by some very strange and out-of-the-way routes.  The entry of the United States and Japan into the war at the end of 1941 brought even more change, closing off many routes and opening up others.  At least two periods occurred during the war when all airmail service out of Switzerland, for all intents and purposes, ceased for weeks to months.  As the Allies turned the tide, airmail service was eventually restored, but in new patterns which persisted until well after the war ended.   

Picking Up the Pieces: The Aftermath of Hiroshima

Janet Klug

The paper will discuss the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) and specifically the Australian contingent within BCOF. Discussion will focus on how postage stamps were used to facilitate and then combat the black market that developed within the Hiroshima prefecture due to extreme living conditions and how mail to and from BCOF troops illustrated the trials and tribulations of Australia's first military occupation.


PANEL 6 – Interpreting Propaganda and the Post

Propaganda in the Mail: The Example of the Third Reich
Steven Luckert

Nazi propaganda has been the subject of numerous scholarly studies since the 1940s. Much of this research has concentrated on the role of Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in disseminating Nazi ideological messages through film, newspapers, theater, radio, and music. Very few historians, however, have examined the activities of the German postal service as a conduit for Nazi political messaging to the German people, except for those collectors of postage stamps and postcards of the Third Reich.

The Nazis quickly recognized the importance of the postal service for the dissemination of propaganda. In the 1920s and early 30s, when they were competing with more than thirty other political parties for votes and members, the Nazi party understood that visually intriguing political postcards could catch the attention of would-be customers, but also postal employees when they sorted or delivered the mail. Soon after taking power in 1933, Hitler allocated some of the Postal Ministry’s functions to the newly created Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. The Postal Ministry, however, continued to play a vital function in the dissemination of propaganda to the masses.

In 1935, Nazi Germany became the first nation to initiate regular television broadcasting. The Postal Ministry, which had been financing the development of this new media since the 1920s, handled the technological aspects of this pioneering development and worked with Goebbels’ Ministry to promote it to Germans. In 1936, live coverage of the Berlin Olympic Games was seen by more than 150,000 Germans in specially equipped theatres created by the postal service.

Philatelic Propaganda: Border Changes in Eastern Europe, 1938 – 1941
Robin Gates Elliott, Ph.D.

From Munich in the fall of 1938 to the end of World War II in 1945, the borders of all the countries in Eastern Europe underwent changes.  Countries gained territory from or lost territory to their neighbors; Poland and Romania both gained and lost territory.  Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia entirely disappeared and Slovakia and Croatia emerged.  These changes had their roots in the peace settlements following World War I which redrew the map of Central and Eastern Europe.  The old German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires collapsed and were replaced by successor states.  Given the multitude of competing territorial claims, no settlement could satisfy everyone and resentment of the results was widespread.

These border changes generated a philatelic paper trail.  This presentation will examine one small part of that paper trail, stamps issued by the occupying countries to celebrate and justify their territorial acquisitions.  These stamps are masterful little propaganda posters and the purpose of the presentation is to explain the imagery.

Stars and Strife: Mail to Hollywood Movie Stars during Periods of War

Dr. Thomas J. Richards & Regis Hoffman 

The attraction of the movie industry and the movie stars that appeared in the films has been very strong ever since the first silent movies. Even during periods of strife (war time) this attraction remained strong and may even have grown since individuals were looking for something to relieve the stress of war. Movies and the stars provided a form of temporary relief.

This paper will examine wartime mail to the stars from various parts of the world. Areas to be covered are censored mail (censor marks and routes), APO mail (mail from individuals “In Harms Way”), V-mail (sent to movie stars requesting photos and even proposing marriage), POW mail (POWs using their limited mailing privileges to write to their favorite star), Internee mail (civilians held during the war also felt the need to contact the stars).

In addition, contents from some of these letters to the stars will be presented, to provide historical context of the relationship between stars and their fans during wartime.