By Janet Klug
During times of war or civil strife, mail is often opened and read by postal, government or military authorities.
Censorship is not limited to mail sent to and from military personnel. Civilian mail may be censored as well, according to policies established by individual countries. The goal of censorship is the same for both military and civilian censors: to protect military secrets, dates of sailings of vessels, troop movements and even weather conditions.If it is found to contain information of a sensitive nature, that information is deleted from the missive. Mail that has passed through a censor is usually marked, resealed and sent onward to the recipient.
It is the censor's job to see that any information that could be useful if it fell into the hands of the enemy does not do so.
Some censors blackened passages from letters that contained sensitive information. Others cut out and discarded the parts of the letter that did not pass censorship.
Military mail was usually censored by officers who would review the letters and then mark them with a handstamp.
Some countries required a censor to sign the censorship marking. Other countries issued numbered handstamps to military censors.
Figure 1 shows an Australian military cover from the World War II era bearing censor handstamp No. 220.
Censoring mail was time-consuming. The process caused many delays in the mail that did not contribute to maintaining high morale of the troops.
During World War I, Great Britain developed honor pledge envelopes that were self-censored.
The sender signed a pledge saying the letter contained "nothing but private and family material." Letters in honor pledge envelopes might still be censored by military or civil censors somewhere in the mailstream.
A signed British honor pledge cover from WWII bearing a numbered censor handstamp is shown in Figure 2.
Great Britain tried other methods to speed communications for its service personnel. The Field Service postcard illustrated in Figure 3 was sent during World War I.
The message side contained a set of standard messages that the sender could tick off. This was an impersonal way to send a message, but it did avoid the delay created by censorship.
In order to save valuable cargo space on planes and ships, some military mail was microfilmed. A roll of microfilm could contain up to 20,000 letters. Once the microfilm was sent to the receiving station, it was photographically reproduced and mailed to the addressee.
Called V-Mail in the United States, it was also inspected by censors.
Military censors used many different types of devices to indicate that a letter had been censored. These vary widely depending upon location, branch of service, date of use and country of origin, offering endless possibilities for forming an interesting collection.
An American Expeditionary Force censorship marking from World War I is struck on the cover shown in Figure 4, one of the myriad military censorship markings that exist.
Civilian censored mail is equally varied and fascinating. Mail that was opened by postal censors was resealed using either gummed paper or cellophane strips or seals.
Often the censor would be required to mark the mail with an identifying number, such as that on the WWI cover from the New Zealand-occupied German colony of Samoa, shown in Figure 5. This cover was sent to Australia.
Some mail was opened by censors in two or more countries. Such mail received many colorful markings. Illustrated in Figure 6 is a cover sent from Curacao to Prestwick, Scotland, in 1944.
The letter was opened and resealed in Aruba, the United States and Great Britain, and it bears sealing tapes from each of those incursions by censors.
Mail could be exchanged between belligerent nations through the use of message schemes and drop boxes.
Figure 7 shows a cover sent from Britain to Switzerland. The recipient was Helena Lubke, a Polish woman living in Lausanne. On her own initiative and with her own money, she provided transmailing services to Poles in occupied and Allied countries who were interred in prisoner-of-war and refugee camps.
The cover illustrated bears many censorship markings from belligerents on both sides of the war.
The British postmark was obliterated so that the place of mailing could not be identified. The town registration label was defaced and replaced with a London label. A German censorship strip was applied over the British label, and several other German censor markings were added.
The Red Cross ran the Red Cross Message Scheme from its headquarters in Switzerland for the exchange of mail between persons living on opposing sides of the war. The word "scheme" has different connotations in British English than it does in American English.
The two World Wars assured that most of the countries in the world would use some form of censorship. Figure 8 shows just one example from Gold Coast, but others from virtually every section of the globe exist.
Two societies are of interest to collectors who want to take on the challenge of collecting censored mail.
Membership in the Military Postal History Society is $20 annually from Robert T. Kinsley, Secretary, 5410 Fern Loop, West Richland, WA 99353-9806.
Membership in the Civil Censorship Study Group is $20 annually from Charles LaBlonde, 150-1 Ridgefield Lane, Colorado Springs, CO 80921.
Multitudes of excellent reference works exist on various aspects of both military and civil censorship. For an overview of World War II censorship, a good starting place isCivil and Military Censorship During World War II by H.F. Stich, W. Stich and J. Specht.
Try this affordable collecting specialty.
You will be surprised at how engrossing it can be.
blogEleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds share ideas …,” and Linn’s is fortunate to have thoughtful leaders of the stamp hobby on its Editorial Advisory Board. Board members participated in a lively discussion of “The State of the Stamp Hobby” Aug. 21 at the American Philatelic Society Stampshow in Grand Rapids, Mich. Read More ›
August 19, 2015 01:58 PMIn an unusual development for our hobby, the Office of Inspector General of the United States Postal Service is blogging about stamp collecting. Read More ›
August 17, 2015 12:19 AMFrom 1967 to 2006, Royal Mail (Great Britain’s post office) advertised all new issues with posters displayed in post offices. Most of these posters had pictures of the stamps along with basic information such as the date of issue, instructions for first-day covers, etc. Some were a little more elaborate. Read More ›
August 14, 2015 09:46 AMWill the United States Postal Service issue a Christmas stamp this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the classic television musical special A Charlie Brown Christmas? Read More ›
Watch as Linn’s associate editor Michael Baadke discusses happenings at the recent APS Stampshow from the show floor.
Watch as Linn's/Scott editorial director Donna Houseman discusses the early release of the new U.S. Elvis stamp, the possibility of a Peanuts stamp and Linn's at the upcoming APS Stampshow.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News managing editor Chad Snee discusses highlights of Robert A. Siegel Auction Rarities Week sales in late June, and reports that the 49¢ price for a first-class United States stamp will remain in effect until April.
Watch as Linn’s senior editor Denise McCarty discusses the hiring of a new executive director of the American Philatelic Society, the new Linn’s Editorial Advisory Board and the upcoming APS Stampshow.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.