Letters to and from family back home

You’re a long way from home, from your family and from your friends. So what you might want to do is write them a letter and it’s very important for us, this er letter writing and receiving letters too. In fact I can say a lot of things about the army, but one thing they do do very well, is that the post arrives pretty good. Say for instance if you lot were to write me a letter today, I would receive it in two days time and it’s a pretty good service that isn’t it?

Now if you were to write to me what would I like to hear? Well erm anything basically. Anything about your life, anything that you might think is just ordinary I’m interested in, because that for me is a reminder of ordinary life. The ordinary life that I used to have before I arrived in the middle of all this madness. So for those few moments that I’m reading the letter that can take me back, that can remind me that er, that someone somewhere is having a bit of a normal life and also if you’re writing to me, write me a good long letter. The longer the letter the better, because you can use it for toilet paper afterwards.

Of course I might want to write back to you as well. However, if I was to write a letter to you saying some of the things that I’ve said to you today, then you would never receive it because all our letters are censored by our own officers. Now some of these lads, these officers, I mean, they’re fresh out of school. Eighteen, nineteen, years old come out of them big posh public schools and that and there they are reading intimate letters between husband and wife. Things that really should stay private, because you’re carrying on your life while you’re out here aren’t you and all sort of things happen. You know, marriages break up. Nosey neighbour writes to the soldier at the front saying they’ve seen his missus or his sweetheart off with some fancy man. Relatives get ill. Children get ill. Children die. Fella in my battalion, his young baby died of meningitis. All he knew about it of course, was in a letter. Can’t even go to funeral.

So, what you going to write and also obviously you can’t give away certain information. For instance, I can’t tell you where I am, can’t tell you what I’m doing, can’t tell you er where I’m going or what I will be doing when I get there.

So probably doesn’t leave much to say does it. But some fellas have a tricky way of getting round that you see. One lad I know, he writes in a code. Very clever. See he writes his letter like a poem and you know if you’ve got sort of lines of poetry like that, is the 1st letter of each line is a capital letter. So read the letter across like that this little poem and it all sounds fine, if you’re the officer reading it. However, if you were to read the capital letters downward, it gives another message. Perhaps a secret message of love, or perhaps telling you where you are. Might be something ‘in train from Marseille’ or ‘Ypres’ or something like that. Now that’s not cos you want to give any information away, but sometimes people like that. Makes them feel better if they can say ‘oh’ and point to a map and say ‘oh my Walter, my Fred is here’. So er, you can write in codes. Very clever that isn’t it. Very clever to do all that sort of thing.

I mean you can get a letter through uncensored. There is a couple of ways you can do that. Firstly, you can apply for what is called a green envelope. Now you might get one of those a month if you’re lucky and that’s what it is. It’s a green envelope and if you sign the back of it saying that er you promise not to have er given away any information, that everything is written down is of a personal nature, then it’s supposed to get through uncensored, which means that your own platoon officer won’t read it. But perhaps somebody, sort of like a spy or something like that might read it somewhere down the line before it gets to your family.

That’s one way. There is another way. Now I’m telling all this in confidence. Is that some fellas, not me of course, do this, but you can use the French postal system. If you find yourself billeted close to a French village or town, actually go into the post office and send a letter through French postal system. That way it’s guaranteed to be uncensored but you’ve got to be careful because that is forbidden and if found doing that then you are in serious trouble, so suppose you’ve got to make a bit of a friend out of the er postmaster and postmistress otherwise they might turn you in mightn’t they?