During the First World War, letter writing was the primary means of contact between soldiers and their loved ones, aiding in the alleviation of separation anxiety. Soldiers penned letters in their leisure time, sometimes from the front lines, sometimes from behind the lines. They wrote about their daily lives, often including discussions of current events or politics. Sometimes they wrote about wanting to kill someone.
The first thing you should know about the way soldiers wrote letters is that they used a typewriter. Yes, the men of the First World War typed their letters on typewriters. They bought them like any other appliance of the day - from Sears, Roebuck and Company. Typewriters were expensive machines, available only in office supply stores, so not all soldiers could afford one. But the fact that they had access to a typewriter at all was remarkable enough for us to mention several times already.
Also remarkable is the fact that many of these letters are still around today. Some are held by family members, others are kept by museums or historical organizations. There are also postal services that will mail you a copy of one of these letters if you request it.
Now back to business. How did they write letters? Well, they used standard typewriter keys, which is why their letters have text on them even though they're typed on a machine.
Letter writing was the primary means of communication with loved ones at home, and it relieved boredom. Almost all soldiers begged their parents, friends, wives, and sweethearts to write back as soon as possible, as receiving mail from home was one of life's greatest pleasures. Soldiers also wrote to explain their actions in case they were killed or injured in battle.
After arriving at their destination, troops often sent letters home from post offices located near camp sites. These letters were called "field letters." The term came from the fact that they were written on field postcards which were obtained by cutting out the images from old postage stamps.
During the Civil War, men wrote many letters about their feelings toward the conflict and their opinions of what was happening around them. Some soldiers wrote eloquent pleas for peace while others cursed the generals who had led them into war. Still others wrote about the atrocities they saw done in the name of patriotism. This type of letter is known as a "rebel letter" because of the political stance it took against the government.
The best-known rebel letter writer was Abraham Lincoln. When he wasn't preparing legal documents or speaking at public events, he penned more than 300 letters to friends, relatives, and colleagues. Many of these letters have been published by historical societies interested in showing how another man's mind worked.
During the war, the British Army Postal Service delivered around 2 billion letters. Censorship governed what servicemen could and could not say in their letters. Often a single letter could contain several messages: some for others to read, others to be passed on privately.
The British government banned certain words from use in letters sent from the army due to security reasons. These included words like "bomb", "shell", "grapnel" and "poison". Other words were prohibited because they represented the names of towns or villages occupied by the army. These include'st Paul' in Gallipoli, 'Matilda' in Mesopotamia, and 'Bagshot' on the South Coast of England. Finally, some words were forbidden because they had special military meanings. These include 'Ace' for excellent, 'Black' for bad, and 'Spitfire' for a British fighter plane.
It is estimated that soldiers received and wrote about 1500 letters during their time in the British Army. Of these, only about 120 have been preserved today. The rest are presumed lost forever after being mailed back home to family members who never got them.
In 1998, researchers came across one such letter while studying files left by the Ministry of Defense (MOD).
The primary functions of letters were to convey information, news, and greetings. Letters were a way for some people to practice critical reading, self-expression, and polemical writing, as well as exchange ideas with others who shared their interests. Letters are viewed as a type of performance by some individuals. The ancients believed that letters had a power all of their own, which could be used either for good or evil.
In early civilizations, including ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, people wrote letters to friends, family members, and officials to show them how they were doing and to tell them about any new developments in their lives. These letters provided information not available elsewhere and helped families stay connected even if they were separated by distance or time.
In addition to being a means of communication, letters were also used as a form of currency, as security measures, and as a mode of protest. In ancient times, people did not use computers or the Internet to write letters. Instead, they used scribes who wrote with pens on papyrus or parchment using inks made from ground minerals mixed with water.
The first written letters were produced in the third millennium B.C. by the Sumerians. They used cuneiform, a system of wedge-shaped marks impressed into wet clay tablets to communicate information. The Egyptians later developed a similar system called hieroglyphics. Both systems were used primarily for administrative purposes but also included poetic texts.
Soldiers and their families had many reasons to be concerned during the Civil War. Their world had been one of doing and touching rather than reading and writing, but they altered the culture of letter writing by their resourcefulness and determination to keep their families together.
The war was never really won until about 1866, seven years after its beginning. Before that time there were more battles lost than won, but the North was finally winning out. As hard as the soldiers fought, it was the women and children who bore most of the burden of war-time separation because they could not fight. The men were often away from home for years at a time and when they returned they wanted to know how their families were getting on without them. It was in response to this need that thousands of letters were written by soldiers and sailors serving in the Union army and Navy.
They told of battles won and lost, of friends killed and of homes burned down. They described the state of the country around them and offered advice and encouragement to those back home. Most important, they asked about their loved ones left behind - mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons. These questions and concerns were answered through letters written by volunteers from both sides of the conflict.