Picture Postcards from the Great War
1914-1918

The story behind a Great war postcard - Tony Allen

(6) Secret messages!

In 1918, a stranger was said to have approached a clergyman having lunch in a restaurant in Manchester and said to him that he knew a man whose son was a prisoner of war in Germany and a recent letter from him contained this passage. "The stamp on this letter is a rare one; soak it off for little Alf’s stamp collection." Even though there was no one in the family called ‘Alf’ or anyone who collected stamps, the father soaked the stamp off and underneath it were these words, "They have torn out my tongue; I could not [mention] it in the letter." However, the clergyman knowing that letters and cards mailed by prisoners of war went post-free and did not require a stamp, said to the stranger, the story was absurd and he should be ashamed of himself for repeating it. In any case, said the clergyman, if the prisoner had managed to put a stamp on the letter, "it was the best possible way of attracting attention to what he was trying to hide." Still, the stranger refused to believe the story was false, as it was well known in Manchester and believed by many. 


Secret messages!

If a British P.O.W. wanted to write a secret message in his letter, one method was to use invisible ink, but German mail censors went to great lengths if they suspected this was going on. A good example of this is a card from a Major Beeley of the Lancashire Fusiliers who was a prisoner in Konigsbruck in Saxony. In May 1918, he sent a camp postcard to his wife in Rochdale. The camp censor applied to the card, not only his censor-stamp, but also a diagonal line of brownish chemical wash to show up any invisible message.

The card is shown below.


 

What was it that a German censor in Konigsbruck camp suspected Major Beeley of writing home about, that caused him to apply a chemical wash to the card to reveal any invisible writing?  Some camps were near military installations such as training grounds and gunnery ranges and information about them would have probably been of limited use to British intelligence. However, Konigsbruck was located in the middle of a pine forest! Does the answer lie in the photograph on the front of the card and shown here?                

 Major Beeley in Konigsbruck Camp. Was this photograph on the front of the postcard the reason a German censor looked for a hidden message on the back of it? Had Major Beeley been mistreated? His right hand was heavily bandaged. Did his captors suspect him of secretly complaining of mistreatment  - via the card?

                                                                                                                

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