In our series The Great War – Through a London’s Child, we’re following “The Private Diary of Edward Hampton” to learn about life as a London child in 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War.
In the First World War, there were only a few ways to communicate between home and the trenches.
Many soldiers would write letters home to their family and loved ones, however these would have to go through a process called censorship.
Censorship allowed the British Army to control what information made it home from the trenches.
They were worried that things soldiers had mentioned in their letters could aid the enemy if they got into the wrong hands or that it could make people feel down about the war back home, which wouldn’t be good for morale.
The Army Postal Service handled all the post going to and from troops in Europe at their special sorting office called the Home Depot.
To deal with the huge amount of wartime post the Home Depot became that the largest wooden building in the world at the time. During the duration of the war, there were 2 billion letters and 114 million parcels sent!
The government employed thousands of women as censors to monitor all this post. The team of censors would read through all the letters and rip out pages or scribble out sentences with a heavy black marker. Although, in some cases, the censored words remained readable.
Instead of writing letters that might not make it past the censors, soldiers could choose to write on a field postcard.
These printed cards gave soldiers a number of multiple choice options which they could cross out if they weren’t relevant. They were not allowed to write messages on them.
Another form of censorship was the honour envelope.
These required the sender to sign a declaration to say that they hadn’t disclosed any forbidden information. That way, their letters would only be read by postal workers on the home front instead of by their superiors in the trenches.
While the field postcard and the honour envelope were good, the most common form of censorship was by the soldiers themselves.
The war was horrific and many men in the trenches were keen to hide this from loved ones back home so they left out much of what they really went through.