Honour envelopes – WWI’s top secret letters of love

honour envelope
image: British Museum and Postal Archive, @postalheritage

Honour envelopes: top secret letters of love

Through the wonders of twitter, we have just discovered Honour envelopes. This lovely concept has really taken our fancy, so we’ve decided to make it our #WWWednesday story of the week!

During World War One, the Post Office played an important role in uncovering espionage activities and preventing the leaking of military secrets through interception of mail. Letters sent by the soldiers from the Front were therefore heavily censored. Then, in March 1915, green envelopes were introduced for the express purpose of troops to be more freely able to communicate personal information. The green envelopes were signed by the sender, verifying that they contained only private and family matters. The ‘Honour’ envelopes were exempt from censorship – thereby lightening the workload on censors, as well as making it possible for the troops to  share deeply personal information with their loved ones.  There are many examples – such as the envelope pictured above – where a lack of signature meant that the letter was held back. It’s a powerful reminder of a time when ‘honour’ was taken very seriously indeed.

Sitting here, warm and dry in the safety of our home rather than in the cold, wet, terrifying environment of the Western Front, it’s easy to imagine that honour envelopes were only used to share the kind of emotions and communication that bring people closer together. In the current day when email and digital communications has replaced actual letter-writing, getting a card or handwritten letter feels wonderful. Imagine how it must have felt 100 years ago to receive a green envelope! But war takes a toll on everyone, not just the soldiers who go off to the fighting, and the envelopes must have carried their fair share of difficult emotions as well. According to Sgt Archie Dunn, Post Office Rifles, the Honour envelopes were also called ‘lovers’ or ‘married man’s domestic troubles’ (via @WWIStories).

Either way, Honour envelopes are yet another example of the toll war takes on every aspect of life, and are a wonderful example of how many forgotten aspects of the Great War are coming to light as the centenary approaches. Projects like the St Mary’s project, in Lancashire, will teach and involve thousands of people in WWI-related research across the UK in the coming months. So many interesting things will be discovered – we can’t wait to hear more…

Read more about the British Postal Service during the Great War.


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