Months ago, I transcribed a letter from Babe dated Nov. 11, 1943. Among its highlights was a detailed description of the stuff he wanted his family to package up and mail overseas — and a postmaster’s stamp over the text of the letter that I couldn’t explain.
A reader came to my rescue with an explanation of the stamp in September, and I’ve just gotten around to exploring the reader’s comment in more detail. The reader, “Willy-n-Joe,” wrote this: “There was an Army policy that the soldier overseas had to request a package before the folks back home could send one. The local post office would ‘stamp/cancel’ the soldier’s letter when the family brought the package to be mailed. That would prevent ‘reuse’ of the same letter.”
Turns out that yes, indeed, there was such a policy — a policy order of the U.S. postmaster general, presumably at the request of the army, because of the concerns over taking up valuable weight and space on planes or ships going overseas. The policy starts right in with this:
“The War Department has informed the Post Office Department that in view of the heavy demands being made on cargo space for military shipments and because of the limited facilities available to commanders of theaters of operations for delivery of mail, the volume of mail dispatched to overseas destinations must be kept to a minimum.”
Dave Kent, a favorite source of ours, is editor of the Military Postal History Society Bulletin. The society “promotes the study of the postal aspects of all wars and military actions of all nations.” Kent confirmed the policy that Willy-n-Joe mentioned in the comment, and noted that the society’s bulletin had written about it, with examples of letters that had been stamped, in a 1999 edition of its magazine. You can see the entire edition here as a PDF, along with the article about the package policy.
This is the full text of the January 1943 postmaster general’s policy No. 19687.
The article, written by George Cosentini, cheekily notes that “in its great Wisdom, the military had to add little things here and there that one has a little difficulty in understanding.” Cosentini is referring to a line in the policy requiring that packages only contain content in the “specific written request of the addressee (and) approved by the battalion or similar unit commander of the addressee.”
“I am hard-pressed to believe that the battalion commander and his staff had time to sort out if cookies were OK to be requested, or anything else for that matter,” Cosentini notes. “But such is war. If there was supposed to be an OK by any kind of unit commander, I have never seen one.”
For the record, in his letter, Babe requested writing paper, pencils, ink, socks, handkerchiefs, chocolate bars, tea, cookies and blackberry jelly. “Don’t let anyone, I don’t care if it is the mayor,” he wrote, “tell you you can’t send anything that I just mentioned because fellows here have received everything I want in packages already.”