Rear area postal service

Operations and postal rates

Postal control.

The book on the “laws of continental warfare” (Kriegsbrauch im Landkrieg) published in 1902 by the historical service of the German General Staff and distributed to officers indicates in the section concerning relations between the populations of invaded territories and the occupying army that: “There is hardly any need to insist on the necessity to interrupt or suppress correspondence by rail, post and telegraph, or at least to apply the strictest surveillance over them. The benevolence and humanity of the command will know how to strike the right balance between what war demands and the needs of a population, and bring these elements into harmony”.

Under these conditions and from the start of the occupation, the occupying troops either banned civilian mail altogether, or authorised it but with postal control which did not start immediately. Mail was left open in the Kommandantur, which passed it on to the postal control centres (Postüberwachungsstellen).

The duties of the military postal control centres set up in the occupied territories with regard to mail are not well known due to the lack of archives available for consultation.

Nevertheless, a few documents can give us a good idea of their work.

A memo from the High Command of the 6th Army (No. 41740/5453 G.F.P) dated 28 February 1916 gives us the various responsibilities of its postal control centre.

A 6th Army postal control centre was set up in Valenciennes (P.Ü.St. 6) to examine all postal items leaving or entering the Army zone that were eligible under existing provisions. It was subordinate to the Lines of Communication Inspectorate. Staff were to be recruited from the auxiliary rear area company under the direction of Captain HINTZE, who until then had been in charge of the Lines of Communication Inspectorate postal control centre. The field of activity of the postal control centre of the 6th Army includes:

1.) Examination and forwarding of letters and cards from inhabitants of the occupied zone to prisoners of war and vice versa (also to those in military hospitals or at work in the occupied zone).

2.) The transmission of information on prisoners of war and inhabitants of the occupied zone.

3.) The examination and forwarding of official correspondence from the French public services in the occupied zone.

4.) The examination and forwarding of accepted business correspondence from civilians in the occupied zone.

5.) The examination and other handling of mail of military personnel or civilians claimed by the post office or other services.

6.) The examination and forwarding of telegrams from and for civilians in the occupied zone".

After postal examination, mail was directed to its addressee. If the addressee lived in the same stage area, the mail went to the Kommandantur of the addressee's commune. If the mail was destined for someone living in another army's stage area, it was checked a second time.

We can thus see that the beginning and end of the chain are always a Kommandantur (either a Line of Communication Kommandantur or a local Kommandantur). It is the Kommandantur at the point of departure of the mail that forwarded the mail via the Feldpost to the postal control centre, and it is the Kommandantur at the addressee's home that forwarded the mail to the addressee once the postal controls have been carried out.

The military post office was responsible for transporting the mail, but as it could not apply a postmark to the mail, it was rarely dated. It was the postal control centres that had to cancel postage.

The postal control centres were responsible for military examination, and therefore looked for potential military secrets or breaches of the postal regulations in force in the rear area. Administrative services such as the Bankaufsichtsstelle, the Zivilverwaltung and the Bergverwaltung could also carry out other administrative or accounting controls. They also left control marks on the mail.

The time it took for mail to be delivered depended on the examinations it had to undergo, the number of points it had to pass through and the periods during which it was in circulation. A transit time of at least 4 days is actually quite common. In addition, there were times when the delivery of mail was completely suspended, such as from 4 to 19 March 1918 in the 6th Army's area.
The types of examination carried out on rear area mail were the same as those carried out on military mail. It was therefore based on the search for military information, or at least information that could harm Germany, but also on checking whether the correspondence was in the "German interest".

The first rear area postal service was set up “on a trial basis” on 15 December 1914 by the 4th Army (Belgium). For the French occupied territories and the district of VALENCIENNES in particular, it did not happen so quickly. An instruction from the 6th Army's Lines of Communication Inspectorate dated 29 May 1915 (Befehl VI No. 19061) clearly states that mail between inhabitants of the rear area was prohibited. However, there could be exceptions, such as commercial mail, which nevertheless had to be approved by the Inspectorate.

Following Directive no. 54 of January 1917, the postal control centres were all identified by a number from 15 February 1917.

3 postal control centres succeeded one another in VALENCIENNES:

- "Postüberwachungsstelle der 6. Armee": depended on the  Lines of Communication Inspectorate of the 6th Army. It left VALENCIENNES on 30 September 1916 for TOURNAI (Belgium). Became Postüberwachungsstelle 40 in February 1917. It nevertheless continued to examine mail in the cantons of ST AMAND-LES-EAUX and CONDE-SUR-L'ESCAUT.

- Postüberwachungsstelle der 1. Armee": depended on the 1st Army. It arrived in VALENCIENNES on 1st October 1916. It is often referred to as the "Militärische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post-und Güterverkehrs der 1. Armee". (military control centre for postal and goods traffic of the 1st Army). It left VALENCIENNES for CHARLEVILLE on 18 April 1917. It became Postüberwachungsstelle 36 in February 1917.

- The "Postüberwachungsstelle n°39" (P.Ü.St. 39) was part of the 2nd Army. Based at ST QUENTIN, it moved to MAUBEUGE and then VALENCIENNES, where it arrived in April 1917. It remained there until September 1918.

Although based in MONS, Postüberwachungsstelle no. 31, which had been under the control of the 17th Army since March 1918, also controlled mail from towns in the district.

Zulässig Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee
Zulässig Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee

DENAIN to LILLE (6th Army). Letter controlled by the postal control centre of the 6th Army which applied its stamp "Zulässig Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee". The postage at 10 Pf/10 c is valid for a letter up to 20 g (rates of 15/12/1914).

Zulässig Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee
Zulässig Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee

ANZIN (6th Army) to CAMBRAI (6th Army), 6th July 1916. Letter up to 20g sent by the Mines Company of ANZIN and examined by the postal control centre of the 6th Army ("Zulässig Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee" and "Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee").

VALENCIENNES to LOURCHES (1st Army). Paper band surrounding a service letter sent by the VALENCIENNES sub-prefecture to the mayor of LOURCHES.

The 1st Army recovered stamps from the 6th Army which it had modified by changing the "6" to a "1".

Postal rates.

With the introduction of specific postal rates, the Reich had its commonly used postage stamps overprinted.

These overprint were specific to each zone of use.

Stamps overprinted with "Belgien" were used in the area controlled by the Belgian General Government. Until mid-December 1916, they could also be used in the Western Lines of Communication zone. Stamps overprinted with "Cent" were used exclusively in the western rear area. Reich postage stamps (type Germania not overprinted) and Bavarian postage stamps (type Ludwig III) were valid in all zones. Bavarian stamps were most commonly found in areas where Bavarian post offices were located.

General Government of Belgium

Rear area (Etappengebiet)



Letter from LILLE to ANZIN. As this was a bank letter, it was examined by the LILLE bank control office ("Inhalt sachlich geprüft" mark). As LILLE was in the 6th Army zone, it was the Postüberwachungsstelle 40 which controlled the letter militarily (mark "Postüberwachungsstelle"). As ANZIN was in the 2nd Army's rear area, Postüberwachungsstelle 39 ("Geprüft P.Ü.St." mark) examined the letter on arrival. The envelope weighed 18g and contained 98 marks. It was therefore franked at 50 Pf, i.e. 20 Pf for postage up to 20g, 20 Pf for the registration and 10 Pf for insurance.

This cardboard label accompanied a postal parcel weighing 2,550 kg and containing 49,000 Marks. This parcel was sent by the CAMBRAI branch of Crédit du Nord for the LILLE branch. The 1906 tariff provided for a postage charge of 80 Pf (up to 5 kg) and insurance of 8 Pf per 240 Marks for postal parcels to France. There was no registration. The total postage for this item was therefore 17.20 Marks (or 21.5 Fr). The franking includes 78 stamps at 25 c, but must have included 86 to make 21.5 Fr. This parcel was mailed on 17 November 1917 at the field post office of the 54th Infantry Division (Deutsche Feldpost 721), which was in CAMBRAI at the time, and was registered under no. 1762. The parcel was examined by the Commandanture of CAMBRAI and its passport office (Passamt).

Although incomplete, this franking is one of the largest to have been composed in the French stage area.

The 1st Army arrived in the VALENCIENNES district on 22 September 1916. Its postal control centre, the “Militärische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post-und Güterverkehrs der 1. Armee”, set up in VALENCIENNES on 1st October 1916.

With directive no. 54 issued by the Ministry of War on 16 January 1917, military units could no longer indicate their affiliation to an Army. Postal control centres therefore also had to change their control marks.

For the 1st Army, the word "Armee" was first removed fin December 1916, followed by the "1" in January 1917.

Zulässig Militaerische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post - und Gütterverkehrs 1.
Zulässig Militaerische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post - und Gütterverkehrs 1.

NUREMBERG to VALENCIENNES (1st Army), 16th January 1917. Business mail from Germany to the rear area had to circulate open. This letter has another postal control stamp, reading “Zulässig Militärische Ueberwachungsstelle des post- und Gütterverkehrs 1”.

NEUVILLE-SUR-ESCAUT to VALENCIENNES (1st Army). Letter up to 40 g franked at 25 Pf/25 c (rates of 15/08/1916). The mention “1. Armee” was completely removed.

The 2nd Army arrived in the VALENCIENNES district on 19th April 1917. Its postal control centre, Postüberwachungsstelle no. 39, was set up in VALENCIENNES.

MAING to VALENCIENNES (1st Army). Letter up to 20 g franked at 20 Pf/25 c (rates of 20/03/1917). The "Zulässig Postüberwachungsstelle" and "Ueberwachungsstelle" examination stamps used here are completely dumb.

LILLE (6th Army) to ANZIN (1st Army), 19th December 1916. Intended for the Mines Company of ANZIN, this letter is franked at 15 Pf/15 c (rate of 15 August 1916). It was administratively examined by the Commandanture of LILLE (KOMMANDANTUR LILLE TECHNISCHER REFERENT). The Bavarian stamps were cancelled on arrival at VALENCIENNES by the postal control centre of the 1st Army (stamp "Militärische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post-und Gütterverkehrs 1. Armee").

HAULCHIN to VALENCIENNES (1st Army). Letter up to 20 g for the sub-Prefect of VALENCIENNES franked at 15 Pf/15 c (rates of 15/08/1916). The Reich stamps were cancelled by the postal control centre of the 1st Army (Militaerische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post - und Gütterverkehrs 1. Armee).

Militaerische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post - und Gütterverkehrs 1. Armee
Militaerische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post - und Gütterverkehrs 1. Armee

Rear area of the 6th Army towards BRUSSELS, 17th August 1915. Letter up to 20 g examined by the Lines of Communication Inspectorate of the 6th Army (stamp "Genehmigt Et. Insp 6.").

Bavaria did not overprint the stamps used in the staging areas.

An agreement between the German states allowed both Reich and Bavarian stamps to be used on military mail. These stamps could therefore be found side by side on the same letter. The same agreement applied to rear area mail.

It should be noted that the Germans imposed a forced exchange rate for the franc (French or Belgian) against the mark, i.e. 1 mark for 1.25 francs. This exchange rate lasted throughout the war.

In contrast to the occupation zones in Belgium, the types of postal items allowed to circulate were very limited in the occupied French territories. Only letters and cards were allowed.

As can be seen, the types of postal items authorised for circulation are very limited. However, there is one type of item that is not mentioned in the postal rates, but which was authorised for certain services. These were declared value letters. Their rate corresponded to the German foreign rate of 1906.

Postage for letters cost 20 Pf (25 c) up to 20g and 15 Pf (15 c) for each additional 20g. To this had to be added a fixed tax of 20 Pf for the registration and 8 Pf insurance per 100 Marks.

From 1 December 1916, civilian workers and their families had to use postal stationery franked at 10c and labelled Zivilarbeiterpostkarte. Over time, 4 types of postal stationery were issued.

Military examination in practice.

CURGIES to VALENCIENNES (2nd Army). Rear area stamps cancelled by the "Geprüft P.Ü.St" stamp used by Postüberwachungsstelle no. 39.

HASNON (6th Army) to VALENCIENNES (2nd Army). Letter weighing less than 20 g franked 25 c. Double examination.

At the beginning, "Postüberwachungsstelle" and "Zulässig 4. Postüberwachungsstelle" by the 6th Army. On arrival, "Geprüft P.Ü.St." by the 2nd Army.

Geprüft P.Ü.St
Geprüft P.Ü.St
Geprüft P.Ü.St