Rear area postal service

Prisoners of war mail

Prisoner of war mail was regulated by the two Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. Article 16 stated:

"The Information Bureaux shall enjoy free postage. Letters, money orders and articles of money, as well as postal parcels bound for prisoners of war or sent by them, shall be free of all postal dues, both in the countries of origin and destination and in intermediate countries".

Mail from and to prisoners of war therefore was postage free. This exemption had already been introduced by the Universal Postal Union at the Rome Congress on 26 May 1906. Prisoner of war mail nevertheless had to be labelled "Kriegsgefangenensendung" (prisoner of war mail).

Finally, parcels sent to prisoners, internees and civilian workers were free of charge up to a weight of 5kg. Postal orders were also free, up to a limit of 800 M.

Checked at the camp, stamped "Prüfungsstelle am Offizier-Gefangenen-Lager".

A new examination was carried out by the postal control centre of the 6th Army (stamp "Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee").

Prisoner of war mail had to circulate open. Here, however, the envelope was sealed between the camp and its arrival in the rear area.

The 6th Army's postal control centre opened the envelope and sealed it with a label reading "Geöffnet und geschlossen Postüberwachungsstelle 6. Armee".

This is a very rare case of a closing label being used on rear area mail.

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung

Envelope probably containing correspondence from families to prisoners of war held at the GOLZERN-MULDE camp. The wording "Kriegsgefangenensendung" indicated that it was prisoner of war correspondence and the wording "Heeressache" (military affairs) showed that it was service mail.

The postal examination was carried out by the 6th Army Lines of Communication Inspectorate, marked "Geprüft F.a. ETAPPEN JNSPEKTION 6. (checked, deadline expired Lines of Communication Inspectorate 6.).

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung Bern-Transit
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung Bern-Transit

The above comparison shows that at the start of the occupation and until January 1916, prisoners of war could only send or receive one card per month from occupied territories, whereas they could send or receive one card per week and 2 letters per month from unoccupied France. Conditions became more uniform after January 1916. Families who remained in the rear area could only send one card per month.

  • Mail from the occupied zone to prisoners of war in Germany:

  • Mail from the occupied zone to prisoners of war in Germany:

From the start of the occupation until the middle of 1915, prisoner of war mail to and from the rear area had great difficulty circulating. The Germans were not prepared to handle such heavy postal traffic, which led to major delays.

As the VALENCIENNES district was on the border, some inhabitants of the border towns got into the habit of posting their mail or having it sent to Belgium, where postal conditions were less harsh. This practice was prohibited by the Germans. The Belgian Red Cross had set up a system for collecting mail from prisoners of war in many Belgian communes, including those close to the border. It also accepted French mail.

The 1st German Army arrived in the VALENCIENNES district on 22nd September 1916.

Its postal control centre, the "militärische Ueberwachungsstelle des Post-und Güterverkehrs der 1. Armee", moved to VALENCIENNES on 1st October. The north of the district remained under the control of the 6th Army, whose Lines of Communication Inspectorate had moved to TOURNAI (Belgium).

The 1st Army left VALENCIENNES on 19th April 1917.

The postal control centre of the 1st Army also recovered 6th Army censor stamps and modified them by changing the "6" into a "1".

Letter sent from Switzerland to DENAIN in the 6th Army rear area. The BERN office of exchange (BERN-TRANSIT) stamped it.

In December 1914, the occupied territories were still difficult to access for the mail. The German Post Office returned this letter to the sender with the mark "Zurück keine Beförderungs-gelegenheit. (Return, no possibility of forwarding).

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung

Card written at the ZOSSEN camp on 10 February 1915 for the Superior of the QUIEVRAIN convent (Belgium), who was responsible for forwarding it to an inhabitant of HERGNIES (Nord). The card arrived in QUIEVRAIN on 13 April 1915.

The envelope above was sent by a resident of FRESNES-SUR-L'ESCAUT. It was mailed irregularly to QUIEVRAIN (11 km away) either by the sender or by one of his acquaintances.

From July 1915 onwards, with the restriction of passes and the sealing off of the border, the Germans succeeded in almost completely stopping the transit of French prisoner of war mail through Belgian intermediaries.

In mid-1915, the system became standardised.

Mail from and to prisoners of war was systematically delayed by ten days in accordance with Ministry of War directive no. 15H5/10.14.13 of 11 November 1914. This delay was initially calculated from the date on which the mail was written. The problem was that numerous letters or cards were not dated and, in addition, the date on which a prisoner started writing his mail was not necessarily the date on which he finished it. There could well be a few days between the two dates.

On 11 January 1915 (decree no. 1571/12.14.U3), the same Ministry requested that the systematic delay take effect as soon as the mail was handed over to the prisoner camp commander. A stamp bearing the words "F. a." for "Frist abgelaufen" (time limit expired) was to be produced and applied on each item of mail subject to systematic delay.

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung

MÜNSTER II camp towards ANZIN (1st Army), 12 December 1916.

In December 1916, the 1st Army's postal control centre had the word "Armee" removed from its examination marks.

MANNHEIM camp for RAISMES (6th Army), 10th February 1917.

Notice of receipt of a parcel examined by the camp (stamp "Geprüft Gefangenenlager Mannhein 14."), then on arrival in the rear area by the 6th Army (stamp "Posüberwachungsstelle Armee."). Since Directive no. 54, subordination to an Army no longer had to be clearly shown. Here it is the 6th that has been removed.

ANZIN (6th Army) to MÜNSTER II camp, 10th July 1916.

This card was examined by the postal control centre of the 6th Army (stamp "Geprüft F.a. Postüberwachungstelle 6. Armee").

ANZIN (1st Army) to MÜNSTER II camp, 6 December 1916.

The postcard was examined by the 1st Army postal control centre (stamp "Geprüft F.a. Postüberwachungstelle 1. Armee").

As of 15 February 1917 (Directive no. 54), no German unit was to show its Army affiliation in its address or service stamps.

On 21st April 1917, the Postüberwachungsstelle of the 2nd Army moved to VALENCIENNES. On this date, the district was occupied by the 2nd and 6th Armies (Cantons of St AMAND-LES-EAUX and CONDE-SUR-L'ESCAUT).

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung

ANZIN (2nd Army) towards the MÜNSTER camp, 30th July 1917.

Card examined by the 2nd Army's postal control centre in VALENCIENNES (stamped "Geprüft P.Ü. St.").

Number 312 is the prisoner's number in the records of the Kommandantur of ANZIN. It was useful for checking how often mail was sent to this prisoner.

BOUCHAIN (2nd Army) to the TRIER camp, 7 February 1918.

The Kommandantur of BOUCHAIN briefly checked this card on the sending frequency (stamp "Auf Haüfigkeit geprüft"), then the card was directed to the postal control centre of the 2nd Army which affixed its stamp "Geprüft P.Ü. St.".

The 2nd Army's postal control centre used 2 censor stamps.

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung

The postal control centre of the 6th Army (P.Ü.St.40) used numerous different postmarks, here the "P.Ü.St." postmark.

On 1 February 1918, the newly created 17th Army occupied the cantons of St AMAND-LES-EAUX, CONDE-SUR-L'ESCAUT, DENAIN and BOUCHAIN. The Army's Lines of Communication Inspectorate was at PERUWELZ (Belgium) and mail was examined at MONS, where Postüberwachungsstelle 31 was located.

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung

MERSEBURG camp towards QUAROUBLE (17th Army), 13th May 1918.

Control by the 17th Army ("P.Ü.S." postmark).

The 17th Army used the MONS postal control centre (Postüberwachungsstelle 31) which used many control stamps.

This card from QUAROUBLE to Camp MERSEBURG shows the use of another postal control stamp by Postüberwachungsstelle 31.

On 26 November 1914, the BERLIN Prisoner of War Mail Centre (Kriegsgefangenenbriefstelle) was set up as part of post office no. 24, with the task of compiling a list of all the places of detention for each prisoner, so that incorrectly or inadequately addressed mail could be forwarded. It is known that this centre employed 165 people. These employees were able to process 200 incorrectly addressed letters or cards a day. The prisoners' file was kept in 1,835 boxes, each containing around 1,500 cards.

BERLIN post office no. 3 was responsible for parcels, but used the file of BERLIN No. 24.

During the 4 years of the war, BERLIN no. 24 processed almost 82 million ordinary letters and cards.

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung Kaiserlich Postamt Berlin N 24
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung Kaiserlich Postamt Berlin N 24

LOURCHES (1st Army) towards the MÜNSTER II camp, 12th December 1916.

Card deposited at the LOURCHES town hall. The prisoner was not at MÜNSTER, stamps "Nicht Lager I Münster W.W" (not at Münster I camp), "Lager Münster III unbekannt" (Unknown at Münster III) and "Lager Münster 2 unbekannt" (Unknown at Münster 2). Berlin post office no. 24 tried to find the correct address, but was unsuccessful and returned the card to the sender.

French prisoners captured by Germany's allied countries could also send mail to their relatives in the French occupied territories. This mail had to pass through the Great Headquarters of CHARLEVILLE where it was checked by the secret military police (Geheime Feldpolizei) before reaching the rear area (Instruction II a 26088 of the Generalquartiermeister, 1916).

SOFIA (Bulgaria) to LOURCHES (1st Army), 5th November 1916.

On arrival in France, this card was checked by the GHQ in CHARLEVILLE and more particularly by the secret military police (stamp "Geheime Feldpolizei im Hauptquartier Mézière Charleville"). When it arrived at VALENCIENNES, it was again examined by the 1st Army.

Mail from prisoners of war in Bulgaria to the occupied territories was rare.

At the end of 1914, Switzerland offered to take in wounded and sick prisoners of all nationalities. The mail of these internees was not controlled by the Swiss.

Out of Switzerland, mail to the occupied territories passed through the exchange post offices in KONSTANZ, FREIBURG or LINDAU, where there were postal control centres.

Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung
Kriegsgefangenen Kriegsgefangenensendung