For the four and a half years of the war, hundreds of thousands of families were separated, their loved ones in constant danger overseas, their children growing up at home without them. There were no phones at the front, and no modern social media. Letters were the only way for families to keep in touch.
In 1914, the Post Office was the largest single employer in the world, with a workforce of 250,000. During the war, some 75,000 of its employees joined the forces. Thanks to a quarter of its employees being on active service, thousands of temporary workers, many of them women, were employed to make up the loss of the men to the forces.
Many of the new workers were employed on the censorship of all postal items. This censorship helped the Government identify some enemy spies, and prevented the leakage of any information which might have assisted the enemy.
The homecoming post sent by the soldiers was also censored by officers before it was dispatched to their families. During the war, letters sent home by the troops were often published in the local papers. Some soldiers self-censored their letters in order to spare their families the worst horrors of the war. But some of the letters gave the public a more realistic idea of the hardships and tragedies of war than was found in the official communiqués and photographs of life at the front.
12 million letters a week
According to the British Postal Museum and Archive, the Army Postal Service handled 2 billion letters and 114 million parcels during the First World War. Some 19,000 mailbags crossed the Channel every day, delivering 12 million letters to soldiers every week. The Government bore the expense of this huge operation, knowing that letters from home did more than anything else to keep up the morale of the troops.