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The blue envelope

The blue envelope

The blue envelope

By RICHARD B. TOBIAS

1 Bn 393 Medics


     It was never a secret, although very few GIs ever heard about it; unit censors and chaplains, certainly, but the blue envelope was a seldom mentioned and rarely used device to bypass local censorship. Largely confined to combat or other sensitive areas where censorship was routine, a blue envelope had to be requested from a chaplain or censor - neither of whom kept a supply - who was obliged to secure and deliver it.

     A soldier who feared his communication might make him subject of ridicule, embarrassment, even retaliation, could use a blue envelope which guaranteed full confidentiality of content until reaching the base censor. The subject might be marital, financial, family, or other problems the writer wished to keep secret. The blue envelope provided the means.

     As with all correspondence, the subject could not include strategic, tactical, or other sensitive information of possible interest or value to the enemy. Blue envelope letters were actually subject to severe and strict censorship eventually. Nothing trivial or petty or insignificant was to be included, like criticism of leadership or threats. The blue envelope was useful to serious "whistle-blowers" fearing disclosure at some lower echelon would jeopardize their future.

     Those over- or mis-using the blue envelope privilege were subject to varying degrees of penalty, depending on base censors' determination. That the system was designated for strictly serious use explains its discreet handling.

     The system was not new; even the British had "soldiers' letters." Examples used during World War I and II exist, although so unusual they're valued collectors' items. The American Expeditionary Force World War I variety is actually on tan paper with a heavy blue line horizontally and vertically across the front. Since this indicates a registered letter in the British postal system, they use a double green line similarly instead.

     The American World War II version is really a blue-paper envelope without lines. The November 1942 printing is in black at the left side of the face, reading:

Blue Envelope Mail

Army of the United States


     This envelope must not be used for money or valuables; cannot be registered and will not be censored by unit censors but by the Chief Base Censor. A SEPARATE ENVELOPE MUST BE USED FOR EACH LETTER.

     I certify that the enclosed letter was written by me, refers only to personal or family matters, and does not refer to military or other matter forbidden by censorship regulations.

     ___________________________________________

     (Grade) (Name)

     ___________________________________________

     (Serial Number)

     ___________________________________________

     (Organization)

     A.P.O. No. __________ Care of Postmaster

     WD A.G.O. Form No. 911

      

     At the right upper corner a small box states, "Free Stamp Required for Air Mail Only."

     As with all censored mail, the envelope was slit open along its left edge, resealed with transparent tape, and rubber-stamped by the eventual censor before going on its way.

     Several varieties of usage may be found, including the British system being used by American GIs. The regulations and processing were identical.

     My collection includes quite a few examples, but none contain their original letters. After all, it's none of my business! The blue envelope guarantees that.

      

      

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