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Victory Mail: WWII's Patriotic Post

Stationed overseas? Want to send a love letter to your sweetheart, or check up on the farm back home? Currently reading this blog via some kind of time-travel wormhole to World War II? If you answered 'yes' to all of those, it sounds like you need V-mail (and quite possibly a visit to the Chaplain.)

For three years in the early 1940's (June 15, 1942 through April 1, 1945) the U.S. operated a V-mail service to military posts around the world. The service was based on the British Airgraph system, and it worked like this:

  1. Get a V-mail letter-sheet. (These were cleverly designed papers that folded to become their own mailers.)
  2. Write your message, full-size, on the letter portion. Keep it short and write legibly in black ink -- the letter portion is small!
  3. Address the letter on the reverse side, fold up the V-mail paper (built-in gum seals it), add postage, and mail.
  4. Military censors receive the letter and check for objectionable content.
  5. Assuming the letter passes censor review, military processors photograph V-mail letters in bulk onto microfilm.
  6. Tiny microfilm canisters travel to destinations, reducing postage volume.
  7. Microfilm is blown up at the receiving end and delivered to the recipient. The final letter is smaller than the original, saving on photographic paper.

The National Postal Museum says:

V-mail ensured that thousands of tons of shipping space could be reserved for war materials. The 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack. The weight of that same amount of mail was reduced dramatically from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45. The blue-striped cardboard containers held V-mail letter forms.

...

In spite of the patriotic draw of V-mail, most people still sent regular first class mail. In 1944, for instance, Navy personnel received 38 million pieces of V-mail, but over 272 million pieces of regular first class mail.

My grandfather used V-mail from onboard his Navy ship to communicate with loved ones back home. We found a bunch of V-mail letters in an old desk some years back, and I've always loved hearing about this WWII technology. The little V-mail letters have a distinct wartime feel -- they're just a little too small, their form seeming to communicate the distance between writer and recipient.

A "Victory Mail" exhibit opens March 6, 2008 at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum (read details). For more information, you can also consult Wikipedia, the National Postal Museum, or check out some neat posters and advertisements after the jump.

V-mail poster

V-mail ad

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Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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