On the 5th of September, Pvt. Bratt wrote a postcard home to his wife, Grace, saying "Everything the same. Love Ken" Four months later, another postcard sent to Grace read, "Every thing all right[sic]. Love Ken." Many of the postcards home consisted of a sentence or two stating that everything was okay and that he hoped the same for her. A few postcards only said "Love Ken" or just "Ken." The brevity of his writing prompts questions as to why he didn't elaborate on his current situation. Perhaps he could have shared an experience or an event with his wife back home. While the true meaning may be more complex, one possible answer is stamped on each postcard that he mailed.
Censoring Soldier's Mail
The practice of censoring soldiers mail during war time can be dated back to the American Civil War. This mostly happened because the mail had to cross over enemy lines. Evidence suggests that a large part of censoring during the Civil War took place in letters mailed from prisoner of war camps.The first real intensive censorship program began in World War I.
after inspecting the mail.
Every letter mailed by an enlisted soldier in WWII had to be examined for questionable content. The censors were looking for two categories of information. The first was any information that could appear to be of value to the enemy. This could include the location or the strength of their troops. Most common was the intentional disclosure of geographic information. Often soldiers would write home detailing where they were located. Thousands of letters were reported as violating this censorship regulation. What is unique is that at the top of each postcard, Pvt. Bratt would write his location: Sicily or England. The generalized nature of the geographic information most likely made it possible for those details to pass through uncensored. The second category of information was of any weakening of desire among the troops. The purpose wasn't to necessarily remove this information from the letter but instead to remain informed as to the condition of the troops.
A soldier's mail was censored by an officer in his unit. It was not a particularly interesting job but it needed to be done. Often times dentists or chaplains would get the assignment to censor the enlisted men's mail. After the censor had read through the piece of mail, he would give it a stamp indicating that it had been passed by a censor. The censor would then endorse the stamp with their signature. If a letter had information that the censor deemed inappropriate or a violation of regulation, they would either cut the section out or cover it up with ink. Officers did not have to pass their mail through a censor though higher level staff would randomly check officer’s mail home.
While regulations were established around the censoring process of enlisted men’s mail, the varying level of application made it hard for the soldier to know if their letter would make it through the process. Some officers who were assigned to censor would treat the enlisted men’s mail lightly and even ridiculed or mocked the content of the letter. Tensions arose between the enlisted men and the officers over the extent of the censorship. Some felt it an invasion of privacy and even developed coded messages to relay their location to their families home.. Aware of these things, censors often discovered the coded messages and removed them.
Whether the brevity of Pvt. Bratt’s postcards were a result of strict censorship guidelines or simply the temperament of the soldier penning them remains unknown. What is left are a series of postcards that convey a soldier’s love of his wife and that he was still alive.
1. Bratt, Kenneth L. Kenneth Bratt to Grace Bratt, September 5, 1944. Postcard, Family Collection. ↩
2. Bratt, Kenneth L. Kenneth Bratt to Grace Bratt, January 1, 1944. Postcard, Family Collection. ↩
3. "General Article: Censorship!," PBS: American Experience, accessed on May 4, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/warletters-censorship/ ↩
4. Pfau, Ann. "Postal Censorship and Military Intelligence durign World War II," Address at Winton M. Blount Postal History Symposium. September 27, 2008. 5. ↩
5. "General Article: Censorship!," PBS: American Experience ↩
6. "General Article: Censorship!," PBS: American Experience ↩
7. Pfau, Ann. "Postal Censorship," 7-8. ↩
8. "General Article: Censorship!," PBS: American Experience ↩