Service of Prisoners of War

These letter sheets, in several printings, are found used by Italian prisoners of war who had been captured in Libya by Indian forces on the Allied side in 1942. They were transferred to India and eventually many were detained in the Yol [Young Officers’ Leave] Camp, Kangra, HP, until 1945. Prisoners of War

Lettersheets as a form of postal stationery, are, in essence, folded letters. They offer a light weight compromise between the privacy of an envelope and the weight of a single sheet of paper. They became the medium of choice for forces in World War 2 to write home, and are the ancestors of the postwar Aerogramme. But they are also suited to Prisoners of War use. The flap is tucked into a slot, not gummed, so that a censor can easily read the contents. And the message area is ruled with lines to ensure that the script is neatly spaced and thus legible to a censor. Yet, the stout paper used for these items ensured the privacy of the post to which a properly detained Prisoner of War is entitled. My examples show at least three separate printings, with contrasting fonts. There was no need, in wartime conditions and dealing with detained ‘consumers’ to worry about the product being absolutely consistent. Only one example shows any printing details, which are of a printing of 1.6 million, dated 8 January 1943. 

This group are all from a Colonel Moech to his wife, and written in Italian. Her impassioned pleas to the Pope over the welfare of her husband and the conditions of his detention have been published, Margherita Marchione, 'Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs (1939-1945)’, Paulist Press; March 2006. Enquiries were made in July 1943, and by then his file ahd already been passed to to the office of those to be repatriated, and it was classified as “special". Col. Moech was a resident of Libya, and commander of the 20th Artillery Regiment. Clearly a prisoner of great importance.

From ‘India Post’ 76, p74, ‘Q and A’ query 4/83, moderated by Ernie Oehme, who called for members to put more Offices that served POW camps on record. He noted that few Camps had Post Offices that served them, and there were few records of any markings. It may be that the actual inmates of these Camps, all foreign nationals of enemy powers, could not use the Indian Post Offices at all and their posts were directed to the POW Censor Office at Bombay. Large scale censorship of inland India mail did not kick in until 1944, by when these prisoners had been detained for some years. The marking above would have been used for the mail of civilian staff. 

A circular date stamp for this camp, inscribed “GROUPFIVE/PRISONER OF WAR CAMP 25”  does exist, but these items do not carry it. They bear the censor’s stamp “DHP/3" which was used by the prisoners’ of war censor office, stationed at Bombay. Perhaps they did not enter the postal system until they reached Bombay.

This item has been opened by the censor, marked with his chop ’13/I’ both inside and outside, stuck down with a printed label which is now mostly missing and stamped again with a different censors chop on the front. An Italian censor’s stamp later, on arrival in Italy, ties the printed label to the letter sheet.

On Postal Service

Form Cpt.–5 (Letters)

20 lakh appear to have been printed, some time in the 1950s. 

On PS lettersheet

This used copy, in green, has a square-cut end-flap. Note that the printer S.C.P. has tolerated an inverted ’S.’!

Also pictured is the outside of a mint copy in blue with tapered end-flap.