Category Archives: Documents

50 Pfennig Allied Occupation Note

Tonight we turn to another allied occupation note issued in Germany in the aftermath of the collapse of the Nazi regime, this time the 50 pfennig or 1/2 mark note:half pfenigAs with the one reichsmark note we looked at here, the reverse of the note has an elaborate ‘M’ logo rendered in brown ink:SKM_C30819042916120The control of exchange rates and currency was tightly regulated by the allied authorities in an attempt to prevent inflation in Europe and to prevent allied soldiers from committing fraud by receiving their pay in one currency, then converting it into another at a favourable rate on the black market before paying it back into their accounts for a substantial profit.

Soldiers were paid part of their wage in local currency, such as military issue marks, in order that they can spend this on things they wish to purchase locally. If the soldier was to take the surplus and purchase a savings deposit or a government savings bond this is legal as the money has been given to him in lieu of sterling and is legally his. If however he were to use his marks to purchase items at the NAAFI, then sell these to the German civilian population for a profit before paying the reichsmarks he received from the transaction back into his saving account to claim later in pounds sterling then he has committed an act of fraud.

This abuse of local currencies was even more obvious in the Middle East where American troops could buy a gold sovereign in Cairo for $20, the sell the same coin Naples for 6000 lire which would then be exchanged back into dollars for $60. The armies of all the allied nations tried to stamp out this currency abuse as it fuelled inflation as well as supporting the criminal and black markets in occupied Europe, however these sort of loose practices were hard to spot and most soldiers did not see that they were doing anything wrong by taking advantage of this loophole. Even today the actual extent of this currency abuse is unclear as its impact on the fragile economies of the continent.

SEAC Airgraph

Airgraphs have appeared a number of times on the blog over the years, often with elaborate drawn designs on them. Tonight’s example is no exception and was sent from a soldier serving as part of South East Asia Command (SEAC):SKM_C30819041613080Very unusually, this airgraph has survived with its original envelope intact:SKM_C30819041613070The airgraph, after it had been printed back to a readable size was placed in this envelope before being posted to the recipient. When airgraphs were introduced, the Daily Mail explained how the new service would work:

A photographic method has been invented by which an all-the-way-by-air mail service, far cheaper and quicker than the normal, is to be started at once for letters between British troops in the Middle East and their relations and friends at home.

This “airgraph” service, the first of its kind in the world, was announced by the Postmaster-General yesterday. Letters sent by it will cost only 3d, and take less than a fortnight to arrive…

The secret of this sweeping change is the speed and cost of better transmission is the reduction of weight- by photography.

Weight is always the problem in sending freight by air. Four thousand five hundred normal airmail letters weight one and a half hundredweight- which is why in these times, they have to travel some of the way by sea.

The same number of airgraph “letters” will weight just one pound.

Because, of course, the original you or your soldier friend writes will not make the journey. It will be photographed and the negative about ½ inch wide and ¾ inch long will travel by plane in company with thousands of similar negatives…

On arrival this will be printed and the “letter” received will be, in effect, a photostatic copy of the original.

This example was sent in 1944 to a woman living in Bishop’s Waltham:SKM_C30819041613080 - CopyThe main picture has a selection of soldiers from the South East Asian command including American, Indian and Ghurka troops:SKM_C30819041613080 - Copy (2)The sender was a Gunner Reginald Edmunds of the Dorset Regiment:SKM_C30819041613080 - Copy (3)There seems to be an inordinate array of these airgraphs out there to collect, often illustrated and with personal messages which make them a fascinating topic for the militaria collector.

Prisoner of War Postcard Home

Stammlager 344 is better known as Stalag Luft VIII-B and was a prisoner of war camp for non-commission air crew situated near Lamsdorf in Silesia. It had been operational in World War One and was reopened in 1939 initially housing Polish prisoners. It was to see 100,000 men pass through its gates during the Second World War and it was regarded as one of the better run camps. As other ranks, men were expected to work so many were sent off in small working parties called Arbeitskommandos, with up to 600 groups being absent from the camp at any one time. Like all prisoners of war, the men at Stammlager 344 were permitted to send postcards home to their loved ones to tell them they were safe and well and tonight we have an example that was sent from the camp to a Mrs H Slater in Hampshire:SKM_C30819041613070 - CopyThe details of the sender in the corner show which camp he was stationed in and his name, Edwin Edmunds:SKM_C30819041613070 - Copy - CopyWhilst the stamp in the top corner indicates that the card was sent through the German postal system in November 1944:SKM_C30819041613070 - Copy - Copy (2)The rear of the postcard has the prisoners message:SKM_C30819041613080 - CopyThis reads:

My dear Vi + Harold. I hope you are both well. I received a cig parcel this week. I expect it was from either you or mother. It came at a good time. I was right out of a smoke. Well dear I hope this will be my last winter here. It is very cold now. Must close. Keep smiling. Your loving brother Eddie.

It would indeed be Edwin’s last winter in captivity as the following May Germany would be defeated. Sadly before then the weather would become much colder and in January the prisoners would be marched west in bitterly cold weather on the so called ‘death marches’ to escape the invading soviets. Those that travelled far enough west were liberated by the Americans, those who didn’t were taken by the soviets and used as virtual hostages for several more months, only being liberated at the end of 1945 through the port of Odessa.4656773_orig

Identity Cards Book Review

Over the last few years I have reviewed three of the four books published in the series ‘Within the Island Fortress’ by Jon Mills. Recently I have acquired the missing volume in the set and so tonight I am looking at Volume 2 “Identity Cards, Permits and Passes”.SKM_C30819032807520The British government issued a myriad of different identity documents to British civilians, military personnel and civil defence workers. Further documents were provided for those from allied countries and exiled military personnel. Many of these documents have survived to the present day and this book provides a comprehensive guide to them. The book covers both the common and mundane as well as the more obscure pieces that are highly unlikely to come into a collector’s hands. As well as covering the documents themselves, the author explains much of the internal administrative process of recording the details of an entire nation and simple information such as what the letter codes on civilian identity cards mean is covered- something highly interesting and not to be found in many other publications.SKM_C30819032807531Unlike the other books in this series, this volume is mainly illustrated with copies of the identity documents themselves. These are reproduced in clear colour images and are all easily readable, this is part of the strength of the volume as it allows the reader to closely examine documents that are usually at best a blurry part of a larger photograph. Many of these documents were very short lived and it is remarkable how many examples have been brought together to illustrate this book. Many have the word ‘sample’ stamped across them, so I suspect they came from official archives and might be the only examples of these documents known to exist today.SKM_C30819032807532It is fair to say that identity cards and permits are a niche collecting area, however even if you are not a collector of these documents I do not hesitate to recommend this volume. For those with an interest in the home front this books provides a unique insight into a crucial but often overlooked aspect of the government’s increasing encroachment into people’s lives during the war and for the living historian this book is invaluable in ensuring you have the correct paperwork for your impression. SKM_C30819032807530Copies of the book are still available directly from the author and it is well worth picking up one for your reference library.

War Damage Repair Leaflet

It is hard to under emphasise how many different aspects of civilian life were influenced by government legislation during the Second World War. What you could buy was limited by rationing, what you could sell items for was limited by price controls, even where you were allowed to live was subject to government control. In 1941 new regulations came into place to control civilian building. Supplies for repairs and new building were under pressure to meet both military requirements and repair bomb damage and labour was short. Large numbers of workers from neutral Ireland helped mitigate the labour shortage to some degree, but prices were rising and some builders were taking advantage to make large profits by charging extortionate prices for work.

The government recognised that controls needed to be brought in, and companies directed to ‘triage’ the construction needs. It was better to repair twenty lightly damaged buildings to get them back into use, than repair one badly damaged building that took up more time and materials to fix. In early 1942 Defence Regulation 56A came into effect and this leaflet was sent to builders to explain the new rules:SKM_C30819021912050 - CopyRuth Dunstan worked for an architect’s firm during the war:

My own real war work was to come at the end of 1940 when I joined Mr C Russell Corfield FRIBA, a very distinguished local architect, many of whose local houses have been listed for their fine quality. My own qualifications were only secretarial but with the young men of the practice away on war service the work devolved on Mr Corfield and me. I had to learn the elements of traditional building in a hurry for the firm was empanelled to serve with the Borough Surveyors of Falmouth and Penryn, Mr Harry Tresidder and Mr Harris respectively.

As stated, there had been a good deal of war damage (and sadly some fatalities) in Falmouth and Penryn from enemy aircraft.

National legislation required all property owners to take out war damage insurance for all necessary war damaged repairs of a permanent nature. However, First Aid repairs were dealt with wholesale as promptly as possible, after careful recording. Because of the pressure, and because I had then absorbed some working knowledge, I too was required to produce straightforward specifications on my own initiative. It kept us busy.

Local air raids damaged Falmouth’s Wesley Church, Lister Street and the Boscawen Hotel (by then the headquarters of the local Women’s Royal Navy). In fact Lister Street included several complete houses, including one which only came on the market as a clear site in 2002 which the estate agency sold for the owners in that year. 

Penryn, with its fine period houses, suffered badly. We found many interesting items at risk. I remember a circular head carved door from the 17th century and a vertical passage, which could have been a remnant of either Reformation or smuggling days both in Bohill; the use of canvas or “poldavy” (a type of sailcloth — a former Falmouth Packet Captain had a poldavy mill at Tremoughdale) used to line buildings instead of plaster and early house deeds from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mr Corfield refused to condemn badly damaged properties, as someone less sensitive might have done, with the result that Penryn’s essential character was preserved for later effective restoration. It is a pity that progressive modern development has taken place here and there since then.

The actual First Aid Repairs were carried out under our direction by teams of those builders and others in the trade who were still available, being over age for war service. These were signed on from a wider area, notably Staverton Builders of Devon (founded by the Elmhirsts of Dartington; in Falmouth Messrs Eva & Bone, E H Moss, E Thomas, Angove & Son, Curtis & Son (Penryn) and Morris (plumbers). 

Obviously this insurance and repair arrangement applied all over the United Kingdom.

Woollen Comforts Knitting Pattern

The production of knitted goods for military personnel was a major source of woollen items such as gloves, socks, hats and jumpers for the services during the war. To meet this demand from the country’s knitters, various companies produced knitting patterns which could be bought for a few pennies and had the patterns for a number of different garments. Tonight we have a knitting pattern described as ‘Service Woollies for Air Land & Sea’ with a fetching picture of a man wearing some of the items standing in front of a training aircraft:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (2)This is a rather more substantial pattern than most, running to ten pages, and so cost 6d when new. The inside of the front cover has a number of the items that the keen knitter can make illustrated:SKM_C30819021912051These are all fairly standard garments like cardigans, scarves and gloves.The remainder of the pamphlet has the knitting patterns themselves:SKM_C30819021912051 - CopyKnitting comforts was undertaken by women (and men)up[ and down the country and with many girls learning to knit when they were still young children it was a skill that millions shared. Rita Sarin was a child and she joined in knitting comforts:

I used to love doing knitting on four needles. I used to make loads of pairs of socks and used to like turning the heels. I don’t think I could do it today unless I was shown – but I made loads of gloves and scarves. We used to make gloves on four needles. When you did a finger you’d get so many stitches on each needle and then knit round and round until you’ve got a finger done and then cast off and then do another one, then do the thumbs. I did that at school – we all used to sit — I used to hate sewing, I still do now – but I used to do an ever so a lot of knitting until my thumbs got bad, and that’s all I did at school, was knit! The school mistress used to say to me “Rita Flower did you do your sewing last week?”, (because we used to have to knit one week and sew the next), “Yes I did!” But I never did of course! I always said I did my sewing last week but I never did. I used to hate it. I remember doing khaki gloves and socks, and black for the Navy, and sort of bluey for the air force we had all those colours, I can remember that as plain as day, sitting at my desk knitting.

Sylvia van Oosten’s mother was another who knitted for the troops:

I remember my mother going to a Women’s Guild during the war and the women sat around knitting for the army and navy. She also brought home wool for knitting socks, gloves, helmets etc. I remember the wool for socks for the navy was very oily and thick and very difficult to knit with. My mother eventually “adopted” a sailor and sent him packets of food as well as the knitting she had done for him. Because of my mother knitting so many socks I also picked up this knowledge and can knit a pair of socks “in no time” without a knitting pattern. I began when I was 9 years of age knitting my own socks. My mother would also cut the worn heel or toe from my father’s socks and re-knit these. We had to be thrifty in the war.

YMCA Active Service Postcard

The YMCA supported British and Allied troops in both World Wars, running canteens and hostels, offering reading rooms and leisure space to soldiers and providing stationery to men to enable them to write home. We have previously looked at a piece of YMCA notepaper here and tonight we have an Active Service postcard that would have been. Given out to soldiers in the field to write home with:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (3)It is hard to date this item as there is no indication as to whether it is First or Second World War, however the design of the YMCA logo is very simple:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (3) - CopyThis suggests to me that this postcard is later rather than earlier as many of the First World War designs are far more elaborate than this. The patron of the Military Camp Department is listed as the Duke of Connaught:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (4) - CopyAgain this is not very helpful at dating the card as the Duke remained heavily involved with the YMCA from the early years of the twentieth century until his death in 1942.

The postcard itself has space for the sender to indicate who he is sending it to, along with his own number, regiment and where he was stationed:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (5) - CopyThe message was then written on the rear and could be quickly posted off back to friends and family.

Irene Stuart worked in the YMCA in Aberdeen during the war and remembers:

When I’d finished my schooling at seventeen and half, I went to work in the YMCA Office. We had to see to all the services when they came to use the facilities such as showers, writing paper for their letters home, and I got the job of sewing on stripes etc. when they got promoted while away from home. 

I was sometimes required to make up sandwiches when the sailors at navigation college had to go away on day exercise. In the evenings I served in the canteen.

I thoroughly enjoyed it all and met so many people.