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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

The secret language of postage stamps during World War II

Oct 31, 2023 12:12PM ● By Marjorie Waterfield

In the early 1940s, war raged throughout the world. Millions of young men were gone from their homes, families and sweethearts.

Against the backdrop of those years of loneliness people fell in love, often by mail. The letters crisscrossed the globe from country to country, year after year, often heavily censored. 

For a time they were even microfilmed and reduced in size to what was called V-Mail. They could stop millions of young men and women from revealing military secrets or directly mentioning the war but they could not censor love—it always found a way.

One way young lovers could reveal their feelings without actually writing it in so many words was the “language of the postage stamps.” The way the sender placed the stamp on the envelope told the guy or gal receiving the letter the secrets of the heart. Mothers, fathers and little sisters could take your letter to the corner mailbox without realizing the message right before their eyes.

 Letter writing during World War II was larger than anyone can now imagine. Everyone wrote letters. Many high school girls wrote to as many as 20 or 30 servicemen. Most of them were family, neighbors, schoolmates and sweethearts, but often they were to complete strangers. It did not seem strange to write to “a girlfriend’s brother” or to her own brother’s “foxhole buddy who didn’t get much mail.” It was a pastime for many girls who sat home alone on Saturday nights because all the young men were gone fighting the war.

I am not sure how the language of the postage stamps became popular, but by 1943 it was known throughout the country. The U.S. Post Office required the 3-cent stamps on letters to be placed on the upper right hand corner of the envelope, but there were no restrictions as to how the stamp was placed there. Even with the requirement, they were not too fussy about the placement as long as there was a stamp on the envelope.

Considering the difficulty of communications during the early 1940s, the accuracy with which letters were received to and from both theaters of war was amazing. The language of the stamps may have been the best kept secret, as no military censorship was ever imposed on the lovely little postage stamp.

If you find old letters in a shoebox or a trunk written to servicemen from 1942-1945, take a close look at them to see if the envelopes reveal any long-forgotten secrets. 

The language of the postage stamps

• Left corner or upside down meant: “You are mine.”

• Same corner crosswise told the recipient: “My heart belongs to another.”

• Same corner straight up and down meant: “Goodbye, sweetheart.”

• Right corner upside down said: “Write no more.”

• In the top center told him: “Yes.”

• On the bottom center told him: “No.”

• Right-hand corner at right angle asked: “Do you love me?”

• Right corner sideways sadly said: “I miss you.”

• Bottom corner at left: “I seek your acquaintance.”

• On the line with surname expressed: “I accept your love.”

• The same line upside down meant: “I am engaged.”

• At right angle on surname line confessed: “I long to see you.”

• In the middle at right edge begged: “Write immediately.”

• Just over the surname was the most prized of all. It simply meant, “I love you.”

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