Postal censorship

Postal censorship

Postal censorship is the inspection or examination of mail, most often by governments, that can include opening, reading or marking of covers, postcards, parcels or other postal packets. Postal censorship primarily takes place during war time or periods of unrest, though occasionally during other times, like; periods of civil disorder or a state of emergency, as was the case in Ireland during 1939-1945. Both covert and overt postal censorship have taken place.

Historically postal censorship is a very old practice; it is usually linked to espionage and intelligence gathering. Mail subjected to postal censorship can be civilian mail, or military mail, and in most countries where postal censorship takes place, or has taken place, different organisations perform censorship on these types of mail. In 20th century wars the objectives of postal censorship encompass economic warfare, security and intelligence.

The study of postal censorship is a philatelic topic of postal history.

Military mail

Military mail is not always censored by opening or reading the mail, but military mail can include mail during war time or during military campaigns. Military mail is most often distributed by a totally military controlled postal system separate to that of civilian mail. Military intelligence has different requirement than civilian intelligence gathering. During times of war mail from the front is often opened and offending parts blanked or cut out.

POW and Internee mail

POW and internee mail is also subject to postal censorship, under Articles 70 and 71 of the Third Geneva Convention (1929-1949). It is frequently subjected to both military and civil postal censorship because it passes through both postal systems.

Civil mail

Until recent years, the monopoly to carry civilian mails has usually been vested in governments [ [ Pushing the Envelope] (retrieved 21 August 2006)] [ [ The (US) Postal Monopoly] (retrieved 21 August 2006)] so they have had the ability to easily control and enact postal censorship within the postal distribution systems they control. The type of information obtained from civilian mail is different from that likely to be found in military mail.

Countries known to have enacted postal censorship

Pre-World War I

World War I

* Austro-Hungarian Empire
* Finland []
* Romania
* United Kingdom
* Canada [ pdflink]

Between the wars

Following the end of World War I there were a few situations where postal censorship was practiced. During 1919 Austria, Belgium, German Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union had it. Other conflicts during which censorhsip existed were in 1935-1936 during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia [] and especially during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939.

World War II

During World War II the main protagonists, both Allies and Axis all instituted postal censorship of civil mails. The largest organisations were those of United Kingdom and the United States who each employed about 10,000 censor staff.

British censorship was mainly based in Aintree (near Liverpool) with nearly 20 other censor stations around the country. Additionally the British ensured censorship control of colonial and dominion mail by instituting an extensive system of censor stations in the following places::Dominions: Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Rhodesia and Union of South Africa:Colonies: Aden, Antigua, Ascension Island, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Ceylon, Cyprus, Dominica, Egypt, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Gambia, Gibraltar, Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Gold Coast, Gibraltar, Granada, British Guiana, British Honduras, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaya, Malta, Mauritius, Montserrat, New Hebrides, Nigeria, North Borneo, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Palestine, Penang, St. Helena, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent, Sarawak, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, British Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Tanganyika, Trinidad, Tonga, Uganda, Virgin Islands and Zanzibar,

The USA censor staff count rose to 14,462 by February 1943 in the censor stations they opened in New York, Miami, New Orleans, San Antonio, Laredo, Brownsville, El Paso, Nogales, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, San Juan, Charlotte Amalie, Balboa, Cristobal, David, Panama and Honolulu.

Neutral countries like, Ireland, Portugal and Switzerland also performed postal censorship even though they were not directly associated in the conflict.

Post-World War II

References and Sources


;Bookscite book
first = Graham
last = Mark FRPSL
year = 2000
title = British Censorship of Civil Mails During World War I
publisher = [ The Stuart Rossiter Trust Fund]
location = Bristol, UK
id = ISBN 0-9530004-1-9
url =

cite book
first = D.J.
last = Little
year = 2000
title = British Empire Civil Censorship Devices, World War II: Colonies and Occupied Territories - Africa, Section 1
publisher = Civil Censorship Study Group
location = UK
id = ISBN 0-9517444-0-2
url =

cite book
author = Torrance, A.R., & Morenweiser, K.
year = 1991
month =
title = British Empire Civil Censorship Devices, World War II: United Kingdom, Section 2
publisher = Civil Censorship Study Group
location = UK
id = ISBN 0-9517444-1-0
url =

cite book
author = Stich, Dr. H.F., Stich, W., Sprecht, J.
year = 1993
title = Civil and Military Censorship During World War II
publisher = Stich, Stich and Sprecht
location = Canada
id = ISBN 0-9693788-2-3
url =

cite book
first = Karl Kurt
last = Wolter
year = 1965
title = Die Postzensur: Band I - Vorzeit, Früheit und Neuzeit (bis 1939)
publisher = Georg Amm
location = Munich

cite book
year = 1996
title = History of the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department 1938–1946 Volume I & II
editor = Herbert, E.S., & des Graz, C.G.
publisher = Civil Censorship Study Group by permission of Public Records Office, Kew, UK
location =
id =
url =

cite book
first = Galen D.
last = Harrison
year = 1997
title = Prisoners' Mail from the American Civil War
publisher = Galen D. Harrison (?)
location = Dexter, MI
id =
url =


ee also

* Black room
* Secrecy of correspondence

External links

* [] Website devoted to "postal censorship" with many examples of censored mail
* [ Civil Censorship Study Group]
* [ Forces Postal History Society]
* [ Military Postal History Society]

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