Keep it Short, Keep it Cheerful
Even though I have information about my family from sources outside of these letters, it is difficult to decipher everything. I imagine it must be even more difficult for readers of this blog. I began thinking about this because some letters from Sylvia are full of so much information and it seems that the more information we get, the more questions arise. The more we hear about, the more gaps there are to fill.
A while ago I happened to have put up letters from both Alex and Sylvia that were written on the same day. October 21st, 1944 (Sylvia’s Letter , Alex’s Letter). Both are fairly hastily written notes that technically overlap (and are in some ways parallel) but I realize that even my grandparents were not getting all the information at once. Their stories, too, are fragmented and non-linear.
It seems, however, that the letters being sent during WWII were not always supposed to be full of information. In fact, advertisements for Victory Mail encouraged wives to provide simple, upbeat messages of moral support. The men were not supposed to be bogged down in the trivial and petty woes of a housewife’s daily life. The postal museum’s online exhibit on Victory Mail has fascinating advertisements that state “Keep it short, keep it cheerful” and “You write, he’ll fight!”
Being told not to confide in your loved one? Writing less in order to appear simpler and more supportive? What does this do to a relationship and is this really better? Is a soldier’s morale boosted when he doesn’t have to read a long letter? It might be like receiving a text message every couple of days or a “wish you were here!” postcard over and over again.
Even the Red Cross got involved in advising people about what kind of personal sentiments were better than others.The Red Cross advocated frequent letter writing and published recommendations on style and content. Civilians were advised to give positive sentiments and observations about the war and to avoid negativity and despair. It was inevitable that some long-distance relationships would end and “Dear John” and “Dear Jane” letters were dreaded at every mail. call.” (http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/victorymail/letter/better.html)
The anxiety about what was going on across a sea is prevalent in a lot of Alex and Sylvia’s letters. All across the country people were worrying about whether their spouse was being faithful, whether they still loved them, and whether they would lose them – one way or another. How much a person chose to address these anxieties would clearly vary from one person to another, and from day to day. Clearly, being a part of the war effort meant so much more than buying war bonds or fighting in battles.