It seems that many postcard writers didn’t object to the postman seeing what they had written, or at least accepted that they didn’t have a great deal of choice in the matter. However, others engaged in various tactics in an often vain effort to ensure that their thoughts and messages remained a secret.
Some scribes simply wrote their messages upside down, perhaps in the hope that the Postie would have neither the time nor the inclination to turn the card around and read what had been written. Some concocted such elaborate codes that the Colossus machines would have had to work permanent overtime for decades to decode the messages. Others settled for something in between – as was the case with George.
In July 1909, George, who was staying with Mr Adams of Wragby, near Wakefield, chose to write his postcard to Edgar Hemmingway, 69 Victoria Street, Doncaster in…shorthand! He wrote:
I told Jo “herself” that you would be coming on Tuesday. I think there will be a chance of a start.
There is a train on Tuesday night 6.12 out of Doncaster and another at 7.40 out of Doncaster. If you can be on either you will lose no time during your week.
Wishing you good luck.
Yours fraternally, George.
I don’t suppose that we will ever find out why George chose to write his postcard in shorthand. Perhaps he did so in the hope that fluency in that language was not a pre-requisite for employment by the Post Office and that the Postie would not find out that Edgar had a chance of a start. Then again, perhaps he did so simply because it allowed him to fit a longer message in the relatively small space on a divided back postcard.
We will probably never know whether Edgar got his start or, indeed, what it was that he was starting at. One thing is certain, though. George will probably be turning in his grave at the thought that a little over a hundred years after he sent the card, thanks to the amazing power of Twitter and the internet, it took less time to have his message to Edgar translated than it did for the card to reach Edgar – and that is saying something considering the standard of the postal service in the early 20th century!
The picture on this postcard can be seen here.