White Space? What's That?

Ever since the postcard was first invented, scribes have been battling to find ways of getting the longest possible message into the limited space available to them. Those who had the misfortune to send Undivided Back postcards were definitely disadvantaged as they generally had the smallest of spaces on the picture side of the postcard into which they could cram their news. Although some risked adding a few words to the address side of the postcard in the hope that their sneakiness would not be found out by the Post Office, that type of postcard carried the briefest of messages. It must therefore have been a considerable relief for the postcard crowd when the Divided Back postcard was introduced and message space suddenly increased to one half of one side of the postcard.

Despite this development, some found quite quickly that they still did not have enough space pass on all their news from the Front (the seafront, that is). It was not long before postcard authors developed a few tricks to expand their message space. Some would add a few words to the address panel, again in the hope that the Post Office would not find out. Others used abbreviated words to cram in a little extra. A few developed codes which not only had the effect of permitting a longer message, but also prevented the prying Postie from becoming privy to what was being said. One I know of resorted to a relatively brief shorthand message which, somehow, managed to fill the permitted space!

Very recently, my Twitter Postcard Pal, @OldPostcards very kindly gave me the opportunity to decypher the message on this postcard which is postmarked in Gillingham on 30 August during the reign of King George VI. She has also kindly given her permission for me to show it here.

As can easily be seen, the author of this postcard has made a valiant effort to include the longest possible message. It must have been a considerable disappointment to her that she had to include the recipent’s name and address as well as the stamp. Unfortunately, it is a great pity that she appears not to have thought about the postmark which obscures one or two words of her message, and from which the year of posting is illegible. Although the author actually wrote in a clear hand, the way in which her message was written renders it apparently illegible.

Never having been one to shy away from a challenge, I decided that it would be worth trying to decypher the message. I had hoped that my favourite trick of inverting the image so that it looks like an x-ray would help – it usually does. Alas, not this one. I therefore had to stare intensely at every word on every line to find out what the author had written. This is what I came up with:

89 Windsor Road

To The Misses E M Anning
South Devon

My Dears

I hope you will be greatly surprised by this PPC from me the writer of [?] Alice Maud Harrison of the above address who used to live at Dawlish, my father being station master there all those years ago. I know you will well remember I was staying with my brother Sydney at Bournemouth a month ago I went to Dawlish from there for the day, but I only had 2½ hours there, so I went to see my fathers and also my baby brother Cyrils grave. I enquired from Mr Wills at Cemetery Lodge about you & others who we knew there. He said you were still at Beachcroft. Hoping I would have time to call but by time I got back on the Front again I only had 15 mins to spare. However Im coming again on Sept 20th to 27th so hope to see you between those dates my love & all the best for now. From your very sincere & all alone old time friend Alice Harrison.

PS I hope for a reply soon saying the day and time most convenient to you. I am going to stay with a Mrs Tolley who lives at No 10 Oak Hill Dawlish just below the cemetery Mr Wills having recommended her to me because he said yours wasnt a boarding house now and that Nettie was looking after you Elsie but I do sincerely hope you are not feeling too poorly.

Phew! Not a bad attempt, methinks. Unfortunately, I believe I now resemble that moose with the rotating eyes in the television advert for a well known fruit gum – “Chew. Chew. Chew.”.

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