Saturday, 21 June 2014

We Smoke Your Health and Wish You Well: WW2 Cigarette Postcards

postcard WW2
Overseas League Tobacco Fund Cigarette Postcard 1943

To our modern eyes, supporting the provision of free cigarettes for young men and women would be at best, irresponsible and at worst, immoral.

In the context of both the First and Second World Wars, it was regarded not just as an act of charity but a patriotic duty. A delivery of cigarettes from home brought comfort to the weary soldier on the front line and boosted morale.

The Overseas Club inaugurated its famous Tobacco Fund during the First World War. Its success was legendary: in addition to tobacco for the troops, it donated 350 aircraft to the Royal Flying Corps and paid for a new hospital for wounded airmen.1

During the Second World War, f
or the price of just a shilling, the Tobacco Fund, 'with the co-operation of the War Office and the Customs Authorities' was able to send 'duty and carriage-free' a parcel of 50 cigarettes to units at the Front,2 hospitals or even ships at sea. Included in each package was a postcard, with the donor's address on one side and a blank space for the recipient's message, on the other. 

My father (for most of his life a non-smoker) was a keen donor to the Overseas League Tobacco Fund. He desperately wanted to join up, having been in the OTC (Officer Training Corps) at university but his requests were always firmly denied. Much to his intense frustration, they decided he was more useful in India. I think the Tobacco Fund was a small but poignant part of 'doing his bit' as he appears to have kept every single reply. As a result, I am fortunate to have 43 of these very special 'reply postcards'. 

postcard WW2
Cigarette Postcard 1945

Note the message at the bottom: 'Important: at the request of the authorities' - in capitals - 'Do not disclose any particulars of your unit'. This stricture wasn't always followed particularly closely, as can be seen in the cards below.

postcard WW2   
Cigarette Postcard 1945

This postcard, dated 7th July 1945, was sent by Lalitha Hensman, a Welfare Officer with the Indian Red Cross at South East Asia Command. Having obviously remarked on the address of the donor, she kindly takes care to point out that the 'recipients were Indian soldiers'. 

postcard WW2  
Cigarette Postcard 1944

My third and final postcard was sent in August 1944. Simple and to the point, it really sums up the whole collection: 

These cigarettes were issued to Allied Ex Prisoners of War who escaped through our lines. They were more than acceptable, and we wish to express our thanks to you.

AG Kennard [?]

* New Zealand Expeditionary Force

1/ 'Founding Father' By Alex May. 'Overseas: Journal of the Royal Overseas League' Issue 3 3rd September 2010 p.13  
2/ 'Tobacco for the Troops' The Spectator Magazine 12th November 1939 from the Spectator Archive

© Emmy Eustace

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