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The Mystery of Amiens

June 8, 2012

” Before us is a V-mail and a letter from Albert — he is scheduled to return to the U.S. sometime before the end of December.  Gosh, isn’t that wonderful!!!  The letter was written from Amiens, France.”

– Bella and Jeannie (Albert’s sisters), in a letter to their brother, George
October 3, 1945

Photo of a young sister, Jeannie

Where to start?  The family was so excited their brother was heading home!  Al had been inducted into the U.S. Army on November 10, 1942.  Other than to attend his father’s funeral before he was shipped abroad, they hadn’t seen their brother for three long years.   For this reader, their letter raises other questions:  What is V-mail?  Why was Al in Amiens, France?

The first question has the easiest answer.  According to the National Postal Museum, V-mail consisted of letters written on special paper which were microfilmed which reduced them greatly in size.This allowed mail to be sent while allowing more cargo space for war materiels.  When they reached their destination, the letters were reproduced (but at a much smaller size), printed and mailed to their destination.

The second question about why Al was in Amiens is not so easily answered.  When Al stopped writing in his journal, he was in the Quartermaster’s unit in Baudour, Belgium doing guard duty to help fight the black market that was flourishing after the war.  His unit was to relieve “a colored unit”.  One of the most intriguing remembrances from his time in the war is a letter from a woman who was from Amiens.  I had assumed he’d met her on this leave to Paris, where he celebrated his 23rd birthday in high style.  The letter does not imply any grand romance between the two of them but speaks of a great friendship.  This is further supported by the fact that they were continuing their correspondence after his return home.

A quote from her letter:

” I will give you news of Amiens now.  Fabienne, Luzanne, Gisèle, Madame Marie-Louise, Fernande and I are working again at the hotel for the black soldiers.  Our white soldiers, your friends,  are still in Belgium at the same place as when you were here. The black soldiers here now are all very nice and, as I was for you, I am for them, a good friend trying to do good things for each one of them (alternate translation:make each one of them happy).…Fabienne is going to leave also to take up her former profession in the hospital where you were with Girvin (as a nurse’s assistant).”

                                            – Charlotte Meveux,  February 1, 1946

One could conclude, then, that these friendships flourished during the time Al worked in Belgium , although Charlotte refers in the same letter to “your short stay in Amiens”.  The distance between Baudour and Amiens, is between 144 and 197 kilometers depending on the route, easily a 2 hour drive even on today’s roadsAl’s sisters didn’t express any interest in why he was writing from Amiens, but this writer is intrigued.  There is also the mention in the letter of Al spending time in a hospital with Girvin (one of his fellow G.I.s).  Again, there is no mention of that because he has stopped writing in his journal.  This much seems clear; Al stayed with the 548th Quartermaster Unit until he was sent home.  And that date was fast approaching.

  1. my grandmother had v-mail letters from her brothers. I wish I still had them. I remember reading them as a girl. Thanks for sharing your letters.

  2. I’d really never heard of them. Isn’t it amazing how creative a people we are in solving situations cleverly like that. Although, from what I read, they weren’t very popular and most people preferred first-class mail instead. Thanks for commenting.

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