Communication with prisoners of war and civilians interned abroad



Communication with prisoners of war and civilians interned abroad


Gives rules for letters, enclosures, methods of address for prisoners where war number and camp address known or details not yet announced. Mentions prisoners in Italian hands and that no attempts should be made to contact through neutral countries. Goes on with rules for parcel post, parcels sent by British Red Cross and contents allowed. Rules for packing and permissible and prohibited articles. Other rules for prisoners in neutral countries as well as rules for educational books and telegrams. Note at top, 'Received in Donald's letter 17 Feb42'.



Temporal Coverage





Four page printed document


General Post Office


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[inserted] Recd in Donalds letter 17th Feb 42 [/inserted]
P 2280E
(Revd. 24376/41)
1. This leaflet applies primarily to British (including Dominion and Colonial) prisoners of war interned in enemy and neutral countries; but paragraphs 2-4 as regards the Letter Post are also applicable to letters and postcards addressed to prisoners of war of other nationalities interned abroad. The term “Prisoner of War” includes all interned persons, naval, military, air force and civilian.
British Service men who are in the hands of the French (Vichy) Government do not come into the same category as prisoners of war, and relatives should apply to the Foreign Relations Department, British Red Cross and St. John War Organisation, Warwick House, St. James’s, London, S.W.1, for information regarding communications with these men.
2. Letters and postcards may be sent post free by ordinary post (for air-mail facilities see paragraph 5). They should be posted in the ordinary way and should not be sent to the British Red Cross Society to be forwarded. They should be clearly written or typed, and letters should not exceed two sides of a normal sized sheet of notepaper; otherwise they are liable to delay and may even not be delivered by the authorities in the country to which they are addressed.
In the interest of the prisoners, relatives should limit their letters to one or two a week; the more that are sent the more are they likely to be delayed by the censorship abroad. For the same reason letters from strangers are to be deprecated.
Letters and postcards must only deal with purely personal matters, and care should be taken that no information of any kind which might be of use to the enemy is given. No references to naval, military, aerial, economic or political matters are allowed, and movements of any members of His Majesty’s Forces or any warship or merchant ship must not be mentioned.
3. Enclosures. – No enclosures are allowed in the air letter card (see paragraph 5).
Any enclosure in a letter may cause delay. Snapshots or unmounted photographs of a personal nature are, however, allowed and simple bank statements (not pass books) may be sent. International reply coupons must not be sent; their use for the prepayment of air mail letters is unnecessary and is not permitted. Picture postcards, birthday or greetings cards bearing pictorial illustrations and pictorial matter of any kind are forbidden. The Letter Post may be used only for letters and postcards and must on no account be used for sending small articles such as packets of razor blades, chocolate, etc.; such items may be sent only in the next of kin parcel (see paragraph 14).
4. Method of Address. – It is of the utmost importance that the details of the address should be correct and correspondents should make sure that they use the latest address supplied by the prisoner. In the case of prisoners in German hands the address is usually given on the back of
Specimen Address.
[underlined] From Mrs. J. Smith,
33, Maple Road,
Hants. [/underlined]
Prisoners of War Post.
No Stamp required unless sent by air mail.
[symbol] [underlined] A.B.J. SMITH, [/underlined]
or [underlined] Corporal T. ATKINS, [/underlined]
or [underlined] Leading Aircraftman K. JONES, [/underlined]
British Prisoner of War No. [underlined] 3306, [/underlined]
Stalag XXA (2A),
[symbol] The details underlined in the foregoing specimen addresses are merely examples and care should be taken that the appropriate details furnished in letters sent by the prisoner are inserted in the address of letters sent to him.
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their letter cards or postcards, in particular the Camp number is shown after the words ”Lager-Bezeichnung.” The address should be clearly written in INK both on the envelope and on the letter itself. The use of adhesive address labels or previously used envelopes is strictly forbidden.
(i) For prisoners whose prisoner of war number and camp address are known. – No mention should be made either in the address or in the letter of the unit or regiment in which the prisoner of war was serving at the time of his capture. The following particulars should be given:-
(a) Rank (unless the addressee is an interned civilian), initials and surname (preferably in block letters).
(b) British Prisoner of War (or British Interned Civilian).
(c) Prisoner of War Number. (For prisoners in German hands this number is a most important element of the address. Care should be taken to quote it correctly; it should not be confused with the service number given him by the British authorities. Prisoners in Italian hands are not given a prisoner of war number and the British Service number should be quoted.)
(d) Camp address. (It is important that the Camp address should be complete, e.g., in the specimen address on page 1 “Stalag” means “permanent camp” and is insufficient without the addition of the appropriate number, including any subsidiary lettering or numbers giving perhaps details of a working Camp subordinate to the parent Camp, e.g., Stalag XXA (2A)).
(e) Country.
The top left-hand corner of the envelope should bear the words “Prisoner of War post,” and if addressed to a prisoner of war in German hands, the equivalent word “KRIEGSGEFANGENENPOST” should be added, or if addressed to a prisoner of war in Italian hands the words “Service des prisonniers de guerre.” The name and address of the sender should be written on the back of the envelope. If, however, the sender is serving in His Majesty’s Forces, whether at home or abroad, he must on no account give the address of his unit; instead he should state the address of a relative or friend in this country who would be willing to send on any letters received from the prisoner.
(ii) For prisoners in German hands whose prisoner of war number and/or camp address have not yet been announced.
Letters may be addressed to such prisoners of war as follows:-
Regtl. No …………… Rank …………… Name …………………………………
(Block letters).
British Prisoner of War,
P/W Number (if known),
C/o Agency Centrale des prisonniers de guerre,
Comité International de la Croix-Rouge,
(iii) For prisoners in Italian hands whose camp address has not yet been announced.
Letters may be addressed to such prisoners of war as follows:-
Regtl. No ………….. Rank …………… Name …………………………………..
(Block letters)
British Prisoner of War,
C/o Croce Rosse Italiana,
6 Via Puglie,
It should, however, be particularly noted that as soon as the prisoner of war number and the camp address have been received for prisoners in German hands, and as soon as the camp address has been received for prisoners in Italian hands, letters should be addressed directly to the camp (as under 4 (1)). Failure to do so will cause delay.
5. Air Mail. – (a) An air letter card specially designed for writing to prisoners of war is on sale at most Post Offices. It costs 3d., and goes all the way to Germany or Italy by air. No enclosures may be sent.
(b) Letters and postcards may be prepaid at the rate of 5d. for the first ounce and 3d. for each additional ounce (postcards 2 1/2d.). They should bear a blue air mail label in the top left hand corner. They go by air all the way to Germany or Italy.
(c) All letters and postcards from prisoners of war in Germany and Italy are brought by air from Lisbon to this country free of charge. Those from Germany travel by air from Germany to Lisbon free of charge. It is hoped shortly to arrange for similar facilities for letters from Italy.
N.B. – No attempt should be made to communicate with Prisoners of War through people in neutral countries; letters forwarded by prisoners through intermediaries in neutral countries do not receive the privilege of free air mail transmission from Lisbon.
Parcels for Prisoners of War in Enemy (or Enemy-occupied) Countries.
6. Parcels cannot be despatched by relatives direct to a prisoner of war. Food, clothing, soap and tobacco are sent regularly to prisoners in enemy countries by the British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John of Jerusalem (see paragraph 9), and “next-of-kin” parcels for prisoners in enemy countries may be sent under the arrangement explained in paragraph 12 of this leaflet. A card of acknowledgment for signature and return by the prisoner is enclosed in every parcel despatched. For parcels for prisoners of war in neutral countries see paragraphs 17-19.
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7. In addition to the parcels sent by the Red Cross, orders may be given to firms holding special permits for the direct despatch of parcels containing books, music, packs of cards, games, tobacco and cigarettes (see paragraphs 20 and 22). Parcels may not be sent by air mail.
8. Customs Duty is not normally charged on parcels sent to prisoners; and the Customs Declarations and Despatch Notes which usually have to be prepared by the senders of foreign parcels are not required.
NOTE. – Parcels or packets posted otherwise than in accordance with this leaflet will be returned to the sender.
Parcels sent by the British Red Cross.
9. Food and, except as set out in paragraph 22, Tobacco cannot be sent by relatives to a prisoner of war. Food, soap, cigarettes and tobacco at the cost of 10s. per parcel are sent to British, Dominion and Colonial prisoners of war in enemy territory by the British Red Cross and St. John War Organisation. Contributions towards defraying this expenditure will be gratefully accepted. Such contributions should be sent to the Accountant, Prisoners of War Department, St. James’s Palace, London, S.W.1, or to the Scottish Red Cross, 206, Bath Street, Glasgow, C.2. These contributions will be paid into the funds of the Prisoners of War Department to defray the cost of the food parcels sent to all prisoners. (Postage must be paid on letters addressed to the Red Cross Society.)
10. Invalid Comforts. – The Invalid Comforts Section despatches consignments of ordinary household drugs together with such things as cod liver oil and malt, invalid food and comforts addressed to the Camp Leader of the Prisoners of War Camps, in order that in the case of illness or minor injuries, that are not sufficiently severe for hospital treatment, remedies may be at hand when needed.
Relatives may, in certain circumstances, send an invalid comforts parcel every twelve weeks, but they must first communicate with the Hon. Secretary, Invalid Comforts Section, 14, Carlton House Terrace, London, S.W.1, for authorisation, as each case is considered on its merits. At the request of the relatives of the Senior Officer of the Camp, individual food parcels can be arranged for serious or chronic cases requiring special diet, in place of the standard food parcels. Invalid Comforts food parcels are sent to all hospitals where it is known there are British Prisoners of War. Surgical appliances such as spectacles, dentures and other urgently needed requisites can be sent through the Invalid Comforts Section.
11. Clothing. – The British Government supplies all clothing for Prisoner of War (i.e., great-coats, battledress or uniform, boots, underclothing, towels, etc.). The British Red Cross Society arranges for its packing and despatch.
“Next of Kin” Parcels for Prisoners in Enemy (or Enemy-occupied) Countries.
12 Once every three months the next of kin of a prisoner in enemy territory is allowed to send him a “next of kin” parcel. The parcel must not weigh more than 10 lb. when packed, so that when repacked it comes within the international limit of weight. Each parcel must bear a special tie-on label which will be sent quarterly direct to the next of kin by the British Red Cross Society. The sender must fill in the label, which will then bear an address in the following form:-
Prisoner of War NEXT OF KIN PARCEL.
Regimental No ………… Prisoner of War No ……….
Rank …………… Name …………………………………
Camp …………………………………………….
C/o British Red Cross Society & Order of St. John,
14, Finsbury Circus,
London E.C.2.
The address must also be copied in ink on the cover of the parcel. Unless the parcel bears the special label, it will not be accepted at a Post Office. No postage is required. If the sender requires an acknowledgement of the receipt of the parcel at Finsbury Circus, a stamped addressed postcard should be enclosed.
13. Packing. – The parcels should be packed as for the inland post. The name and address of the sender must be clearly written on the cover of the parcel, except that if the sender is serving in His Majesty’s Forces he must not write his own address but must give acknowledgments received in respect of the parcel. A duplicate list of the contents must be put inside the parcel; forms for this purpose are sent with the tie-on label by the British Red Cross Society.
14. Permissible Articles. – Among the articles which may be sent are the following:-
Attaché cases.
Blankets. Boots, boot laces; gum boots. Brilliantine in tins. Brushes of all kinds.
Button-cleaning outfits (solid, not liquid polish).
Chewing gum. Solid chocolate in slabs (no filling).
Cigarette filter tips and cigarette rolling machine but NOT cigarettes or cigarette papers.
Clothing, including underwear, civilian or Service shirts, any footwear, knitted comforts or uniform. (See paragraph 15 for prohibited articles.)
Coloured silks and cottons, plain linen or canvas for embroidering.
Dentrifice (solid or powder but NOT in tubes).
Frames with talc or unbreakable glass.
Hussifs containing usual items.
Kit bags (without locks or metal eye holes). Knitting needles and wool.
Pencils. Pipes and tobacco pouch.
Safety razors and blades. Safety tin openers.
Shoe polish (solid, not liquid or in tubes). Shoe leather and nails for mending; metal studs for toes and heels.
Small musical instruments.
Soap of all kinds. Towels, face cloths and sponges.
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15. Prohibited Articles. – The following articles may not be enclosed:-
(i) Written communications (letters must be sent separately).
(ii) Printed matter.
(iii) Pictorial illustrations and photographs.
(iv) Money, stamps, stationery and playing cards.
(v) Articles in tubes, tins and other receptacles which cannot easily be opened for inspection.
(vi) Candles, spirits or solidified spirit for cooking stoves, matches or any other inflammable material.
(vii) Photographic apparatus, field glasses, sextants, compasses, electric torches and other instruments for use for naval and military purposes.
(viii) Haversacks.
(ix) Complete suits, coloured or grey flannel trousers, corduroy trousers, black or coloured shirts normally worn without coats, sports coats or blazers, mackintoshes, or any kind of overcoat. (These items of clothing, however may be sent to civilians.)
(x) Food, tobacco, cigarettes. (See paragraphs 9 and 22.)
(xi) Medical comforts. This includes medicines of all kinds, drugs and bandages.
(xii) Watches; Scissors (except small or nail scissors); knives and tools.
(xiii) Pen nibs and fountain pens.
16. Return of Prohibited Articles. – On receipt in London of a next of kin parcel it will be repacked under the supervision of a representative of the Censorship, and any prohibited articles will be withdrawn and returned to the sender.
Parcels for Prisoners of War in Neutral Countries.
17. Address. – Parcels for prisoners of war in neutral countries must be forwarded through the British Red Cross Society. No special label is necessary and parcels should be addressed in the same way as letters (see paragraph 4) with the addition of the following:-
c/o British Red Cross Society,
14, Finsbury Circus,
London, E.C.2.
No postage is required.
18. Packing. – Parcels when packed must not weight [sic] more than 10 lb. each and should be packed as for the inland post. A list of the contents should be put inside.
19. Contents. – Neither the articles numbered (i) to (ix) in paragraph 15 nor food may be sent. In order that any prohibited article may be returned to the sender his name and address should be written on the cover, as described in paragraph 13.
Parcels and Packets sent by Permit Holders.
20. Books, Music, Packs of Cards, Games and Sports Equipment. – Many of the leading publishers and newsagents, etc., hold a special permit from the Censorship Department, which enables them to execute and despatch orders for books, music, packs of cards and games for prisoners of war in enemy or neutral countries. Holders of permits can accept only orders for despatch direct; they can in no case accept books, etc., for forwarding to prisoners.
21. Newspapers and Periodicals. – These may be sent in the same way as books to prisoners of war in neutral countries, but not to prisoners of war in enemy territory.
22. Tobacco and Cigarettes. – These may be sent to prisoners of war and interned civilians in enemy and enemy-occupied countries and prisoners of war in neutral countries by firms who hold a special permit from the Censorship Department. Orders should be placed with these firms by relatives desiring to take advantage of the arrangement The minimum quantity which may be sent free of duty in one parcel is 4 oz. net.
23. Parcels (but not packets) despatched to neutral countries by permit holders must be accompanied by the appropriate number of Customs Declarations and Despatch Notes. The maximum limit of weight for parcels despatched to neutral or enemy countries is 11 lb.
Educational Books.
24. The Educational Books Section of the British Red Cross Society arranges for prisoners of war to continue their preparation for examinations, and enables them to undertake vocational training with a view to preparing themselves for the after-war period. The Society gives advice, and arranges for books to be sent to any prisoner wishing to read a special subject. Forms of request for these books are sent to the prison camps. Financial contributions from relatives and friends are invited, but when these cannot be given the Society undertakes the whole cost. Correspondence courses cannot be sent direct to prisoners of war, but on application to the Society help will be given as to possible means of despatch.
25. Telegrams making inquiry regarding the welfare or whereabouts of prisoners of war cannot be sent to countries abroad. Such inquiries must be addressed to the British Red Cross Society, The Lord Chamberlain’s Office, St. James’s Palace, London, S.W.1.
There is no telegraph service to prisoners of war, but in cases of grave emergency only it is sometimes possible for the British Red Cross Society to send a message to the International Red Cross Committee in Geneva for them to pass on to their representative in Berlin or Rome to send to the prisoner concerned. Inquiries regarding the despatch of messages in such cases should be addressed to the British Red Cross Society at the address shown above.
General Post Office.
August, 1941.


“Communication with prisoners of war and civilians interned abroad,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed January 21, 2022,

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