Rare book of the month: World War I POW Letter

This year’s Remembrance Day marks a hundred years since the end of World War I. We recently posted about Trinity and St. Hilda’s in the Great War, but we also thought we’d select a related item for November’s Rare Book of the Month. We discovered it randomly in an unrelated book donation a couple of years ago, and through some research concluded that it is possibly a piece of ephemera produced by the British government during the First World War.

World War I is considered to be the first time that governments began to systematically dedicate resources to developing propaganda methods that have been carried into the modern era. While some of these were used to sway the opinion of their own citizens or those in allied countries, other propaganda was designed to create opposition among the citizenry of enemy states. This letter is an example of a particular propaganda campaign where the British Government reproduced large numbers of German prisoner of war letters that speak positively of the British. They were then distributed by air over Germany. In 1917, they began using the format seen in this example.

The letter here is believed to be one of these facsimile letters. The author given is Emil Seebaldt, a German prisoner of war in London, to his wife Agnes Seebaldt. In the letter, Seebaldt describes his captivity and lets her know that he is healthy, has enough to eat, that he needs winter stockings and assures her that she will continue to receive his pay each month.


1) George G. Bruntz. Allied Propaganda and the Collapse of the German Empire in 1918. Stanford University Press; H. Milford, Oxford University Press. An early monograph looking at First World War propaganda among allied countries is available through the Internet Archive: http://archive.org/details/alliedpropaganda00geor.

Another digitized version of the same letter can be found in the holdings of the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s