Sleuthing through postcards

Postcard collecting offers many types of challenges such as understanding the illustration, discovering the artist and identifying the publisher. Sometimes however other types of challenges occur, such as that offered by the two cards shown below, both of which have messages written in code. Identifying the code and deciphering the message provides interesting insights into the times in which they were written.

Both cards were mailed in Ireland, one clearly cancelled at Newbridge, Co. Kildare on June 27, 1907 and the other, almost a year later, at the Curragh Camp on June 16, 1908. The first one was addressed to a Lance Corporal Stevens who was in the Army Service Corps (A.S.C.) at the Royal Artillery (R.A.) Barracks in Newbridge while the second one was sent to a lady in Newbridge. Since Newbridge is only a few miles away from the Curragh Camp, it seemed likely that both were from one set of correspondence and perhaps used the same code. The Curragh Camp was probably the oldest and largest of the British army bases in Ireland.

The impression from the addresses was that some form of romantic liaison may have been underway between a British soldier stationed in Ireland and a nearby Irish lady friend. At that time a fairly militant Irish Nationalism was underway, and such a liaison would not have been universally accepted. Thus the correspondents used code to convey their secret messages, although in such a small Irish community it was most unlikely that people had not some idea of what was going on.

If the above impression was right, it suggested that a simple form of code would have been used, and that perhaps a little bit of persistent sleuthing could decipher the messages on the cards. Sure enough, these clearly appeared when the letter on the coded message was replaced by one four letters earlier in the alphabet. Thus for example, the letter E was really A, F was B, and so on. At the beginning of the alphabet, A on the message was W, B was X, etc. The complete conversion chart is shown below.

By applying the above code, the following message to Lance Corporal Stevens appears on the first card:
“Am answering your question in true Irish fashion. Do you remember what you told me some months ago.”

Similarly, the second message, to Miss E. Whitehead, is:
“Will you please ask Carry to be ready by 6.30 this evening. Yours, Walter S.”

The name “Carry” was probably a misspelling for “Carey” which was an Irish female name meaning “dark one.” Presumably the S. was for Stevens, the addressee on the first card. The second card was likely sent to a sympathetic intermediary between the two parties, very likely because the young lady’s parents would probably not have approved of the relationship. So the suspicion seems to be confirmed. The fact that almost a year separated the two cards suggests that others exist as presumably the two parties would have corresponded more frequently than once a year. Whether or not the relationship had a happy ending is not known, but perhaps other surviving cards will help to fill in the blanks. Searching for them will produce an interesting and ongoing challenge that is part of the hobby’s attraction.

Click here to comment on this story in the Antique Trader Postcard forum.

Leave a Reply