Monday, January 19, 2015

Blank stationery for Feldpost military mail

     The link between German soldiers serving in the Wehrmacht and loved ones at home during the war years was the military mail system, Feldpost. Feldpost was regarded as crucial for morale and in Wehrmacht supply lines, it was regarded as a higher priority than any form of supply with the exception of ammunition. Many millions of letters were sent through the Feldpost system during the war. Writing and sending letters and receiving news from home through the mail was an experience common to virtually every Landser.
     An immeasurably vast array of paper and envelopes were used for Feldpost during the war. By 1944 paper was often in short supply and old envelopes were being turned inside out for reuse. Stationery from occupied countries like France and Italy was used, in all sizes and colors. Most envelopes were made from a rough natural-colored paper, brown and blue paper was also common. Soldiers were issued or could buy plain paper and envelopes and also pre-printed letters and cards formatted for Feldpost mailing. We have reproduced a number of these, below are links where these can be downloaded in PDF format, ready to print.
     These first two are simple postcards. They were printed on one side only, the address side. The other side was blank and would be used for the message. These were printed on thin, flimsy card stock that was easily creased.

     Here are 3 folding letters. These were generally gummed around the edges so they could be sealed, like the flap of an envelope. This first one was printed on thin, light brown paper.

     This one was printed on thin gray paper. The area that was gummed was marked on the front, to open the letter the recipient could trim off the gummed part.

     This last one was probably a type that soldiers had to purchase. There is a motivational quote from the author Ernst J√ľnger on the back: "Courage is the living fire that armies weld." It was printed on better paper than the others, smooth, with a slight blue tint.

     Of course, printing out the blank stationery is the easy part of having realistic mail for living history. Filling out the letters is more of a challenge. To help with this, here is a quick guide on how the addresses were written on Feldpost letters. The images are scans of letters in a member's collection. Firstly, some letters written from home to soldiers.

     These letters were sent to soldiers by other soldiers serving in different units.

     Here are some letters home, written by soldiers. Note that in the addresses, the town or city name is the second line in the address, the street address is the third line- the reverse of the way this is done today.

     People in the 1940s wrote with fountain pens or with simple dip pens. Ink was in short supply and people used what was available, mostly black, blue or blue-black, sometimes watered down to save ink. For soldiers in the field, the most common writing instrument was probably a simple pencil.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What color were Heer wool uniforms?

     Wool uniforms issued to most soldiers in the wartime German army were to be made of "Feldgrau"-colored wool uniform cloth. The actual range of fabric color used for wool uniform fabric was vast. Early in the war, bluish-green predominated for field blouses. As the war progressed, this color shifted to grayish-green, to greenish-gray and eventually to brown. But there was always a lot of variation in these shades and there were countless exceptions to these generalities. Blue and steel-gray Italian fabrics were also widely used after 1943.
     Below is a photograph of uniform jackets from a member's collection. With the exception of the tailor-made NCO field blouse at top left and the officer service blouse directly below it, all of these are issue uniforms.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reproduction uniforms and artificial aging

Several years ago at the annual Battle of the Bulge reenactment at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, I was perusing the wares in the SM Wholesale vendor building. They had a pile of Luftwaffe Fliegerblusen, well-made with quality materials, but obviously new-made reproduction items for reenacting. Next to this pile was a single very different-looking jacket, made of a different-looking wool, showing wear and use. I collect original uniforms and immediately recognized the typical appearance of a worn original garment, I surmised that this was the original that the vendor had used to pattern his copies and that he was showing it off for comparative purposes. I approached the vendor and asked him if he would be willing to sell that jacket and was shocked when he told me that it was one of his copies, no different from any of the others on the table, only cleverly aged. I was stunned, the wool fabric looked totally different, it really looked original. He was happy to talk about his tricks, he had burned all the nap off with a torch, scraped off the singed fibers, soaked it in water and then froze it solid, thawed it and repeated, and sprayed it with a fine spray of tea, among other similar tricks. It had shifted the color to a muted tone, the wool weave had a coarse appearance, and the fabric had lost all structure, it was as supple as a dishrag. As soon as I got home I started working on my own reproduction uniform and I was amazed at the transformation. Immediately I had people approaching me asking if my jacket was original. The best accolade came a year later, back in the SM Wholesale vendor building again. That same guy didn't recognize me when I stepped through the door but he immediately approached and asked, "Hey, is that an original tunic?" I was pleased to be able to tell him that it was his formula that I had used to make my copy jacket look like the real deal.

 Most reenactors have only limited experience with original garments. It is possible for a reenactor to become very skilled; to amass a vast amount of knowledge about his impression, unit history and the course of the war; to interview numerous veterans; and to learn a great deal of period terminology and tactics; and yet never see the lining of an original jacket in person. To put it another way, most reenactors really cannot discern a perfect copy from something with poor details. 15 years ago, the reenacting unit I was a member of would allow reproduction uniforms from any vendor, and this was never a problem. We only had to enact strict standards about approved vendors years later when the first Chinese-made stuff first appeared- it was abysmal. Many reenactors today may never have seen what this stuff looked like when the first runs appeared being sold by Hong Kong Keith and others. Flimsy bright green shirt-weight wool/poly blends, square patch pockets, huge shapeless sleeves, plastic buttons, no details. This stuff I would judge to be barely even useable for a Halloween costume or film prop. Unfortunately there were many people buying this rubbish, probably they simply did not know better. At that time we mandated that recruits could only buy uniforms from one approved vendor. This policy was the only way we could steer people away from the ever-changing cast of characters peddling these wares on eBay and elsewhere, and it worked good, up until the approved vendor closed his doors taking many customers' money with him. At that time we were forced to take a hard second look at the cheaper imported products sold by many vendors. What we saw was a huge improvement from the first runs of these garments. It was no longer possible for me personally to justify telling a high school student to pay more than $300 for a tunic when one for $95 was more than percent there.
If it is in your budget to pay more than $500 for a custom-made jacket, go for it. They are the best out there and there is a perceptible difference. But is it worth the extra cost? It depends on your budget and the value of a dollar to you. To me... I'm not sure it is worth it. If you can't afford $500, don't sweat it. Get a basic jacket that fits you and treat it rough so it gets some honest wear and use. Get it wet, get it dusty, let it bake in the sun. Take the $400 you saved and put part of it towards some German language CDs or take a course. Seeing a guy in an imported reproduction jacket does not ruin my event. I would rather be in a unit of fat old guys wearing Chinese-made stuff who understand period culture, have an appreciation for the history, speak some German, can explain the entries in their Soldbuch, and are willing to sleep on the ground, than a unit of skinny younger guys in head-to-toe high-end reproduction kit but whose only exposure to WWII is video games and who talk like modern Army dudes in the field. Get the best you can afford, but at the same time, understand that there is so much more to an impression than a uniform. And no reproduction is perfect.