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'En Route' Postal History
United States, First World War, 1917-1919

by Bob Swanson

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About This Presentation

  • Large numbers of military men were transported by rail throughout the United States during the First World War (1917-1919)
  • They often mailed cards and letters while onboard the trains
  • Some items are canceled by Railway Post Office (RPO) markings
  • The content of these postal items can be of great interest
  • These are only a small subset of such covers and cards
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Troop Train "Ground Rules"

  • The men were not allowed off the train (a rare exception: time for exercise drill)
  • Generally, they were not informed of their destination
  • Sometimes letters were handed to Red Cross women at train stations for mailing (some even provided a stamp for the soldier's mailed item)
  • Otherwise, letters would have to be placed in the RPO slot on the train, or handed to a helpful civilian
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Cover and Letter Posted in Wyoming

[en_route/wyoming_en_route_cover.jpg]

Cover from Soldier, posted in Green River, Wyoming, written on train

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Cover and Letter Posted in Wyoming

  • Mailed in Green River, Wyoming
  • Letter indicates "written on train"
  • (Appears to be mailed by civilian "Hugo" after letter handed to them by the soldier "Edward")
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Postcard from Wounded Soldier in a Hospital Car

[en_route/pitts_chicago.jpg]

Postcard from Wounded Returning Soldier in a special hospital car
Back of Card

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Postcard from Wounded Soldier in a Hospital Car

  • Government Postal Card (GPC) mailed by wounded returning soldier, 1919
  • He writes that he is going to General Hospital #32, in a special hospital car
  • Canceled by RPO handstamp on train (Pittsburg & Chicago RPO)
  • Back of card follows:
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Postcard from Wounded Soldier in a Hospital Car

[en_route/pitts_chicago_back.jpg]

Back of GPC from Wounded Returning Soldier in a special hospital car

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Postcard from Wounded Soldier in a Hospital Car

The previous image shows the written message on the back of the postcard.

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Little Rock, Arkansas "En Route"

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Little Rock, Arkansas, Transit Clerk Handstamp

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Little Rock, Arkansas "En Route"

  • Soldier writes "going to Houston" (October 1917)
  • Canceled by "Transit Clerk" handstamp for Little Rock (Tr. Clerk office was usually located in a train station)
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"En Route" With RPO Handstamp

[en_route/en_route_st_louis_rpo.jpg]

En Route Card with RPO Handstamp

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"En Route" With RPO Handstamp

  • Written message: "we are on our way to somewhere"
  • Canceled by St. Louis & Parsons RPO handstamp (applied on board train in RPO car)
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Sailor "En Route" From Great Lakes

[en_route/columbus_from_great_lakes.jpg]

En Route Card with RPO Handstamp

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Sailor "En Route" From Great Lakes

  • Sailor writes: "am standing a 2 hr watch now on train"
  • Uncommon to find 'en route' items from navy personnel
  • Canceled by International machine from main Columbus, Ohio, post office
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Acknowledgements

Examples from the collection of Bob Swanson

Mini-Presentation updated 13 March 2020

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Table of Contents

Title Page
About This Presentation
Troop Train "Ground Rules"
Cover and Letter Posted in Wyoming
Postcard from Wounded Soldier in a Hospital Car
Little Rock, Arkansas
"En Route" With RPO Handstamp
Sailor "En Route" From Great Lakes
Acknowledgements
Instructions for Reading Presentation

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