Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Writing in the trenches

Writing in the trenches. Source: Imperial War Museum
Nowhere else would the adage "the pen is mightier than the sword" have less credence than in the trenches of World War I. How anything a pen was able to communicate could stop the horrors which humans have unleashed upon themselves? But in the face of unceasing death, writing went on. Crouched in the muddy crevices of trenches soldiers wrote to their loved ones and even kept diaries recounting their daily lives such as they were in the insanity of war that surrounded them. Pen and ink were the ammunition of the human psyche. 

Pen and ink manufacturers responded to the changed conditions of the market with new advertisements directed less at the soldiers themselves than at their relatives back home who would regularly send them care packages. Mabie, Todd pen and ink makers advertise their "Swan Safety" Military Fount-pen and their ink tablets: their writing kit which included a pocket clip too promised to be sufficient for 250 four-page letters. 

Dunkirk Evening Observer, 20 September 1917

 "There is no ink in the trenches," Mabie Todd proclaimed in their ink tablets ad, "but there is plenty of water."

Take some time off from killing or dying to pen a line to a friend with a Swan fountpen, pre-eminently a Campaigner's pen: 
The Times, 8 November 1917.

For your trenches correspondence, use an Onoto pen:

 The Waterman fountain pen "has indeed proved to be 'ideal' in every sense of the word," a Colonel with the British Expeditionary Force in France allegedly wrote in 23rd June 1916.
Punch, 13 September 1916

And don't forget: "for peace to be permanent it should be signed in permanent ink - Field's Ink, the ink that never, never fades," insisted Caribonum's ad in The Times in 1919. Sadly for Caribonum, the  Treaty of Versailles was signed using Stephens' Ink.

The Times, 10 March 1919


  1. Extraordinary. Thanks, Palimpsest. FWIW-Erich Remarque mentions getting department store circulars at the front advertising goods suited to the trenches. I'll take a wild guess the soldier is writing a message or notes for a military report. Jack/USA

  2. Thanks, Jack. Where does Remarque mention this, in All Quiet on the Western Front?

  3. "All Quiet . . ." I think. His subsequent books also mention reminiscences from the front, so I'm not completely sure. Jack/USA

  4. Happy fifth birthday to Palimpsest!

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