The Good, the Bad and the Dirty: Understanding WWII Letter Acronyms

Photo Credit: Auric / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: Auric / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Letter writing was used on all fronts of the Second World War as a way for soldiers to keep in touch with friends and family. It helped maintain morale, with many countries creating propaganda to encourage civilians on the home front to send messages overseas. Whether discussing their role, how much they missed the recipient or making intimate insinuations, many of the letters sent during WWII included creative acronyms, allowing some to include messages that were far from wholesome.

Letters written from the frontlines

Soldier using a comrades head as a writing surface for a letter
Soldier using a comrade’s head to write a telegram home, 1940. (Photo Credit: Fox Photos / Getty Images)

Although mail was used to keep contact between the home front and the frontlines, some of the most interesting messages were between those in romantic relationships. Letter writers during WWII commonly used acronyms to convey their feelings to their partners, and while there’s no definitive reason as to why, it was likely due to censorship.

Letters sent from the front were read by censors, typically ranking officers, to ensure military secrets weren’t revealed should the mail not reach its intended destination. Information like physical location, battalion size and even weather forecasts were cut out or crossed out. Knowing their messages would be read beforehand likely lead these romantic writers to create their own code.

Terms of endearment

S.L Pope using the wing of his aircraft as a writing surface while a fellow serviceman watches
Cmdr. S.L. Pope writing a letter on the wing of his aircraft before flying to Paris, 1938. (Photo Credit: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images)

Most often, the acronyms in letters sent during WWII were written on the back of the envelope, rather than in the letter, and conveyed a range of feelings and desires. However, not all soldiers were able to use this creative system. Sailors with the British Royal Navy, for example, were only allowed to use approved acronyms on their envelopes, such as OOLAAKOEW – “oceans of love and a kiss on every wave.”

A whole host of acronyms were created to pass on sweet messages to romantic partners, the most common of which was SWA(L)K – “sealed with a (loving) kiss.” Others referenced feelings about the relationship using words like:

  • HOLLAND – “Hope our love lives/lasts and never dies”
  • ITALY – “I trust and love you/I’m thinking about loving you”
  • FRANCE – “Friendship remains and never can end”
  • BELFAST – “Be ever loving, faithful and stay true”

Some WWII letter acronyms were shockingly scandalous

British soldiers writing letters while sitting beside their M4 Sherman
Sherman tank crew of C Squadron, 13th/18th Royal Hussars, 27th Armoured Brigade writing letters home, 1944. (Photo Credit: Sgt. J Mapham / Imperial War Museums / Getty Images)

When it came to writing letters during WWII, some far more creative acronyms were used to express explicit and intimate thoughts. These included:

  • VENICE – “Very excited now I caress everywhere”
  • NORWICH – “Knickers off ready when I come home”
  • CHINA – “Come home I’m naked already”
  • BURMA – “Be undressed and ready my angel/Be upstairs and ready upon my arrival”
  • ENGLAND – “Every naked girl loves a naked d**k”

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One of the problems with the acronyms, however, was that they weren’t official or standardized, meaning they varied greatly depending on who was writing the letter. For example, EGYPT could express the sweet sentiment, “Ever give you pleasant thoughts,” or it could mean something entirely different, something you wouldn’t want to say to the friendly pen pal you’d just made, “Eager to grab your pretty t*ts.”

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.