S.W.A.K.

On 8 September 1917 La Vie Parisienne, that most admired of French magazines, admired at least by many junior officers in the BEF, carried a small editorial observation:

 

Les Tommies ont trouvé un moyen que presque tous emploient, de donner une idée à leur famille ou à leur sweetheart du nombre de baisers que “le présente” leur transmet. Ils inscrivent, sur la dernière page de leur letter, un croix par baiser. Certaines lettres finissent  par despages entieres de croix; ells entourent le texte, le serrent, l’embrassent. C’est gentil, et émouvant. Car toutes les lettres finissent, ou presque toutes, par la formule touchante des poilus de toutes les nations: Ne trouvant plus rien à vous dire, je termine … Alors, les petites croix remplacent tout ce qu’on ne sait pas dire. Autrefois, sur l’enveloppe, les Tommies ajoutaient : S. W. A. K. (sealed with a kiss). Cela voulait dire “Scellée avec un baiser”. Seulement, ce n’était pas vrai. Car les lettres sont remises ouvertes à l’administration postale par tout soldat anglais; ce sont les officiers qui les lisent et les collent. Et alors, peut-on croire que le censeur scellait vraiment chaque letter avec un baiser tender? Non, n’est-ce pas … Voilà pourquoi la mode gallante du S. W. A. K. a disparu …

 

The Tommies have found a method that almost everyone employs to give an idea to their family or to their sweetheart of the number of kisses that “the sender” sends them. They write on the last page of their letter, a cross by way of kiss. Some letters end with entire pages of crosses; they surround the text, squeeze it, kiss it. It’s nice, and moving. For all the letters, or almost all, end with the touching formula of poilus of all nations: Finding nothing more to say to you, I finish … And so, the small crosses replace all that one does not know how to say. Formerly, on the envelope, Tommies added: S. W. A. ​​K. (sealed with a kiss). It meant “sealed with a kiss”. Only, it was not true. For letters are delivered open to the postal administration by every English soldier; it is the officers who read them and stick them down. And then, can we believe that the censor really sealed each letter with a tender kiss? No, is not it … That’s why the gallant fashion of S. W. A. ​​K. has disappeared …

 

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No cheeky SWAK on these postcards, though the soldier signs himself ‘Cheeky’. Writing to his wife, Ella Warren, in Boyd Street, Glasgow, he includes his children’s names within the four arms of the X; given that his home was in Scotland, it’s fitting that it is also a St Andrews cross. The five cards are dated between September 1917 and April 1918. The website ‘A Street Near You’ (highly recommended) records no casualties from Boyd Street, Glasgow – which uncannily, is crossed by Warren Street, twice, making two Xs https://astreetnearyou.org/#=undefined&lat=55.83371465548997&lon=-4.252385600000009&zoom=17&surname=warren

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