In the spring of 1915, the creation and promotion of marraines de guerre [war god-mothers] transformed letter-writing from personal support of loved ones into an act of patriotism. The scheme originated in the press and was carried on in its pages. Barrès in L'Echo de Paris touted the Soldier's Family, a charity founded by Mlle de Lens; L'Homme enchainé publicized a similar effort organized by Clemenceau' s daughter, Mme Jaquemaire. Le Journal then started its own organization for the "adoption" of prisoners of war, while other papers and magazines opened their classified columns to ads from soldiers seeking marraines.

The marraines de guerre were a peculiarly French creation without close parallels in Britain or Germany. The scheme drew from antecedents in Catholic women's charities that had "adopted" prison inmates and conscripts in order to convert them via correspondence. However, it was the German occupation of northern France that inspired and justified this wartime pen-pal scheme. The name of Mme Jacquemaire's organization, the Charity of Combatants Without Family, revealed the thinking behind the plan. Women's main wartime mission was to support their men in combat, and to provide them with comforts and services; but especially to remind them of, and personify for them, the France that they were defending. Commentators depicted such support as crucial to a soldier's morale, and particularly to his willingness to lay down his life. What, then, of the soldiers who had no women to sustain them in this way, soldiers without families, or soldiers whose families were sealed behind the battle lines in Occupied France? The themes of Catholic proselytizing and the German Occupation came together most explicitly in Barrès's promotion of marraines de guerre: letter-writing was to be the Christian mission of French women to France's sons temporarily orphaned by German barbarism. More

During the 1990-1991 Gulf War my men and the rest of the ship received thousands of letters from the people back home.  It was a morale booster for my men.


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