No Mail, Low Morale: The 6888th Central Postal Battalion

Photograph of Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) Captain Charity Adams of Columbia, NC Drilling Her Company. Local Identifier: 111-SC-238651; National Archives Identifier: 531334.

“No mail, low morale,” or so the motto goes. Even before the founding of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion, the mail was piling up for the soldiers serving during World War II. The ever changing locations, duty stations, and movements caused a logistical challenge for getting the mail delivered on time.

The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and set to active duty status on July 1, 1943. Further, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights leader, advocated for the inclusion of African American women in the WAC. It would take an even further push to send them overseas to serve supporting the war effort.

Original Caption: “Somewhere in England, Maj. Charity E. Adams,…and Capt. Abbie N. Campbell,…inspect the first contingent of Negro members of the Women’s Army Corps assigned to overseas service.” Local Identifier: 111-SC-200791; National Archives Identifier: 531249.

The 6888th Central Postal Battalion, also nicknamed the “Six Triple Eight,” were not only the sole all African American battalion in the WAC, but they also were the only all African American, all women battalion sent overseas during World War II. Major Charity Edna Adams commanded the battalion and over 800 volunteers joined the 6888th Central Postal Battalion throughout the war. The unit was self-sufficient and included medics, administrative personnel, dining hall workers, and more.

Original Caption: “One of the two similar buildings, in France, which house the vast quantities of Christmas mail en route to American soldiers.” The 6888th would sort similar piles. Local Identifier: 111-SC-197654.

After their training in Fort Oglethrope, Georgia, and the trip across the Atlantic in the ship Ile de France, the Six Triple Eight arrived in Birmingham, England via train. The overflowing warehouses were stacked with letters and packages for anxiously awaiting soldiers. Three separate eight-hour shifts, seven days a week would ensure they worked around the clock to deliver the mail. Their motto, “no mail, low morale” would guide them.

Their task was not easy. Any “undeliverable” mail was routed into their hands. They diligently tracked servicemembers with their seven million information cards to determine who and where each piece of mail should go to. 

Original Caption: “First negro all-WAC postal unit arrives in England…a Scottish piper instructs Pfc. Edith Caskill (Arlington, VA) in the art of playing bagpipes as Pvt. Marie McKinney (Washington, D.C.) examines kilt.” Local Identifier: 111-SC-202080; National Archives Identifier: 175539147.

During their time in Birmingham, they enjoyed dancing, bowling, and local restaurants. They were also invited by locals for tea and Sunday dinner. Soon, however, they had processed the full backlog of mail and were on their way to France on June 9, 1945, a month after V-E day. They participated in a victory parade in Rouen, France, where they passed the spot where Joan of Arc was executed.

The backlog in Rouen also proved daunting, however, the Six Triple Eight took on the task alongside French civilians and German POWs. Some undelivered mail dated back two to three years, and took roughly five months to completely sort. Similarly to Birmingham, the women enjoyed various sports in their off-time, including tennis, basketball, and even ping pong.

At the end of World War II, the Six Triple Eight’s numbers were severely reduced by roughly 300 personnel as they continued working through additional undelivered mail in Paris. Then, in February 1946 the 6888th Central Postal Battalion returned to the United States and was disbanded at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

The legacy of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion continues today. On February 25, 2009, a public event at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery honored the work of the 6888th, and on November 30, 2018 a monument in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas was made in their honor. Most recently in April 2021, the US Senate passed legislation to award the 6888th Central Postal Battalion with the Congressional Gold Medal, and the bill will now go to the House of Representatives.

The National Archives for Black Women’s History in Washington, DC and the Library of Congress house records related to the unit, however, the holdings at Still Picture Branch at the National Archives also include many photos taken during their service. Included within this post are many of the photographs found in the Army Signal Corps series, 111-SC. For a general search of photographs of the 6888th, please see our online catalog.

In our catalog, some of the terms used at the time may now be considered to be outdated, inaccurate, derogatory, disrespectful, or culturally insensitive. NARA does not alter, edit, or modify original captions, as they are part of the historical record and reflect and document the standard language, attitudes, and biases at the time. Please see our website for more information on NARA’s Statement on Potentially Harmful Content.

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The photographs included in this post have no known copyright restrictions. If you have any questions about the images in this post or the holdings of the Still Picture Branch, please contact us at stillpix@nara.gov.

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One thought on “No Mail, Low Morale: The 6888th Central Postal Battalion

  1. Thank you for the article on the 6888 Postal Battalion. It was quite interesting. I have a letter from my mom written to her sister in October 1945 that no one had heard from their brother-in-law in months. Reading about the backlog on the summer of 1945 I now have a possible reason. Thankfully my uncle came home in late 1945. Ken Hafeli, retired AV Archivist, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

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