The letter (Photo: National Archives of Australia)

Starting in the fall of 1870, when the Prussian army had Paris under siege, the only way to get mail out of the city was by hot air balloon. More than 60 times over five months, balloons took off from the city, full of tiny letters, and floated westward, over the Prussian lines, to the friendly French-held territory. 

The letters had to be tiny to fit more of them in the limited space available. And replies were even more difficult to get through: they came, when they did come, by homing pigeon. 

Recently, the National Archives of Australia turned up one of the these tiny wartime letters. It had once been in the Queensland Post and Telegraph Museum, but it’s no longer known how it made it from its original destination, in Normandy, to the other side of the world.

The letter is from a man to his mother, and it’s written in a cramped, cursive hand, with writing covering the page. The man lets him mother know that they’re still eating meat, although not every day, and that he’s yet to see any action himself. The rest of the letter is filled with news of the war and a defiant attitude towards the Prussians.

As Australia’s ABC reports, more than 2.5 million of these tiny letters left Paris. In January 1871, after four months of the siege, the French surrendered the city. Hundreds of thousands of people left, but among those Parisians who remained, some revolted against the occupying army and formed the Paris Commune.  

Bonus finds: Spiders

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