Wednesday 30 July 2014

445. Birmingham, The Post Office And The First World War.

  This exhibition is a mark of our respect for those whose courage and sacrifice in the First World War changed the course of history. Paula Vennells, Chief Executive of The Post Office, 2014.

   Norvic Philatelics Blog recently detailed news of a travelling exhibition which The Post Office had prepared with The British Postal Museum and Archive on the role of The Post Office during the First World War. I was pleased to see that the exhibition was coming to Birmingham, a few miles from my home, within a few days of reading Norvic's report and I made plans for a special trip into town to visit the exhibition which was being held at Birmingham's main post office in Pinfold Street, just off Victoria Square. I very much regret having to write that I was very disappointed with what I found.
  I walked into the post office from Hill Street and walked right around the post office and could see nothing that looked like an exhibition. I asked one of the helpful assistants there where the exhibition was being held and after a second or two's thought she pointed out that there were several display boards scattered around the post office, one or two in corners and all indistinguishable, unless one looked closely at them, from posters advertising travel insurance or promoting the currency exchange counter. It wasn't quite what I was expecting - the use of the word "exhibition" put a picture in my mind of a display of, say, medals awarded to soldiers of the Post Office Rifles or perhaps a uniform of the regiment or examples of mail dating from the war or other interesting artifacts - not something that consisted entirely of 5 posters scattered in any available space in the post office.
  I suppose I was expecting too much. The Post Office was making an attempt to convey to its customers its work during the Great War and recognise the sacrifice of those who fought in the war who had Post Office connections but it really was very poorly presented. No-one else in the building was looking at the material and did not seem to be aware of it which is a great pity. Below I show photographs of the display panels, the first titled "The Great War". The writing is quite small and stretches down almost to the floor so that to read it requires bending forwards which is an active discouragement to studying the wealth of information on the display cards:-

  Another one of the panels was titled "The Post Office Joins Up":-

  And a third display panel was titled "The Post Office's Home Front":-

  A fourth display was titled "Front Line Communications" and I forgot to go back to look at the fifth panel as I roamed around the post office so I am unable to say what is the title of the fifth section:-

   Full marks to The Post Office for making the effort to produce this "exhibition" but sadly I find it to be somewhat underwhelming and poorly displayed. Perhaps when it moves on to its next venue in Bridgend in Wales its presentation can be improved. 
  Birmingham newspapers recently featured an interesting story about the Post Office and the First World War. A remarkable monument to 7 postmen who had worked in the Erdington area of the city and who were killed during the war had been found in a building which had been demolished. The discovery was made in Ladywood, an area some distance from Erdington, and no-one knew how it had found its way there. Members of the Birmingham History Forum managed to discover that all 7 men named on the memorial had worked and lived in the Erdington area. Royal Mail held a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum on 20 July 2014 to rededicate the memorial and to honour the 7 men named on the memorial. 

   Royal Mail is the custodian of about 250 memorials to those killed in World War I and many are accessible to the public in the receptions of delivery offices.
  Post Office employees who lived in Birmingham feature heavily in the story of the Post Office's involvement in the First World War. Royal Mail commemorated Alfred Knight, who was the only soldier of the Post Office Rifles to be awarded the Victoria Cross, on one of the panes of the prestige booklet it issued in 2006 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross. On 20 September 1917 Alfred Knight single-handedly captured a machine gun nest which had put his platoon under heavy fire. He also carried out other acts of remarkable bravery. He had been born in Ladywood on 24 August 1888 and worked as a clerical assistant in the North Midlands Engineering District.

  Although I found the First World War "Exhibition" to be rather disappointing I have learned quite a lot about Royal Mail and The Post Office's involvement in the Great War - the General Post Office (GPO), as it was then known, released 75000 of its employees to participate in the war; the GPO's regiment - the Post Office Rifles - had 12000 of its employees involved with it and the regiment participated in the campaigns at the Somme and Passchendaele. More than half of its fighting force was lost at the Battle of Wurst Farm Ridge in September 1917. Of the 12000 post office employees in the Post Office Rifles, 1800 were killed and 4500 were wounded.
  Birmingham's Post Office war memorial names 122 of its employees who were killed in the war and is sited, I believe, at the Birmingham Mail Centre in St. Stephen's Street:-

  Of the other four former Post Office employees (not in The Post Office Rifles) who were awarded Victoria Crosses, one was another Birmingham man - Sergeant Albert Gill - who was sadly killed in action at Delville Wood on 27 July 1916.
  So, by various ways, Royal Mail and The Post Office make a contribution to remembering and honouring the people who sacrificed a great deal in the war that started 100 years ago. No doubt, each city, town and village in The United Kingdom will have had people who were connected with the Post Office and served their country in the Great War. This blog highlights the links of the post office of Great Britain's second city to the war on the occasion of the visit of the travelling exhibition to the city even if the "exhibition" is, for me at least, rather disappointing.

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Tuesday 29 July 2014

444. The Auld Alliance.

  I have just acquired from Bellastreasure on an Internet auction site another interesting item to add to my small collection of Scottish nationalist labels which have been issued in the past and which the popular press, at the time of issue, called "stamps". I am putting together a relatively inexpensive little collection in anticipation of a "Yes" result in the upcoming Scottish national referendum on Independence as a small preamble to any future collection of independent Scottish postage stamps in the full knowledge of course that they had no postal validity but as a reflection of the thinking of some of the people of Scotland in the years leading up to the referendum and to illustrate the continuing propaganda value of stamps.
  In Blog 406 I illustrated a couple of Scottish nationalist labels which featured Robert Burns and the Scottish Assembly and here I illustrate the latest additions to my collection which were produced in 1968 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of "The Auld Alliance" which allied Scotland and France against their common enemy - England. A newspaper cutting from 1968 accompanied my purchase and this told the story of this "stamp" issue. 
  The label was produced as a "patriotic postal protest" by the Scottish Philatelic Secretariat after the British Post Office had declined to issue a set of stamps for this particular anniversary and a spokesman for the Secretariat said that the "stamp" " should be the foundation for a Scottish Post Office and for a Scottish Ministery of Foreign Affairs" He added that "It was a starting point for an independent line - for IDU ... an Independent Declaration of Union with France". So, interestingly, this issue was in part to promote union with France as well as the establishment of an independent state which seem to be mutually exclusive goals. 
  The labels, designed by Stuart MacKenzie, were printed in sheets of 12 and had the face value of ane (1) bawbee (equivalent to one halfpenny). In all 120,000 labels were produced. The designs feature various French and Scottish flags - the Tricoleur, the Fleur-de-lys, the rampant Lion and St. Andrew's Saltire:-

  The main reason for the Post Office's decision not to issue any stamps on the subject, given in a response to questions in The House Of Commons by the then British Post-Master General, Edward Short, was that the exact date of the beginning of the Auld Alliance was in dispute among historians. The label produced by the Scottish Philatelic Secretariat dated the start of the Auld Alliance to the alliance agreed by King William (I) The Lion of Scotland and King Louis VII of France in opposition to the English king, Henry II. I do not think that either of the two allies have been featured on stamps but Henry II makes an appearance on a stamp issued by Barbuda on 15 April 1970:-

  But Edward Short stated in Parliament that some Scottish historians dated the alliance to 1295 when the Scottish king, John Balliol, and King Philipe IV of France signed a treaty against Edward I of England which stipulated that if either France or Scotland were attacked by England then the other would invade English territory. Edward I also appears on a stamp of the Barbuda Kings and Queens set which was issued on 15 June 1970:-

   Two hundred years  later, despite signing the Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Henry VII of England in 1502,  James IV of Scotland maintained his alliance with France and when war between England and France broke out and Henry VIII attacked France in 1513, King James IV stood by his Auld ally and invaded Northumbria with disastrous consequences - his army was destroyed at the Battle of Flodden Field and he himself was killed.

James IV of Scotland.
     As a result of his father's early death, James V was only 17 months old when he became King of Scotland. By the Treaty of Rouen of 1517, James V was to have a French wife if the Auld Alliance were maintained and in 1537 he married Madeleine of Bourbon and renewed the Auld Alliance. However the consumptive Madeleine died when the couple returned to Scotland from France and James then married Mary of Guise. Their 2 sons both died and so the only heir to the Scots throne was their daughter, Mary, who was born in 1542.
  In the same year, England and Scotland went to war again and on 24 November 1542 the Scots were heavily defeated at the Battle of Solway Moss and James died shortly afterwards. Mary, his daughter, was only 6 days old when her father died. She spent most of her childhood in France and eventually married the Dauphin who became King Francis II.

James V of Scotland.

   Unfortunately for Mary, Francis died shortly after becoming king and she returned to Scotland where she led an eventful life and was eventually forced to abdicate and flee to England where the government of her cousin, Elizabeth I,  put her under effective house arrest for about 19 years. She became involved in Catholic plots which threatened Elizabeth for which she was brought to trial in 1587 and subsequently beheaded.

Mary Queen Of Scots.

   When Mary abdicated in Scotland, her infant son,  James VI, was placed on the throne and had a strongly Protestant upbringing in contrast to his profoundly Catholic mother. Queen Elizabeth I remained unmarried and childless and when she died in 1603,  James VI became King James I of England and went on to unite the Scottish and English thrones. Looking back, it seems surprising Scotsmen such as the Scottish Philatelic Secretariat ever felt that the Auld Alliance was such a marvellous entity to commemorate - it seems to have been the ruin of at least 3 Scottish monarchs.

Elizabeth I of England.

  The stamps depicting James IV,  James V and Mary were all issued as part of a set of 6 stamps released by Royal Mail on 23 March 2010 which depicted monarchs of the House of Stewart from 1406 to 1625. The stamp depicting Elizabeth I was issued on 21 April 2009 as part of a set of 6 stamps on the subject of the Tudor monarchs. 
  Mary Queen Of Scots' son, James, is the only monarch to feature on 2 of these stamps - first as James VI in the House of Stewart series and then again as James I in a set of 7 stamps which was released on 15 June 2010 which depicted the generally disastrous monarchs of the House Of Stuart:-

James VI of Scotland and I of England.
James VI of Scotland and I of England.

  Finally, I also depict another Scottish nationalist label I have in my collection which is on the subject of the poet Robert Burns. This is additional to that featured in Blog 406 and features a portrait of Burns, his signature, a thistle, the Saltire (Scotland's national flag) and along each edge, quotes from the poet's work. Two dates are included on the label in Roman numerals - 1759 and 1959 - which implies that the item was produced to commemorate the bicentenary of Burns' birth which was on 26 January 1759:-

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Sunday 27 July 2014

443. British Wartime Occupations (II): Faroe Islands

  One of the great pleasures about collecting the stamps of the British Empire and The Commonwealth is that a totally eclectic collection can be put together often including items which have a logical place in the collection but which are not found, for instance, in the Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Catalogue. The catalogue includes in its listings a number of issues for various territories occupied by British forces during or after a period of war. These were periods when the British effectively ruled or at least had the final say in the administration of the respective territories. Sometimes the British were responsible for the establishment of or the administration of the postal services in the territories during the period of, or part of the period of, their occupation.
  On 9 April 1940 German forces invaded Denmark and with the country occupied the British decided to occupy the Danish territory of The Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean to prevent the territory also falling into Axis hands. As a result, as part of Operation Valentine, 2 British destroyers sailed into the harbour of Torshavn, the Faroese capital, on 12 February 1940 and after the British commanders had met with local government representatives, the occupation of the islands was announced in the evening of the same day. The following day, HMS Suffolk arrived in the islands and 250 Marines were disembarked and despite a protest by the Faroese government, cordial relations between the 2 sides were maintained.
  The local inhabitants were able to exchange mail in the form of Red Cross letters with relatives in occupied Denmark via Britain and Switzerland and also via Portugal.
  The British armed forces in the islands established Field Post Offices for use by the troops. The FPOs had the numbers 219, 611 and 695 with their postmarks existing in various colours of ink.

   Throughout the period of the war, postal affairs in The Faroes continued to be regulated by the Danish Post Office which is why the occupation stamps of these islamds do not qualify to be included in Gibbons' Commonwealth Catalogue. When the British administration in Thorshavn heard that the Danish Post Office had increased its standard inland postal rate on 10 July 1940 from 15 to 20 ore it arranged for locally available Danish stamps to be surcharged to meet the local postal needs.
  The first surcharge appeared in November 1940 and was the 15 ore value with a 20 ore surcharge applied In black (see illustration at head of this piece). The surcharge was applied, one sheet at a time by HN Jacobsen, the local bookstore. 
  Further surcharges followed with a 50 ore on 5 ore value and 60 ore on 6 ore value being released in November 1940 (see above illustration) and then a new 20 ore surcharge (this time on a 5 ore value) in March 1941. A further 5 ore value (on 1ore) was released in May 1941:-

   When supplies of stamps dwindled Postage Paid - Franco Betalt - handstamps were applied to mail. No further new stamps were produced during the period of the British occupation although a second printing of the 20o on 1o, 5Oo on 5o and 60o on 6o was carried out in May 1941.
  After the defeat of Germany, British forces departed The Faroes in September 1945 and the occupation was over. The occupation had been broadly popular in the islands particularly when the alternative of a German occupation was considered and 150 marriages even took place between Faroese women and British soldiers during the period.
 On 19 September 2005, the Faroe Islands Postal Administration issued a pair of stamps which commemorated the 60th anniversary of the ending of the British occupation, calling the Issue "The Friendly Occupation". The stamps were printed by the Austrian State Printers in Vienna and depicted 2 scenes featuring British soldiers including a pleasant picture of British soldiers and Faroese children:-

   I have found it quite reasonable to add the 5 Faroese occupation stamps to my Commonwealth collection as they tell a less well known chapter in the story of the British Empire and Commonwealth even if the Post Office there was not set up by the British. I have even added the two 2005 Faroese stamps as an interesting footnote to my mini-collection.

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Saturday 26 July 2014

442. Post And Go Mad - A New Schleswig Holstein Question.

  So great is the variety of Royal Mail Post And Go stamps which have been produced in the last two or three years that I have completely lost the ability to understand the large amount of different items which have appeared on the market - they're starting to become the philatelic equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein Question - there are only 3 people in the world who can follow what is happening with them - one died, one went mad leaving one sane survivor who has forgotten what he knew about them in the first place.
   I have largely solved my problem with the items by giving up collecting all the Post And Go items which are sold as Exhibition or Museum souvenirs since they are not freely available to the general public for use as postage stamps on ordinary mail. My sanity and financial stability have thereby been saved.

  On 7 July 2014,  Royal Mail issued a pack of 5 Post And Go stamps with the values expressed as "Service indicia". These particular items were produced in photogravure with the inscription applied as a "themal overprint" by International Security Printers in the 2nd class domestic rate (2L), 1st class domestic rate (1L), 2nd class large letter rate (2LG), 1st class large letter rate (1LG) and in the airmail letter rate (A Letter).
  The 2 illustrations above compare the text of the 2L and 1L rate stamps produced by a NCR machine in the Pinfold Street post office in Birmingham (left hand stamp) and the same values from the Philatelic Bureau-supplied pack and the differences between the two types are clearly identifiable. 
  The security codes on the post office machine stamps are both MA13 while the pack stamps are MA12 for the 2L and 2LG values and no code for the 1st class and other values. The remaining 3 stamps from the pack are depicted below:-.

  Following on from the British Postal Museum and Archives, a second museum is to have a Post And Go machine established there - the Portsmouth Naval Museum which already sells Universal Mail United Kingdom Bespoke strips of 5 Tourist stamps. Twelve different stamps will be supplied from the machines - in the Machin Head design and the Union Jack design. The stamps dispensed by the machine will bear the added identifying inscription "The NMRN"and will be available from 28 July 2014.
 As these are only available from a single location I think of them as museum souvenirs rather than true postage stamps so I will fortunately be able to omit them from my collection.
  As I wrote above I am also not collecting Post And Go labels sold at various exhibitions and nowhere else. I have not therefore made any attempt to obtain the various products sold at the spring Stampex, held from 19 to 22 February 2014, which appears to have given us 18 new varieties of Post And Go (6 x Machin Head with exhibition inscription (with MA13 code and with no code making 12 in all) and 6 x Hytech machine-printed Spring blooms):-

2 of the 6 Machin Head post and go labels with Spring Stampex 2014 inscription.
2 of the 6 Hytech-printed Spring flowers labels, Spring Stampex 2014

  There have also been Post And Go dispensing machines set up at other philatelic exhibitions including the 85th Scottish Congress in Perth where an inscription was added to the labels for the occasion:-

     And other exhibitions which have been host to the Post and Go machines so far this year are those held at Salisbury and York which did not warrant special inscriptions but the July York meeting still managed to produce new varieties of the Europe 20g, Europe 60g and Worldwide 60g values. There may have been other varieties which I have missed from these meetings but I am beginning to feel the madness of the Schleswig Holstein Question coming on as I try to understand what has emerged in the last few months. 
  Still to come are new versions of the BPMA labels which will be available in August 2014 with a new inscription which will coincide with a new exhibition at the British Postal Museum which marks the 80th anniversary of the first British inland mail. It seems that these labels will be in the 1st class Machin Head values and the 2nd class values which I think must mean that there will be another 8 labels produced as a result. 
  Also, from the 7 to 17 August 2014, Post And Go labels will be produced at the Philakorea philatelic exhibition with the inscription "Philakorea 2014/World Stamp Expo" and will be produced in the Machin Head and Union Jack designs resulting in another 12 new varieties and if the precedent of the Australia 2013 Philatelic Exhibition is followed, then variants of these items will also be sold from the Philatelic Bureau in Edinburgh which means that this exhibition alone will result in a further 24 new Post And Go labels. Exhaustion sets in.
 Turning to another form of madness,  another 60 "stamps" (15 sheetlets of 4 different designs) and 15 miniature sheets have been produced by the Stamperija philatelic agency on behalf of the Mozambique postal service. The subject of this massive emission is Fauna and species from various parts of the world are featured - there are even a few of the featured species which are actually to be found in Mozambique itself. The subsets are on the subjects of Giraffes, Lions and Leopards, Owls, Turtles (though it looks to me as though the depicted creatures are actually tortoises), Hippopotami and Rhinoceroses, Elephants, Butterflies (2 subsets), Pandas, Komodo dragons, Water birds, Koalas, Kangaroos, Seals, Penguins. The date of issue is stated to have been 30 April 2014:-

  After all this, I feel I need to find myself a new nice and restful hobby.

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Thursday 24 July 2014

441. Pitcairn, Australia, Falkland Islands, Canada And Jersey.

  Pitcairn will issue a cross-shaped miniature sheet containing 3 different stamps on 27 July 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The beautiful design (the first day cover is shown above and the sheet itself will be illustrated in the Blog of 4 August 2014) is by Denise Durkin and lithographed by Southern Colour Print.
  This week's issue from Australia Post is a relatively modest affair and consists of 2 gummed stamps which are part of a joint issue with Norfolk Island. The date of issue was 22 July 2014 and the stamps were designed by Melinda Coombes and lithographed by RA Print.

  Falkland Islands will issue 4 stamps on 16 September 2014 as the third set of the ongoing "Colour in Nature" series. Once more, 4 outstandingly eye-catching stamps have been produced - I particularly like the 2 bird designs - the king penguins on the 30p design and the black oystercatcher on the 75p value. The stamps were designed by Ian J Strange and Georgina Strange and lithographed by BDT International:-

  Canada Post will issue 5 stamps on 31 July 2014 which depict Canadian country music performers. Each stamp is in self-adhesive format and is produced in its own individual booklet of 10 stamps in the "Permanent" domestic rate (Canada Post's price for the 5 booklets is 42.50 Canadian dollars). The stamps are also sold in a miniature sheet containing one of each stamp printed on gummed paper. The depicted performers are Shania Twain, Renee Martel, Hank Snow, k.d. lang (sic) and Tommy Hunter. The stamps were designed by Sabrina McAllister and Roy White and lithographed by Lowe-Martin:-

  Canada Post's second issue of this lean summer is a single stamp to be released on 20 August 2014 to commemorate the Canadian Museum For Human Rights. The stamp is self-adhesive, designed by Adrian Shum of Circle and printed in booklets of 10 in lithography by Lowe Martin:-

  Jersey Post will release an exhibition souvenir to commemorate Philakorea World Stamp Expo on 7 August 2014 in the form of a strip of  6 labels with varying values printed on them in the style of Royal Mail's "Post And Go" stamps. These labels are being issued in a foreign country where they are not valid for postage so I do no feel any need to add them to much collection because I view them as simple exhibition souvenirs rather than true postage stamps (even if when they are transported half way across the world they may have postal validity in Jersey itself).

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