KGVI Overprints – Illustrating the Rise and Fall of Modern Libya

In wake of the recent demise of Muammar Gaddafi, as Libya attempts to build a multiparty democracy (an idea derided by the former leader as being for “donkeys”), the King George VI (KGVI) overprinted stamp registration sheets from this region provide a topical insight into the period of British control. It may come as a surprise to many that Britain was chiefly responsible for uniting Libya under a single monarchy following World War II. This story can be told through a recently catalogued collection of registration sheets, held at the BPMA.

In 1943 the Allies drove the Italians out of Libya (who themselves ousted the Ottoman Turks in the Italo-Turkish War 1911-12), ending Italian rule and the axis powers’ stronghold over the region. Under Mussolini’s fascist government, the Italians divided Libya into three provinces; Britain took military control of two of them – Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, while the French took control of the third region – Fezzan.

The British, as was commonplace throughout the empire and its many military endeavours, wasted no time in implementing the use of its postage stamps in these two territories. The first stamps used were overprinted ‘M.E.F’ (Middle East Forces) 1943-48 as used throughout British control of all former Italian colonies in the Middle East at the time (including Eritrea and Somalia).

KGVI 9d olive-green, overprinted 'M.E.F.' (Middle East Forces), registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 15 September 1942.

KGVI 9d olive-green, overprinted 'M.E.F.' (Middle East Forces), registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 15 September 1942.

The ‘British Military Administration’ (B.M.A) started using its own overprints in Tripolitania (which included Tripoli) from 1948 to 1950, replacing those overprinted ‘M.E.F’.

KGVI 3d pale violet, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 6 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 23 April 1948.

KGVI 3d pale violet, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 6 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 23 April 1948.

Following the UN Assembly in 1949 however, the British backed the resolution for Libya to gain its independence, placing Idris as-Senussi as the King within two years. Subsequently British control of the region was reduced to civilian control as the move towards an independent Libya began. The overprints consequently changed to’ British Administration’ (B.A) 1950-51.

KGVI Festival of Britain Issue, 10s blue overprinted 'B.A. TRIPOLITANIA 240 M.A.L.' registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 27 April 1951.

KGVI Festival of Britain Issue, 10s blue overprinted 'B.A. TRIPOLITANIA 240 M.A.L.' registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 27 April 1951.

Libya Stamp - King Idris stamp – April 1952

Libya Stamp - King Idris stamp – April 1952

M.E.F overprinted stamps were used throughout British control of Cyrenaica, until 24 December 1951, when Libya formerly gained independence and Britain ceased all forms of administration in the region, including use of its postage stamps. The three aforementioned provinces therefore were combined to form the United Kingdom of Libya.

Libya’s downfall began in September 1969, when Gaddafi came to power following a military coup, where King Idris was overthrown, thus seeing the beginning of Gaddafi’s Arab nationalist, totalitarian, and brutal regime. The rest as they say is history.

Libya stamps: (L) April 1983, Gaddafi with Green Book, which set out the political philosophy of Gaddafi (recently burned by anti-Gaddafi demonstrators all over Libya), (R) April 1983 - Propaganda, April 1983

Libya stamps: (L) April 1983, Gaddafi with Green Book, which set out the political philosophy of Gaddafi (recently burned by anti-Gaddafi demonstrators all over Libya), (R) April 1983 - Propaganda, April 1983

Libya stamp May 1984 - Gaddafi propaganda

Libya stamp May 1984 - Gaddafi propaganda

- Stuart Aitken, Cataloguer/Collections Assistant

One response to “KGVI Overprints – Illustrating the Rise and Fall of Modern Libya

  1. Simon Thompson

    Fascinating article. As a new collector of stamps specialising in King George VI issues from Great Britain and the the Empire, I found this particularly interesting.

    I have some of the MEF overprints, and the information here helps to give those issues a context. Thanks!

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