Tag Archives: 2nd World War

Two new additions to the website

Henri Cheffer's original design

Henri Cheffer's original design for a proposed Anglo-French stamp issue (1940)

Over the past day we have been uploading material related to stamps from the era of George VI to our website. Ten proposed or issued stamps dating 1937-1951 are documented and large-size scans of the artworks are included. This is part of our ongoing Stamp Artwork Project which aims to make available material related to British stamp issues from the eras of George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II. Find out more and see what’s new on the Stamp Artwork Project page of our website.

Also uploaded today is our latest podcast The Post Office Went to War featuring thematic collector Christine Earle. Christine Earle is a Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society London and a renowned thematic stamp collector. Her Post Office Went to War collection comprises a wealth of supporting material including GPO notices, ration books and saving stamps. To download or subscribe to our podcast visit: www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast.

The end of the horse-drawn mail van

Sixty years ago today the last horse-drawn mail van left King Edward Building in London. This photo captures the event.

Peter pulls the last horse-drawn mail van to leave King Edward Building, London.

Peter pulls the last horse-drawn mail van to leave King Edward Building, London.

If it seems strange that horse-drawn vans were still being used by the Post Office in 1949, the remnants of war-damaged London in the background provide a clue.

Petrol rationing was introduced in Britain during the Second World War to ensure that the military and other essential services were given first priority when it came to fuel supplies. Throughout the war, individuals, businesses, and organisations such as the Post Office, had to make efficient use of the limited resources to hand. This ruled out expansion of the Post Office’s growing fleet of small motor vehicles for local deliveries, meaning that horse-drawn vans stayed in service for longer than they might have.

A horse-drawn mail van circa 1935 in our collection. The design of the van enabled letter carriers to step on and off whilst the vehicle was still moving.

A horse-drawn mail van circa 1935 in our collection. The design of the van enabled letter carriers to step on and off whilst the vehicle was still moving.

By 1949 the era of rationing was starting to end, allowing the Post Office to replace all horse-drawn vans in London with their motorised equivalent. Although horse-drawn vans continued for a number of years in rural areas, Peter’s final journey can be said to mark the end of the wide-scale use of horses, the world’s oldest form mail transport, by the Post Office.

The Post Office Went to War

On 29th September Christine Earle a Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society London will speak at the BPMA about the Post Office during World War 2. This event year marks the 70th Anniversary of the start of the Second World War, and appropriately Christine’s talk will be preceded by a screening of The First Days, a GPO Film Unit film which documents the changes underwent by the population of London during September 1939.

A still from The First Days: nurses volunteer to fill sandbags

A still from The First Days: nurses volunteer to fill sandbags

Christine Earle has been a thematic stamp collector for over twenty years, using stamps and philatelic material to tell a story. More recently she has become interested in ‘Social Philately’, which allows the use of ephemera type material, as well as stamps and covers to be included in the collection. This has led to the ‘Post Office Went to War’ collection, which describes the effect that war had on the General Post Office during 1939-45; using a wide variety of philatelic material supported by associated items of the period including GPO notices, ration books, savings stamps, etc.

Christine has been a member, committee member and chair of many regional philatelic societies. She was Chair of the British Thematic Association until last year and is currently Honorary Secretary to the Council of the Royal Philatelic Society London. She has not only won 5 F.I.P Gold Medals for thematic collecting but is also an accredited judge for Thematic and Social Philately. Since 2003 Christine has been an F.I.P International judge for Thematic Philately. She conducts thematic judging seminars around the country as well as thematic collecting workshops nationwide.

For further information and booking details please see the Events section of our website. The First Days is available on the DVD If War Should Come.

The Battle of Britain stamps controversy

David Gentleman, whose many British stamp designs are currently being exhibited in our Search Room, is no stranger to controversy. In 1965 he wrote to Postmaster General Tony Benn (who had announced a new policy for stamp issues in late 1964 and was seeking suggestions) and requested that the design limitations of having to include the monarch’s head on stamps be addressed. Benn, a republican, was keen to remove the monarch’s head, and saw Gentleman’s design limitations argument as an excellent – and non-political – way to achieve this objective. 

Gentleman, and his wife Rosalind Dease, had already been commissioned to design stamps commemorating the death of Winston Churchill and the 25th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and supplied Benn with versions of the designs without the Queen’s head. Ultimately, it was decided that the monarch’s head should remain on British stamps (you can read the full story by downloading the PDF The David Gentleman Album from our website), but this was not the end of the controversy as far as the Battle of Britain stamps were concerned.

More than a month before their release date a number of newspapers published images of the stamps, with several tabloids highlighting two of the eight stamps, which showed German aircraft. The first of the two stamps in question showed the wing-tip of a Messerschmitt fighter overshadowed by the wing-tip of a Spitfire; the other stamp showed a Dornier bomber sinking into the sea while Hawker Hurricanes flew above it. The reason for the focus on these stamps was that the German aircraft pictured featured German military emblems, the Balkenkreuz (cross) on the Messerschmitt and the swastika on the Dornier.

The six 4d Battle of Britain se tenant stamps designed by David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease. The two other stamps in this issue showed anti-aircraft artillery, and an air battle over St Pauls cathedral. They were designed by Andrew Restall, and Gentleman and Dease, respectively.

The six 4d Battle of Britain se tenant stamps designed by David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease. The two other stamps in this issue showed anti-aircraft artillery, and an air battle over St Pauls cathedral. They were designed by Andrew Restall, and Gentleman and Dease, respectively.

The inclusion of these emblems, particularly the swastika, caused great concern, with several Members of Parliament and the House of Lords speaking against the stamps. At the same time, representatives of a number of organisations, and many members of the public wrote letters to The Queen, the Prime Minister and Tony Benn, requesting that the Battle of Britain stamps be withdrawn.

A London Rabbi, writing to Benn on behalf of 775 families of his congregation, wrote “Please don’t allow swastika on our stamps. They are the 20th Century symbol of persecution, oppression, suffering and all that is evil”. The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Mr S. Teff, also expressed his concerns in writing to Benn: “The Board has already received numerous complaints from members of the Jewish community to whom the sight of the swastika in any form is offensive in the extreme.”

A common theme amongst many of the complainants, in particular those who had served in the war, was that issuing a stamp bearing the swastika was an insult to the war dead. Others objected to the swastika appearing alongside the Queen’s head.

Withdrawing the stamps would have been very difficult for the Post Office as the Battle of Britain issue was the first set of stamps to be commissioned since Benn had changed the policy to include stamps commemorating important anniversaries. Indeed, the Battle of Britain stamps had come about partly due to lobbying from the Royal Air Forces Association and a number of Members of Parliament. The issue was also the largest issue of commemorative stamps to date.

Benn and his department took the view that the reason for the objections to the stamps was that the tabloid press articles which had highlighted the stamps featuring German aircraft, had not made clear the purpose of the stamps, and that black and white images of the stamps which appeared in various publications did not effectively convey the subtlety of the designs.

“The purpose of the stamp is to commemorate the victory over Nazism and I am sure that when the stamp is seen in colour it will be quite apparent that the swastika on the tail of the Dornier bomber is both split and half covered by water; the shattered Dornier is sinking in the English Channel and high above four RAF fighters, objective achieved, are flying back to base” wrote one official, in reply to a member of the public.

“In effect, the stamp is meant to be symbolic of the crushing of the Nazis and all that they stood for. We hope you will agree that within the limits of stamp design, it is difficult to do justice to a subject without introducing features of this kind into a series illustrating the Battle of Britain…”

Benn himself said in one letter “I feel that the stamp is a true reflection of that period in our history and…will be seen as a reminder of a great victory over the evil of Nazism. Because of this I do not propose to withdraw it.” He also argued that no objections were raised to the swastika being seen in newsreel footage of German planes, and that the RAF had displayed and flown captured Nazi aircraft on numerous occasions.

Eventually criticism died down, and despite threats to boycott the stamps sales were healthy, although the GPO arranged for adequate stocks of ordinary small size stamps to be available for those who did not wish to purchase the Battle of Britain issue.

Writing in his 2002 book Design, David Gentleman reflected “the tabloids [made] a great furore over the inclusion of a swastika and an iron cross. But without an enemy there would have been no battle and, as the stamps showed the Germans getting the worst of it anyway, the whole manufactured fuss quickly died down.”

The British Postal Museum & Archive holds many files relating to the Battle of Britain stamp issue. Details of these can be found on our online catalogue.

New podcast goes online: The Post Office during the Second World War

by Alison Bean, Website Officer

Peace and Freedom stamp, 1995

Peace and Freedom stamp, 1995

Earlier this year several talks were given at the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms to tie-in with the exhibition Last Post – Remembering the First World War. These covered various wartime and postal history topics, including talks on the Post Office during the First and Second World Wars. The talk The Post Office during the Second World War, given by Mark Crowley, is now available to download as a podcast.

Mark Crowley is a PhD student conducting research at the BPMA, who has previously written for this blog on The Post Office Home Guard. His talk presented a number of interesting insights into Post Office operations during World War 2.

The bomb damage suffered by Greenwich Post Office in 1945

The bomb damage suffered by Greenwich Post Office in 1945

The Post Office played a vital communications role during the War, providing both postal and telegram deliveries, and telephone services. With many Post Office workers now in the forces, women were employed in large numbers to deliver and sort mail, drive Royal Mail vans and maintain the telephone network. Mark’s talk is peppered with stories of the bravery of some of these workers, who managed to keep telephone exchanges and sorting offices running even as the enemy bombs rained down.

Vital infrastructure such as post offices, sorting offices and telephone exchanges were often targets for enemy bombers, and many suffered bomb damage. Mobile Post Offices, offering telephone and counter services were set up in effected areas.

A Mobile Post Office in a bombed area, 1941

A Mobile Post Office in a bombed area, 1941

Unfortunately, many of the archive images referred to in the talk cannot be included with the podcast due to copyright reasons, but we hope to make some of these available in the future.

The British Postal Museum & Archive Podcast can be downloaded through iTunes or from our website. Last Post – Remembering the First World War is currently on a national tour.

War time postal publicity campaigns

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

The Second World War hit postal and telecommunications services hard. Lack of personnel due to conscription meant that all services were under pressure and the Post Office used the Public Relations Department to carry their twin calls for understanding and assistance to the general public.

One of the Post Office’s main concerns was the delivery of mail to HM Forces overseas. Delivery times for letters sent via Air Mail services were greatly slowed down due to enemy action in the Mediterranean and the Post Office needed to find a speedier alternative; it decided to adopt the Airgraph service.

Sending an Airgraph involved customers writing a letter on a special form which was transported to a central despatching office and photographed onto a film. At the Receiving Office, large prints on bromide paper could be made from the films and despatched by post to the addressees. Although there was a slight delay for processing at each end, the service had the benefit of being faster than normal Air Mail as the films travelled in comparatively small high speed aircraft.

The service proved to be popular and in May 1942 it was extended to include civilian correspondence. The Public Relations Department were called in to help ‘popularise’ the service and as part of their strategy they produced a series of posters encouraging the public to use the service. These included posters by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero) (POST 110/2971), Jan Lewitt and George Him (POST 110/2972), and Anthony Frederick Sarg (POST 110/3194).

Send Airgraphs - they save aircraft space, designed by Anthony Frederick Sarg

Send Airgraphs - they save aircraft space, designed by Anthony Frederick Sarg

Austin Cooper also designed posters advertising airgraphs: (POST 110/4151 and POST 110/1184); in addition he produced a poster to advertise the first Christmas Airgraph in 1943 (POST 110/1185).

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, designed by Austin Cooper

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, designed by Austin Cooper

The Airgraph for the following Christmas was advertised in a poster produced by Leonard Beaumont (POST 110/1193). The Christmas Airgraphs proved very popular, with six million incoming and outgoing for the two years that they were available.

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, produced by Leonard Beaumont

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, produced by Leonard Beaumont

Closer to home, the telecommunications service was under pressure to perform and it was forced to drastically reduce the services that were on offer to the public as it simply could not cope with the demand. In the years 1943 and 1944 the Public Relations Department were instrumental in getting the public to reduce their use of the trunk telephone service. They did this in a number of ways, including the use of newspaper advertisements and the production of a short film to be shown in most cinemas.

They also produced a number of posters encouraging the public to ‘write instead’ of using the telephone or telegraph services. These were designed by artists such as Leonard Beaumont (POST 110/1188), Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero) (POST 110/3200) and Hans Arnold Rothholz (POST 110/1187).

Think Ahead, Write Instead, designed by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero)

Think Ahead, Write Instead, designed by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero)

Posters produced for these two wartime campaigns were displayed on postal vans as well as inside post offices and they helped to create a situation where the public worked in partnership with the Post Office to ensure that available services were effectively operated.

Some of the other major publicity campaigns coordinated on the Home front during the Second World War by the Public Relations Department were: ‘Post Early in the day’, the annual ‘Post Early for Christmas’ campaign and a campaign beseeching the public to ‘write clearly and correctly’. The latter practice was essential so that inexperienced staff, standing in for those at war, could effectively sort the mail.

Posters played a key part in spreading the word of these campaigns and artists such as Hans Schleger (Zero), Tom Eckersley and Jan Lewitt and George Him helped to get the message across.

The BPMA exhibition Designs on Delivery: GPO posters 1930-1960 will open at the London College of Communications on 7th October 2009. 2b9pdhtfur

The British Forces Post Office

Recently a small group of BPMA staff and Friends visited the British Forces Post Office (BFPO). Based in an impressive purpose-built building at RAF Northolt, the BFPO provides a mail service to members of the British armed services, as well as a number of government departments and corporate clients.

The BFPO can trace its history back to 1799 when the office of Army Postmaster was established. Over time the service has formalised and expanded to become an important part of military life. From its initial beginnings as part of the Army it now ensures letters and parcels reach serving Navy and Air Force personnel too.

One reason for the longevity of the service is its value as a morale booster. During the Second World War (WW2) General Montgomery was heard to say that his soldiers could march for three or four days without food on the strength of one letter from home. These sentiments were echoed by Lieutenant Colonel J.A. Field, the present Commander of Defence Postal Services.

For this reason the BFPO and its predecessors have always been keen to use the technology of the day to deliver mail quickly and efficiently. Trials of airmail were conducted by the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) in 1918 and these proved so successful that a regular service between Folkestone and Cologne was established the following year. During WW2, Postal Section personnel were regularly detached with forward troops, often establishing postal services within hours of their arrival. In recent times the BFPO has used cutting-edge OCR technology to sort mail, and has established an innovative hybrid mail system called the e-bluey.

The BFPO uses OCR technology (foreground) to read addresses on mail. Once an address has been read the item of mail is dispatched down a chute (background) and bagged for dispatch.

The BFPO uses OCR technology (foreground) to read addresses on mail. Once an address has been read the item of mail is dispatched down a chute (background) and bagged for dispatch.

Families of British service personnel have long been able to send letters on special blue stationery (known as a blueys), as well as packages weighing up to 2kg, free of charge, but e-blueys enable them to send a message electronically – which will usually arrive within 24 hours. E-blueys can be hand-written and faxed, or sent through the BFPO website. Drawings and colour photographs can also be included, a feature particularly popular with personnel with young families.

Once sent, the e-blueys are delivered via an encrypted computer system to Field Post Offices, where they are printed out using a special printer which seals each message as it is printed. The messages are then distributed to troops with regular mail, having been seen by no one apart from sender and recipient. The e-bluey system is extremely popular, and photographs and drawings which have been sent in this way are said to adorn the walls of many a barracks.

In addition to its sorting, delivery and logistics activities, the BFPO has a Philatelic Bureau which issues a number of First Day Covers each year. The BPMA group was lucky enough to receive one of these to commemorate our visit. As part of an initiative to collect items from postal services other than Royal Mail, the BPMA’s curatorial team collected BFPO bag labels, e-bluey samples and a range of other material.

The BFPOs First Day Cover to commemorate our visit

The BFPO's First Day Cover to commemorate our visit

The BPMA would like to thank BFPO for allowing us to visit, and is particularly grateful to the Officers and staff who provided us with information and assistance.

Colossus and D-Day

65 years ago today General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff met to discuss the Normandy landings, or D-Day. The landings had been planned for some time and their success depended on good weather for the crossing and landing, and minimal resistance from German troops so that the Allies could gain a foothold.

Weather conditions had been too poor for a landing in early June 1944, but chief meteorologist James Martin Stagg forecast an improvement on 6th June. This weather forecast is usually cited as the deciding factor in Eisenhower’s decision to set D-Day for 6th June. However, Eisenhower is said to have received another piece of information during that meeting which was just as crucial, and he had the skill and inventiveness of the Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill to thank for it.

Post Office engineers re-wire a telephone exchange after an air raid. Post Office telephone engineers developed the first programmable electronic computer during the 2nd World War.

Post Office engineers re-wire a telephone exchange after an air raid. Post Office telephone engineers developed the first programmable electronic computer during the 2nd World War.

Before the war Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers and his team at Dollis Hill had worked in switching electronics, exploring the possibilities for electronic telephone exchanges. But by the early 1940s they were helping the British code-breaking team at Bletchley Park. Colossus, later recognised as the world’s first programmable electronic computer, was their greatest achievement.

Colossus was primarily developed to decipher the Nazi Lorenz codes, high-level encryptions used by senior personnel, rather than the more famous Enigma codes used by field units. Computer technology was in its infancy in the 1940s and when in early 1943 Flowers proposed the machine, which would run on 1800 valves (vacuum tubes), there was great scepticism that it would work as until that point the most complicated electronic device had used about 150 valves.

But by December 1943 Colossus Mark 1 was working and it was soon moved to Bletchley Park, where it was able to break German codes within hours. An improved version, Colossus Mark 2, using 2400 valves, was unveiled on 1st June 1944, four days before Eisenhower made his decision about D-Day.

An essay by Flowers published in Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park’s Code-breaking Computers describes the crucial meeting between General Eisenhower and his staff held on 5th June 1944. During that meeting a note summarising a recent Colossus decryption was handed to Eisenhower. It confirmed that Hitler was aware of troop build-ups in southern England, but would not be sending extra troops to Normandy as he was certain that Allied preparations were a hoax. This information was said to have convinced Eisenhower that the Normandy landings should take place the next day.

But whether it was the weather forecast or the Colossus decryption which tipped the balance in favour of 6th June, Flowers and the Post Office Research Station team made a remarkable advance in computer technology. By the end of the war 10 Colossus Mark 2 computers were in use at Bletchley Park, providing vital information to Allies forces, which certainly reduced the length of the war. After the war Flowers and his team returned to their work in switching, later pioneering all-electronic telephone exchanges. Their ingenuity was only recognised in the 1970s when restrictions on the Colossus project under the Official Secrets Act were lifted.

GPO publicity: ‘Post early in the day’

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

In 1925 a national campaign was launched, encouraging the public to ‘Post early in the day’.  The idea was to alleviate pressure on the postal work force by avoiding a rush on letter boxes at the end of the working day. After an initial interest, the campaign proved largely unsuccessful. 

POST 122/11087: Please Post Early In The Day

POST 122/11087: Please Post Early In The Day

It wasn’t until the early 1930s that another national scheme to spread the ‘Post early’ message was considered; with two of the earliest publicity posters commissioned by Public Relations Officer: Stephen Tallents, being on this theme.

These posters, produced in 1934 and depicting postmen on their rounds: PRD 0086 (POST 110/4340) and PRD 0087 (POST 110/1439) are the only two in the collection designed by Graham Sutherland, a then up and coming artist.

POST 110/1439: Post Early

POST 110/1439: Post Early

This initial push was followed a few years later by an all out national campaign targeting businesses in particular; this was officially launched by the Assistant Postmaster General in a speech to the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce in February 1937.

A leaflet entitled ‘Post during the lunch hour’ (which became the slogan of the campaign) was published in the same month.

POST 122/10941: Post During The Lunch-Hour leaflet

POST 122/10941: Post During The Lunch-Hour leaflet

This was followed up by two posters. The first, PRD 0155 was entitled: ‘Post during lunch hour’ (POST 110/2491), it was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer, who went on to produce a set of GPO posters for use in schools entitled ‘Outposts of Britain’ later that same year.

PRD 0155: Post during lunch hour

PRD 0155: Post during lunch hour

The second poster, PRD 0173 was entitled: ‘Post early in the day’ (POST 110/1159); it was designed by Pat Keely, who went on to produce a number of posters for the GPO throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

PRD 0173: Post early in the day

PRD 0173: Post early in the day

The campaign gathered momentum throughout the early years of the Second World War, when it was particularly important to get the message across due to extra pressure on the postal workforce brought about by conscription.  Some key artists of the era were called in to produce posters; these included Hans Schleger (Zero), who produced a set of posters (PRD 0250-0252) featuring a running chef, encouraging the public to ‘Post before lunch’ In order to achieve the best war time delivery (see POST 110/4150, POST 110/2966 and POST 110/1173). The posters were used both in post offices and on mail vans in an attempt to reach the widest possible audience.

PRD 0251: Post before lunch

PRD 0251: Post before lunch

PRD 0252: Posting before lunch enables the Post Office to give your letters the best possible war-time delivery

PRD 0252: Posting before lunch enables the Post Office to give your letters the best possible war-time delivery

Other war time artists included Jan LeWitt and George Him, who worked together on a number of inspirational poster designs between 1933 and 1954 when their partnership dissolved.  They produced some memorable posters for the ‘Post Early’ campaign, each involving the image of a cartoon postman dragging a large letter over his shoulder (PRD 0238 and PRD 0241 (POST 110/3184 and POST 110/2502)).

PRD 0238: Post your letters before noon for first delivery next morning in

PRD 0238: Post your letters before noon for first delivery next morning in

PRD 0242: Post early - And dont miss the Noon post

PRD 0242: Post early - And don't miss the "Noon" post

‘Post early’ was not the only publicity campaign to be pursued during the Second World War; posters were also produced on themes such as: ‘Save for national security’; ‘Don’t telephone or telegraph if a letter or postcard will do’ and ‘Airgraphs get priority’. I will be exploring some of these posters in my next blog.