The inaugural regular air mail service from England to Australia, December 1934

The following article was written by John Crowe, who recently visited the Royal Mail Archive to research the inaugural regular weekly service from England to Australia, and in particular the ceremony which took place at Croydon Aerodrome on Saturday 8th December 1934…

The ceremony took place in front of the HP 42 “Hengist” and was presided over by the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Londonderry. He had received mail for despatch to Australia from their majesties the King and Queen and HRH the Prince of Wales. He handed the mail to the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood, who stamped it with a special Croydon Aerodrome steel date stamp with an ivory and silver handle. This special date-stamp is slightly smaller than the normal Croydon Aerodrome cancel with a diameter of 24 mm, compared with 26 mm for the normal date-stamp. The royal letters were then put in a blue silk bag which was handed to Sir Eric Geddes, the chairman of Imperial Airways, and he in turn handed it to the pilot of the aircraft.

Tractors towing Hengist out of the Imperial Airways’ hangar at Croydon, prior to the first service to Australia. (POST 118/201)

Tractors towing Hengist out of the Imperial Airways’ hangar at Croydon, prior to the first service to Australia. (POST 118/201)

A cover addressed to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Rt. Hon. J.A. Lyons, received the same treatment as the royal letters with the special date-stamp. The cover has an Air Ministry cachet and beneath it the cachet PRIME MINISTER.

Another cover which received the royal treatment together with the letter which was enclosed, are below. The letter is from the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood, to his opposite number in Australia. The Commonwealth Postmaster General at the time was Senator the Hon. Alexander John McLachlan.

Cover addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Cover addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Letter addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Letter addressed to The Postmaster General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

I purchased the letter and cover in 2002 from Maurice Porter. I do not know how it first came into the public domain. Presumably, the Commonwealth Postmaster retained it as a personal item and disposed of it at some later date. Maurice has told me that he purchased it in the Harmer’s sale of the late Alex Newall’s collection. He thinks Alex might have acquired it through one of his FISA connections.

Below is a cover which was carried on the inaugural flight and which was cancelled with the normal Croydon Aerodrome date-stamp. It was signed later (January 1935) by the Postmaster General, Sir Kingsley Wood.

A cover carried on the inaugural flight.

A cover carried on the inaugural flight.

This is the special steel, Croydon Aerodrome datestamp with an ivory and silver handle.

Special Croydon Aerodrome datestamp.

Special Croydon Aerodrome datestamp.

The story of the ivory and silver hand-stamp is an interesting one. It appears that after Sir Kingsley Wood had stamped the VIP mail the hand-stamp was sent with the mail to the Postmaster General of Australia, probably in the blue silk bag, to be retained as a souvenir.

First Australian Air Mail Bag, Dec 1934 (POST 118/205)

First Australian Air Mail Bag, Dec 1934 (POST 118/205)

The hand-stamp remained in Australia, presumably in the possession of the Australian postal archive in Melbourne, until 1984. In that year the curator of the National Postal Museum, as it then was, visited Melbourne to attend the philatelic exhibition known as “Ausipex”. As a result of his visit the hand-stamp was returned to the UK where it can be viewed, by appointment, at the Royal Mail Archive. The silver band around the middle of the hand-stamp reads “First England to Australia/ Air Mail/ 8th Dec 1934” and the metal plate on the top of the box reads “FIRST/ENGLAND TO AUSTRALIA/AIR MAIL/ 8TH DECEMBER 1934”.

John Crowe examines the handstamp during his visit to the Royal Mail Archive.

John Crowe examines the handstamp during his visit to the Royal Mail Archive.

The handstamp.

The handstamp.

Go to Flickr to see images of the First Australian Air Mail.

Acknowledgements

John Crowe thanks Julian Stray (Curator) and Barry Attoe (Search Room Manager) of the BPMA for their help in viewing the hand-stamp; also Stan Wheatcroft whose earlier work is the basis for much of this article.

BPMA thanks John Crowe and Peter Winget for allowing us to publish this article on our blog.

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