Category Archives: Second World War

By Air, Land and Sea, The Battles of Britain

October 2015 marks 600 years since the Battle of Agincourt, a major English victory in the Hundred Years War. It saw the superiority of English archers defeat the French knights, leading to a unification of the two countries.

Stamps are an expressive way to remember and commemorate historic battles and I have chosen just a few to document the terrains of war faced by the British throughout history. First we will focus on land.

The Houses of Lancaster and York 1st Stamp (2008) Henry V (1413-22)

The Houses of Lancaster and York 1st Stamp (2008)

Henry V’s men were greatly outnumbered at Agincourt, however the narrow battleground prevented large scale manoeuvres benefiting the English. Their innovative use of the longbow also kept the progressing French at bay. The defeated French Knights can be seen in the below stamp taken from the illuminated manuscript ‘The Vigil of Charles VII’ c.1484. 

The Houses of Lancaster and York 1st Stamp (2008) Battle of Agincourt, 1415 Henry V's Triumph

The Houses of Lancaster and York 1st Stamp (2008) Battle of Agincourt, 1415 Henry V’s Triumph

After the battle Henry married the French King’s daughter Catherine of Valois and their children were acknowledged as heirs to the throne. It was their son Henry VI who would become King of both England and France.

The Houses of Lancaster and York 54p Stamp (2008) Henry VI (1422-61 & 1470-71)

The Houses of Lancaster and York 54p Stamp (2008)

As an island nation we have always been under threat from invasion by sea. The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 saw 27 British ships defeat 33 of the combined forces of France and Spain. It was here that Admiral Lord Nelson’s unorthodox tactics confirmed British Naval supremacy.

Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1st issue) 68p Stamp (2005)

Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1st issue) 68p Stamp (2005)

Nelson decided that instead of attacking the enemy ships parallel, which awarded a greater target area, he would attack straight on. By moving two smaller groups forward perpendicular to the enemy he was able to split their line. This formation can be seen in the above stamp from 2005.

Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1st issue) 1st Stamp (2005)

Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1st issue) 1st Stamp (2005)

Though a tremendous victory, it saw the death of Nelson who was mortally wounded aboard his ship the HMS Victory. This event was immortalized in numerous paintings like the one depicted in the stamp above. Nelson’s body was brought back to England in a cask of brandy, where he was honoured with a state funeral.

Maritime Hertiage 24p Stamp (1982) Lord Nelson and HMS Victory

Maritime Heritage 24p Stamp (1982)

With the advancements in technology the new danger to the nation came from the sky. 2015 also celebrates the 75th Anniversary of The Battle of Britain, the first campaign to be fought predominately in the air. Below you can see an image of ‘The Few’, the name given to the boys who defended their country.

The Battle of Britain £1.33 Stamp (2015)

The Battle of Britain £1.33 Stamp (2015)

In the stamps below you can see the Supermarine Spitfire designed by Reginald Mitchell. The aircraft was light, quick and a match for the Lufwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109. Although Hawker Hurricanes were used predominately by the RAF, it was the Spitfire that became the iconic symbol of British defence.

Architects of the Air 20p Stamp (1997) Reginald Mitchell and Supermarine Spitfire MkIIA

Architects of the Air 20p Stamp (1997)

1st, Supermarine Spitfire by R.J.Mitchell from Design Classics (2009)

1st, Supermarine Spitfire by R.J.Mitchell from Design Classics (2009)

The Hawker Hurricane can be seen in the below stamp accompanied by Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding. Dowding played a huge role in the success of the Battle of Britain as the Head of RAF Fighter Command. It was here that all information was collected and decisions made, ultimately winning the battle.

Royal Air Force 17p Stamp (1986) Lord Dowding and Hawker Hurricane Mk. I

Royal Air Force 17p Stamp (1986)

Throughout history Britain has been at war. The stamps displayed here celebrate the dedication of those who took part and the lives of the men and women lost in the conflicts. Through the medium of stamps we can circulate a message of national remembrance.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

Commemorating the start of the Second World War:

75 years ago today, at 11.15am Britain declared war on Germany following its invasion of Poland two days earlier. In the year of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War it is important to remember not just the sacrifices made in that war, the “war to end all wars”, but also those that followed.

'Searching for the enemy.' 20th City of London (3rd GPO) Battalion Home Guard.

‘Searching for the enemy.’ 20th City of London (3rd GPO) Battalion Home Guard or The Post Office Home Guard.

During the Second World War the General Post Office (GPO) not only released men to fight on the front lines, but as in the First played a vital and wide reaching role at home.

Within days of the war breaking out, as men left their jobs to go and fight, women once again began taking on the vacant positions. Many more women were already employed by the GPO at the outbreak of the Second World War than the First but there was still an increase of approximately 78,000 during the course of the conflict. Not only were more women employed by the GPO, they were also given opportunities to take on jobs previously unavailable to them, such as working as an engineer or driving a post van. Women were even allowed to join the Post Office Home Guard, receiving much praise for the work that they did.

Women sorting the mail during the Second World War.

Women sorting the mail during the Second World War.

Not all male GPO staff left to fight on the front lines, for various reasons there were many who were left behind either because of unsuitability for service due to age or injury or because their skills were necessary on the Home Front to keep the war effort going. Perhaps two of the most notable and interesting of these stories belong to Tommy Flowers and Frederick Gurr.

Serious bomb damage at Mount Pleasant during the Second World War.

Serious bomb damage at Mount Pleasant during the Second World War.

Flowers was an experienced telephone engineer who had been responsible for helping to improve the telephone systems before the war. During the war he was working at the Post Office Research station in London, Dollis Hill. It was while he was here he was invited to Bletchley Park to assist with the code breaking work that was occurring there. During his time at Bletchley Park, Flowers worked on the team that cracked the Enigma code and also created Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, which enabled Britain to crack the code of the German High Command.

Gurr’s story is equally impressive. A postman on the verge of retirement when the war broke out Gurr took it upon himself to create the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad. He was concerned that the ordinary salvage squads didn’t recognise the importance of the mail and, as such, his own squad would rescue not only valuables from bombed out Post Offices but also supplies and the mail itself, ensuring that the Post Office could prevent mail being delayed more than 48 hours due to enemy action. For his services Gurr was awarded the British Empire Medal by King George VI.

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Gurr’s scrapbook of GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad

These stories show not just the bravery and commitment of individuals but also how great the Post Office’s contribution was. It is commonly known that the Post Office remained dedicated to ensuring delivery of mail but it’s these surprising and often under-told human stories that really shaped the Post Office in the Second World War.

It’s these stories and many more that we intend to bring to light in The Postal Museum revealing Britain’s social, communications and design history.