Postal Memories from the Antarctic

Fifty years ago Lewis Juckes, now retired, was a geologist driving a dog sledge among the mountains of Antarctica.  Even in that remote location mailbags played a part in his daily routine.  Here he tells us how that came about.

This story starts over half a century ago, in December 1963 when I was one of twenty or so employees of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who boarded the Kista Dan to sail from Southampton to Stanley in the Falkland Islands and then to our allocated bases.

The Kista Dan unloading in Halley Bay, January 1964.  This was one of the few usable bays in the otherwise continuous ice cliffs that made up the edge of the ice shelf.  The base had been constructed about a mile “inland”, on the flat surface of the ice shelf although by this time the older buildings had become completely  buried by the annual accumulation of snow.

The Kista Dan unloading in Halley Bay, January 1964. This was one of the few usable bays in the otherwise continuous ice cliffs that made up the edge of the ice shelf. The base had been constructed about a mile “inland”, on the flat surface of the ice shelf although by this time the older buildings had become completely buried by the annual accumulation of snow.

In Stanley, and a few days later on the island of South Georgia, most of us bought souvenir postage stamps.  I just followed what the others seemed to be doing and bought a series of stamps working up through the values from the lowest of ½d.  Our understanding was that the Post Office there, and in Britain, was not permitted to frank stamps simply to record the date and place for collectors.  Its job was to deliver mail.  Thus I stuck my stamps on to an envelope, leaving a space in the middle for my own name.  Now I could hand my envelope over the counter, where the assistant would accept it as a piece of mail being posted.  After franking the stamps he would deliver it by handing it back, and no rules had been broken.

The standard rate for a letter between the bases and the Falkland Islands was 1d (one old penny) in the mid-1960s.  It was not an airmail service but often these envelopes were the only ones to hand.

The standard rate for a letter between the bases and the Falkland Islands was 1d (one old penny) in the mid-1960s. It was not an airmail service but often these envelopes were the only ones to hand.

Not all of these sets were full ones, up to the top value.  Leaving out the top two values of £1 and 10s cut the price of the investment by almost three quarters and still left an attractive selection of stamps on the envelope.

A full set of stamps of the Falkland Islands Dependency of South Georgia, dated 9th February 1966.  The last whaling station there had closed a few months earlier but the stamps still reflect that era.

A full set of stamps of the Falkland Islands Dependency of South Georgia, dated 9th February 1966. The last whaling station there had closed a few months earlier but the stamps still reflect that era.

Onward, then, to our main objective: the scientific base at Halley Bay, on the Brunt Ice Shelf on the eastern side of the Weddell Sea.  After a frantic six days of unloading, the ship left and we were on our own for a full year.  Until the next relief all communication with the outside world would be by radio, with the more confidential official messages going in diplomatic code.

A full set of British Antarctic Territory stamps on a letter posted to South Africa from Halley Bay on 30th January 1964.

A full set of British Antarctic Territory stamps on a letter posted to South Africa from Halley Bay on 30th January 1964.

Although the base was also officially a Post Office there was no special building or even an allocated room for it.  The Base Leader automatically held the title of Assistant Colonial Postmaster but he normally delegated the tasks involved so that during my time there it was a meteorologist named Chris Miller who actually sold stamps and franked letters.

After the ship had left, Chris only opened the Post Office once or twice in the next year.  That means he brought out his stock of stamps, his equipment for franking and his cash box from where they were stored in the safe in the Base Leader’s office and he set them up on a table in the lounge.  Midwinter, our biggest celebration of the year, was the main occasion when he set up shop so that we could buy souvenir stamps and have them franked with the date.  In 1965 Chris sold £70 worth of stamps at Midwinter, an impressive sum when one remembers that there were only 32 people at the base.  As for genuine mail items, far more came down for us than we ever sent out and we had a very different use for some of the surplus mailbags that were thus available.

A full set of Falkland Island stamps franked in Stanley Post Office, 15th February 1966.  The ink-pad was probably due for renewal!

A full set of Falkland Island stamps franked in Stanley Post Office, 15th February 1966. The ink-pad was probably due for renewal!

I was there as a geologist which meant that during the summer I would have to spend more than six months in the field, away from the base and travelling with a sledge and dog team.  The main items carried on this sledge were a tent, what we called “manfood”, and dog food.  There were also personal items such as a sleeping bag, a sheepskin to put beneath that, and an inflatable mattress to keep it all off the chilly groundsheet.  Each man had a small kitbag that we called a “P-bag” (for “Personal bag”) holding items like spare garments, reading matter, diary, toilet bag, repair kit and so on.  At night the P-bag also served as a rather bumpy pillow.

Tony Baker and Lewis Juckes drinking in the New Year of 1965 by the light of the midnight sun, about 300 miles east of Halley Bay.  One of the mailbags makes up the front of the sledge load.

Tony Baker and Lewis Juckes drinking in the New Year of 1965 by the light of the midnight sun, about 300 miles east of Halley Bay. One of the mailbags makes up the front of the sledge load.

What was the best container to hold these personal items?  A large sack would be ideal, and it would need to sturdy enough to withstand months of rough use.  As it happened, our Postmaster had a good supply of just such bags.  Our standard dog-sledging routine involved two men per sledge, and our idea of a well-distributed load had one of these mailbags at each end – as can be seen in many of the photographs that we took at the time.

I must admit that I sometimes pictured a British Post Office with a notice on the wall warning against misuse of Post Office property and the severe penalties for such an offence, and wondered whether it might apply to us.  But then, Antarctica has no government and no laws!

All photographs copyright Lewis Juckes

Censorship and Propaganda in the First World War

Here at the BPMA we welcome students of any age to explore our collections. In this post year 9 student Olivia talks about how our collections helped with her project on censorship in the First World War.

My name is Olivia and I am in year 9 at Channing School in London. Back in October, the whole year was asked to write a project on a topic of their choice. At that time, my grandfather found a letter written by my great-great grandfather from the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. This letter contained some censored material and inspired me to choose the project ‘Censorship and Propaganda in the First World War’.

Olivia and Curator Emma Harper

Olivia and Curator Emma Harper

I noticed that The British Postal Museum and Archive was holding a talk on censorship in the First World War. I contacted the museum to see if it was possible to talk to one of their experts on this topic.

Emma Harper contacted me immediately and we met in early December.

Emma showed me the archive and items from the museum collection, which included not only post-related items but also paintings and uniforms. We also looked at First World War censored letters and postcards, and discussed how censorship worked.

Front and reverse of a postcard sent from the front, showing the censor stamp. All post passed through censorship to ensure vital information was not leaked.

Front and reverse of a postcard sent from the front, showing the censor stamp. All post passed through censorship to ensure vital information was not leaked.

Afterwards, she answered my interview questions and read a copy of my great-great grandfather’s letter. We also discussed why some parts of the letter were censored, yet others were not.

Field Service Postcards were a form of self-censorship whereby soliders simply crossed out what didn't apply to them. Any additions could mean the card would be destroyed, Obviously the censor who checked this through thought the holiday greeting was harmless enough!

Field Service Postcards were a form of self-censorship whereby soliders simply crossed out what didn’t apply to them. Any additions could mean the card would be destroyed, Obviously the censor who checked this through thought the holiday greeting was harmless enough!

I have now started writing my project and would like to thank Emma for all her help. I hope to share my finished project with the museum and will keep you updated!

-Olivia, Year 9 at Channing School

Looking for more information on how our collections can support First World War learning? Check out our FREE downloadable First World War learning resource for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3.

NEW STAMPS: Alice in Wonderland

Today Royal Mail launched ten new stamps to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland, 1st class.

The White Rabbit’s House, 1st class.

Alice in Wonderland, 2nd class.

The White Rabbit, 2nd class.

Alice in Wonderland, £1.28.

The Queen of Hearts, £1.28.

Alice in Wonderland, 81p.

The Mad Tea Party, 81p.

Alice in Wonderland, £1.28.

The Game of Croquet, £1.28.

Alice in Wonderland, 81p.

The Cheshire Cat, 81p.

Alice in Wonderland, £1.47.

Pack of Cards, £1.47.

Alice in Wonderland, 1st class.

Drink Me, 1st class.

Alice in Wonderland, 2nd class.

Down the Rabbit Hole, 2nd class.

Alice in Wonderland, £1.47.

Alice’s Evidence, £1.47.

This is not the first time Alice in Wonderland has appeared on British stamps. The 13p stamp below from July 1979 was issued to mark the International Year of the Child. It features Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat in one of John Tenniel’s memorable illustrations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

internationalyearofthechild

There is little doubt that Tenniel’s drawings have helped make Alice in Wonderland an icon, just as much as the words of her creator Lewis Carroll.

The stamps are available online, by phone on 03457 641 641 and in 8,000 Post Offices throughout the UK.

Capturing Mail Rail: 3D survey of the depot, loop and platforms

Last week was an exciting one for the Digital team here at BPMA! For the past five days, Rachel and I have been accompanying ScanLAB Projects Ltd. while they undertake a 3D survey of Mail Rail.

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Scanner capturing the west platform.

 

ScanLAB have been targeting the areas of the network that are to be the focus of our Mail Rail  visitor attraction – that is the work depot at Mount Pleasant, the platforms beneath Mount Pleasant and the tunnel loop from the depot to the platforms – just about 1km of tunnels.

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Will from Scanlab discusses the technology with guests from FARO, New Scientist and Harry (BPMA Communications Manager).

 

The 3D scanning of Mail Rail is important in that it captures the industrial heritage of an unexplored and little-known feature of central London. The survey records the details and the features of Mail Rail as a working space, with all the flotsam and jetsam left behind when the service was suspended. From tools and equipment to newspapers and calendars from over a decade ago, Mail Rail is a time capsule just waiting to be explored. These features will inevitably be tidied up when we open it to the public so it is crucial to capture that detail for posterity.

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Thomas and Will from Scanlab sharing the raw data.

 

The survey will allow users to see these features in three dimensions – bringing the platforms to life in ways not possible even when the train ride is running. The survey can be shown via the web and used in the exhibitions we create at the Postal Museum and Mail Rail attraction to offer a truly explorative experience of Mail Rail in a way that the train ride cannot. Imagine navigating the tunnels and platforms for yourself?

Scanner on the platform.

Scanner on the platform.

Using the latest scanning technology from FARO, and using the surveying and imaging expertise of ScanLAB, we will be obtaining as faithful a representation of the site as we possibly can. From the work depot to the platforms and the tunnels in the loop around Mount Pleasant, we will be recording a truly significant piece of Britain’s industrial history.

-Martin Devereux, Head of Digital

Princess Mary Tin: Christmas on the front in 1914

In 1914 there was a popular view that the First World War, which had started on 4 August of that year, would ‘be over by Christmas’. As December rapidly approached however it was clear that the war would last considerably longer. It was in this atmosphere that Princess Mary, the only daughter of George V, expressed her wish to send a Christmas present to ‘every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front’. To help achieve this, a Christmas Gift Fund was established on 14 October 1914, taking  Princess Mary’s name. The public were immediately receptive to the idea agreeing with the Princess that ‘we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning’.

Princess Mary photo and christmas card

Princess Mary photo and Christmas card.

The form the gift would take was finally agreed on as a box containing tobacco and cigarettes along with the accoutrements such as a pipe and lighter. The box also contained a photo of the young Princess and a Christmas card with the message ‘With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year from The Princess Mary and Friends at Home’. Only a month after the fund had opened and with one month still to go until Christmas there was enough money left over to extend the gift scheme to every man ‘wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914’. A non-smoker’s version of the gift was developed with a khaki writing case containing pencil, paper and envelopes as well as the Christmas card and photograph mentioned above.  Religion was also taken into account so that everyone received a suitable present with tobacco being replaced by sweets and spices for Indian troops.

Non-smokers version - khaki writing case.

Non-smokers version – khaki writing case.

Many of the tins were kept as souvenirs and survive in families to this day. We are lucky enough to have two in the BPMA’s collection. One doesn’t have any of the contents remaining but the tin itself is a lovely item decorated with relief patterns including a side portrait of Princess Mary in the centre with a wreath with decorative ‘M’ either side. On six sides of the lid is lettering in vignettes showing the names of the allied forces: ‘Belgium'; ‘Japan'; ‘Russia'; ‘Montenegro'; ‘Servia'; ‘France’. The other is a new acquisition into our collection and includes the contents of tobacco and cigarettes. It belonged to Alfred Greenwood who served with the Royal Engineers and can be seen at our Last Post exhibition in Coalbrookdale until March 2015.

princess mary tin

Princess Mary tin.

 

Princess Mary tin and contents.

Princess Mary tin and contents.

In all almost 500,000 men received a gift from the Princess Mary fund and they have become treasured possessions and heirlooms for many families throughout the country and a reminder of the sacrifice that was being given at the time.

-Emma Harper, Curator

The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes

We love a mystery at the British Postal Museum & Archive and the identity of the artist behind the illustrated ‘Tolhurst’ envelopes has intrigued us for years.

2014_0038_103

2014-0038/103

The first step in identifying the artist was to research the address to which the majority of the envelopes were sent: St Lawrence, Ernest Road, Hornchurch. Staff at Havering Museum, where a selection of the envelopes were recently displayed, found that the 1911 census showed the occupants as George, Amelia, Frederick and Amy Tolhurst. Frederick and George Tolhurst, father and son, were frequent recipients of the illustrated envelopes.

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

Locating the census record enabled the identification of all but one recipient: Vera. Vera received the majority of the illustrated envelopes in the collection, and the majority of Vera’s letters were sent to the Hornchurch address. However, she did not appear in the census record, nor could we find her in the birth records of the General Register Office, due to lack of information. Not put off, we used the information we had accumulated to construct a family tree.
Returning to the envelopes, we found a vital piece of information: the initials ‘FC’ or ‘FCT’ appeared in the corner of several illustrations. Using the family tree, we narrowed down the identity of the artist to Frederick Charles Tolhurst.

Tolhurst signature, 2014_0038_110

The artist’s initials

The identity of Vera continued to elude us, however. We considered whether Vera was a nickname, or perhaps an acronym, but we had no evidence to confirm either of these theories. We drew a step closer to the truth last week when we discovered a postcard which was addressed to Vera and signed ‘with love & kisses from your Mama & Papa’.

with love from mama and papa 2014_0038_112_back

The evidence that steered our search

We searched the birth index for Vera Tolhurst and identified a Vera Sylvia Tolhurst, born in 1908 in the district of Lambeth. A copy of the birth certificate arrived at the BPMA yesterday: listed as Vera’s father is Frederick Charles Tolhurst, and listed as his occupation is Lithographic Artist Journeyman. By 1911, Tolhurst’s occupation had changed to Trade Union Secretary, but his artistic talent was maintained in the mail art he frequently sent to his family.

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

I’ve been inspired by the Tolhurst envelopes to try my hand at mail art. Why don’t you have a go and let us know if they arrive by Tweeting @postalheritage using #mailart.

My attempt at mail art

My attempt at mail art

Joanna Espin, Curator

TALK: Glad Tidings: A history of the Christmas card

For our annual Christmas talk, we are welcoming Curator Steph Mastoris of the National Waterfront Museum. As a social history curator he has been fascinated for over two decades by the custom of sending Christmas greetings to family and friends, and the billions of cards that are produced. Get a sneak peak at what to expect from his Christmas talk next Tuesday.

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The Christmas card has been very close to the heart of the British postal service from just after the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840. Moreover, the Half-Penny Post of 1870 was an important catalyst for the widespread popularity of the Christmas card. Starting as a wealthy middle class novelty, the tradition of sending Christmas cards became and still is a massive activity.

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In my talk I will discuss how very recent research is suggesting that the first published Christmas cards were produced some years before the famous one commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843.

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As the history of the Christmas card is fundamentally about how people have used them, I will talk about projects that look into how we use the postal service over the holiday season. One of the current projects, People’s Post, gives you the chance to share your memories of receiving cards and gifts in the post. After the talk, there will be an opportunity for the audience to contribute their stories. The information provided may well get built into the interpretation of the new Postal Museum when it opens in 2016!

Join us next Tuesday (2 December) at 7pm at the Phoenix Centre to find out more!