Tag Archives: Air Mail

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.

Christmas airmail

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising Christmas air mail services; featuring a flying Father Christmas with wings made out of Air Mail stickers, designed by Dick Negus and Philip Sharland, 1962. (POST 110/4254)

Poster advertising Christmas air mail services; featuring a flying Father Christmas with wings made out of Air Mail stickers, designed by Dick Negus and Philip Sharland, 1962. (POST 110/4254)

This poster from 1962 gives the last posting dates for Christmas mail sent by airmail in that year. Airmail is usually associated with international mail services but after the Second World War the Post Office began to use scheduled inland flights to carry mail between major centres.

Since 1979 Royal Mail has developed an inland network of nightly flights between provincial centres. Its national air network, Skynet, ensures millions of letters reach their destination the day after posting. Thanks to Skynet some of your Christmas cards and parcels will have gone by air for part of their journey without the need for an airmail sticker.

If Skynet sounds a bit Terminator and not as fun as this Father Christmas with angel wings of airmail stickers, we can only apologise.

Pillar box gold

Team GB’s gold medal winning athletes are not only finding themselves appearing on stamps within 24 hours of their victory, they are also being honoured with a gold letter box in their hometown.

One of the gold letter boxes (image from Royal Mail Stamps & Collectables Facebook page)

One of the gold letter boxes (image from Royal Mail Stamps & Collectables Facebook page)

As with the Gold Medal Winner stamps Royal Mail are dispatching staff to re-paint the letter boxes within a day of each athlete’s victory. There are now gold letter boxes from Penzance to Lossiemouth, with (hopefully) lots more to come.

The gold letter boxes are getting a lot of attention in the media and many people have asked us whether it is unusual to see letter boxes in colours other than the traditional red. In fact it isn’t. When letter boxes first appeared in the British Isles they were painted green so as not to intrude on the landscape.

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

Unfortunately the colour green proved too unobtrusive and people were unable to find them. After experimenting with a chocolate brown colour, the Post Office finally settled on the bright red we know today.

The familiar red pillar box, a rare example of one produced during the reign of Edward VIII, 1936 (OB1994.45)

The familiar red pillar box, a rare example of one produced during the reign of Edward VIII, 1936 (OB1994.45)

In the 1930s some boxes were also painted bright blue to promote the new Air Mail service. Our curator Julian Stray restored one of these rare blue boxes several years ago and you can read all about that on this blog.

A rare blue Air Mail pillar box

A rare blue Air Mail pillar box

Visit http://www.goldpostboxes.com/ to see the locations of all the gold boxes, or read our article on Letter Boxes to find out more about their history.

Selling the Air Mail service

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

With the rapid development of Air Mail services from the 1920s onwards, the Post Office was faced with the challenge of marketing the concept to the British public. Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson, Director of Postal Services, summed up the problem in a lecture to the Post Office Telephone and Telegraph Society of London in November 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14): “the British user of the Postal service is extremely conservative” “it takes a long time and a considerable amount of persuasion to induce him to take up readily or on a large scale any new service” “what is essential in a new service such as this is to bring its advantages under the notice of those who are likely to use it”.

The question of appropriate publicity for the developing service was one of the major items for discussion by a specially appointed ‘Air Mail Committee’ at this time; as early as March 1930 Air Mail labels were issued in the three shilling stamp book, services were also advertised in a special leaflet and in the Post Office Daily List, but take up was slow.

Publicity ideas developed over time; a suggestion for the use of advertising posters on mail vans in December 1930 was dismissed as “undesirable” (POST 33/2912A file 16), but by 1933 a Post Office Circular dated 31 May (p 208) announced that a poster on the subject of air mail services was to be displayed on mail vans until the end of August (a copy of this poster can be found in POST 33/2912A file 22). The display of this poster tied in with the launch of a successful press campaign which helped to achieve a “growth of something like half a million Air Mail letters” (POST 50/24, p 14).

Building on this achievement, the newly formed Public Relations department produced a number of posters designed to sell the service, some of which can be seen in the exhibition: Designs on delivery: GPO posters from 1930 to 1960.
 
Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson suggested back in 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14) that it would be a good idea to “familiarise the youthful mind with the possibilities of air services”; accordingly two key posters from the 1930s were produced for use in schools. One of these formed part of a series on the theme of ‘Overseas Communications’, it shows airmails for the empire being loaded at Croydon in 1934 (PRD 142, POST 110/3174C).

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

The second displays a map of ‘Air Mail routes’ and was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer in 1937 (PRD 146, POST 110/3177). 

Airmail routes

Airmail routes designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer

Kauffer was also responsible for designing a poster to be displayed in Post Offices in 1935; this poster emphasised the speed of the service (PRD 111, POST 110/2488).

Quickest Way by Air

Quickest Way by Air

Another poster introduced in this year, designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott, showed the upward trend in air mail traffic between the years 1927 and 1933 (PRD 78, POST 110/2487).

Into the Air

Into the Air

Posters for display on mail vans were also produced along with a series of leaflets publicising the expansion of available services; these were meant to further stimulate the appetite of a public, who were increasingly excited by the prospect of a more speedy service for their overseas mail.

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Speed the Air Mails

Speed the Air Mails

South African Air Mail

South African Air Mail

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Designs on Delivery
Well Gallery, London College of Communication
7th October to 4th November
Online Exhibition – FlickrArchives Hub –  The Guardian