Tag Archives: World War II

QEII Longest Reigning Monarch

Wednesday 9 September marked the day our Queen, Elizabeth II, became the longest ruling monarch in British history, taking the title from Queen Victoria. To commemorate this occasion Royal Mail released a new stamp issue ‘Long to Reign Over Us’.

Long to Reign Over Us

Long to Reign Over Us, Miniature Sheet 2015

Above you can see the Miniature Sheet, issued with images of both the Wyon Medal, on which the original Penny Black was based, and the three-quarter portrait of the Queen by Dorothy Wilding. The Amethyst Machin definitive in the centre includes the words ‘Long to Reign Over Us’ in the background of the stamp.

Long to Reign Over Us 1st Stamp (2015) Machin Definitive

Long to Reign Over Us 1st Stamp (2015) Machin Definitive

To mark this momentous occasion I thought we should take a moment to look at some stamps that document milestones of the Queen and her predecessors. Queen Elizabeth is the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror and will become the longest ruling by surpassing the 63 years and 216 days amounted by Queen Victoria.  

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.00 Stamp (2011) Queen Victoria 1897 Diamond Jubilee

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.00 Stamp (2011)

In 1952 Elizabeth inherited the throne from her father, King George VI, who became King in 1936 as the result of his brother’s abdication to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. We can see the family  line of succession in the stamp issue of 2012 depicting the House of Windsor and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. 

The House of Windsor - (2012) Presentation Pack

The House of Windsor – (2012) Presentation Pack

During the Second World War Elizabeth trained as a driver in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (WATS) to serve her country. It was here she learnt to change tyres, rebuild engines and drive heavy vehicles. We can see an image of her during this period in the centre of the below stamp.

60th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II 17p Stamp (1986) Queen Elizabeth II in 1928, 1942 and 1952

60th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II 17p Stamp (1986)

Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten in 1947 and had two of her four children before her coronation; Charles in 1948 and Anne in 1950. It was on a trip to Kenya in 1952 that she became Queen, though she was not officially crowned until a year later. It was the first time the ceremony was broadcasted to the nation, allowing everyone to celebrate the event.

50th Anniversary of Coronation 1st Stamp (2003) Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation Robes

50th Anniversary of Coronation 1st Stamp (2003)

During her reign the Queen has had two children, eight grandchildren and now five great grandchildren. As monarch, much of her life, and that of her children, has been spent in the public eye and over the years we have seen stamps document the marriages of all the Queen’s children, most recently her grandson Prince William.

Royal Wedding of His Royal Highness Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Royal Wedding of His Royal Highness Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton £1.10 Stamp (2011)

The Queen has ruled through difficult times; with social unrest, conflict and the possibility of a split nation. During this time she has also made numerous changes to the monarchy; from opening up her residences to the public to supporting the end of male primogeniture. She has presided over 12 Prime Ministers including Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair and has visited countries across the world.

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Margaret Thatcher

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Margaret Thatcher

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Winston Churchill

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Winston Churchill

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her Royal Highness has devoted her life to her country, performing over 60 years of service. It is through the commemorative stamps of her reign that we can see the development of her life and that of her decedents. In a time when the popularity of the monarchy is suffering, one must acknowledge her dedication and continued love of her country and through ‘Long to Reign Over Us’ we celebrate this.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

Miniature Posters: the stamp designs of Abram Games

This Thursday (17 September) Naomi Games, daughter of designer Abram Games (1914-1996), will be joining us to talk about her father’s stamp designs, his working process and show progressive sketches from his archive. Here she gives us some background on her father and a taste of what to expect.

Abram Games with his controversial ATS poster, which was later withdrawn.

Abram Games is best known for his posters. He was the official war poster artist during WW2, and during his sixty year career he designed three hundred posters, notably for London Transport, Guinness, the Financial Times and BOAC. He also designed the first animated ident for BBC television, the covers of Penguin Books, and the emblems for the Festival of Britain and the Queen’s Award to Industry. Less is known of his numerous award-winning stamp designs for Britain, Jersey and Israel. In 2014, his centenary year, he was included in the ‘Remarkable Lives’ issue. Royal Mail also issued a special Abram Games postmark to celebrate his 100th birthday. Always an obsessive letter writer, he would have been delighted!

Poster advising on the best time to post mail. Poster artist: Games, Abram

Poster advising on the best time to post mail. Poster artist: Games, Abram

His first published stamp was for the 1948 Olympic Games and he was nicknamed ‘Olympic Games’ thereafter. He boasted that he was the only artist to have his name on a British stamp, as designers were not allowed to sign their work.  After winning the competition to design the Festival of Britain symbol, he  also won the stamp competition and his ubiquitous Britannia appeared alongside side the head of King George V1. His involvement in the Festival of Britain was a great boost to his career and he continued to secure many prestigious commissions throughout his life.

KGVI, 1949 Universal Postal Union: Submitted design by Abram Games

KGVI, 1949 Universal Postal Union: Submitted design by Abram Games

Games was a self-taught designer. His only formal training was two terms at St Martin’s College of Art but he continued to study life drawing and anatomy. He believed drawing would be the key to becoming a successful designer. He faithfully followed his axiom ‘maximum meaning, minimum means’, always keeping all his designs as simple as possible. When creating a poster or stamp, he filled a layout pad with several ideas. He wasted no time covering large areas and avoided detail. Once he had selected his thumbnail design, he circled it with red pencil. He said, ‘I never work large because posters, seen from a distance are small. If ideas don’t work an inch high, they will never work.’ Thus the design of stamps – his ‘miniature posters’ – was second nature to him.

The event will take place on Thursday 17 September 18.30-19.30 at The Phoenix Centre, Phoenix Place, London, WC1X 0DL.

To book tickets please visit abramgames.eventbrite.co.uk or telephone 020 7239 2570.

My Favourite Object: Prosthetic Hand

Asking a Curator to choose their favourite object is like putting a kid in a sweet shop and then telling them they can only have one! In fact, some of you may remember that I shared my favourite object with you last year, a truncheon issued to Post Office employees before the Chartist riots of 1848. Today however my favourite object is a recent acquisition of a Postman’s Hand, which is not quite as sinister as it sounds, I promise!

IMG_7501

Prosthetic hand with letter

 

Besides all the pun based opportunities this object has provided (for the last few weeks I have been constantly asking my colleagues if they need a hand with anything…) it is actually a very important addition to the BPMA’s collection, as it reveals an often hidden aspect of history.

The hand in question is not a real one but is made of wood covered with leather and has an adaptor to fit it into the wrist unit of a prosthetic arm. Some of the earliest prosthetics in history were also made of wood and leather but this hand fits into the advanced development of prosthetic limbs that occurred after the Second World War to aid rehabilitation of the many soldiers who had limbs amputated as a result of the conflict.

Postman's hand on adaptor to fit a prosthetic arm.

Postman’s hand on adaptor to fit a prosthetic arm.

The Post Office as an employer has always made a concerted effort to advance employment opportunities for disabled people, including veterans, as has been shown in previous posts and this was particularly so after the Second World War. Hands like this were in use from the 1950s through to the 1970s – this example bears its date on it ‘4/11/64’ – and were designed to hold letters. What is particularly revolutionary about this object though is that it has a roller, or wheel, under the thumb which allowed one letter to be removed while still keeping grasp of the others. This enabled disabled employees to sort letters with greater ease and efficiency than with the previous, more basic, prosthetics. Feeling the hand it is quite heavy and it has made me think what it would have been like to use.

IMG_6797

Profile of hand

 

This object was kindly donated to us from the Limb Fitting Centre at the Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, which was founded to care for soldiers wounded in the First World War, and has since become renowned as a limb fitting and amputee rehabilitation centre. They were able to tell us that the hand had been developed by Hugh Steeper Ltd, major manufacturers of prosthetics at the time. This was the only remaining postman’s hand at Roehampton and it was returned to them by a retiring postman in the early 1970s.

As you can see the BPMA’s collection is constantly developing and this object adds to our knowledge of an important part of our history which is relatively under-represented. It is fascinating objects such as this that will form the bedrock of the new Postal Museum but they are nothing without the stories of the people who used them. If you have a story to share please email us at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk and help us achieve our ambition of filling our brand new museum with the voices of real people. Thank you!

-Emma Harper, Curator

They came to do a job and they did it

Head Postmaster of Dover AWB Mowbray kept a typed account of the Blitz years in what became known as ‘Hell’s Corner’, recounted here by BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes.

Mowbray wrote with pride when a member of his staff, Miss W N Scanlan, was awarded the British Empire Medal in October 1941. This was announced in the London Gazette alongside a notice that the same award was awarded to two other female supervisors in charge of Post Office telephone exchanges.

Medal awarded to Miss W Scanlan during World War II for bravery during bombing raids on the Telephone Exchange at Dover. (2004-0024/01)

Medal awarded to Miss W Scanlan during World War II for bravery during bombing raids on the Telephone Exchange at Dover. (2004-0024/01)

Little more is known of these women’s particular acts of bravery, aside from what is written in the newspaper:

These three Supervisors of Women Telephone Operators have, by their courage and devotion to duty, set a fine example to their staffs. Throughout the air raids in the areas where they work, they have maintained an efficient telephone service during periods of constant danger.

According to the General Post Office press release, eight other female supervisors and telephonists had previously received awards and commendations.

Over 100,000 women had been employed by the GPO by November 1941 – more than one-third of the total staff. Due to the shortage of manpower, women worked a range of duties including some previously considered ‘male’ occupations – such as telephone engineers and the first ever female motorised van driver.

Mowbray describes how, in Christmas 1941…

… the kaleidoscopic effect of the multi-coloured jumpers and overalls of the women temporary sorters who fluttered about like so many butterflies was unmarred even by 2½ hours of shelling in one evening…they came to do a job and they did it regardless of the large quantity of roof glass.

Additionally, one-third of the Sub Post Offices in the country were controlled by women. It is clear that without them, the vital communication networks cared for by the Post Office could not have been maintained.

In addition to these examples there are many other notable tales of bravery by postal staff during the Blitz. A total of 27 post office staff died on duty in 1941. By the end of that year, over 100 men and women had received commendations and awards from the King, while on Civil Defence or Post Office Duty. These ranged from 38 British Empire Medals to eight George Medals.

Mowbray himself was to be included in the New Years Honours list in 1942, as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1941, 117 staff were also commended by the Postmaster General for their work on the home front. For every Post Office worker who won an award, there were countless others behind them who received no official recognition. Miss Scanlan announced the award to her staff by flourishing the letter and saying ‘Girls we’ve got the British Empire Medal’. And, as Mowbray himself readily acknowledges, it was the co-operation of the police, fire, transport and military services, and the cheeriness of the population that helped his staff cope with the strain of war.

We do not like the phrase “We can take it”. It would be more honest to say “It’s forced on us”, but the Dover people and Dover Post Office staff do their utmost to make the best of decidedly unpleasant circumstances.

Vyki Sparkes’ podcast The Post Office and the Blitz can be downloaded for free from the BPMA website, iTunes or SoundCloud.

See Shells Over the White Cliffs and Harder times in Hell’s Corner for more from the AWB Mowbray accounts.

Harder times in Hell’s Corner

Head Postmaster of Dover AWB Mowbray kept a typed account of the Blitz years in what became known as ‘Hell’s Corner’, recounted here by BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes.

Working and living conditions were incredibly arduous in Dover during the Second World War as Mowbray records:

…the demands made on the Staff were many, and the inconveniences suffered legion, but the response was excellent at all times, especially when one bears in mind the nuisance raids – lone raiders swooping on the town and harbour from high altitudes with engines cut out – the first intimation of their presence being the whistle of bombs; four or five visits a day sometimes for lengthy periods, was not conducive to the maintenance of a high standard of morale, but the Dover staff showed no weakness; Postal services were invariably completed, sometimes a little late when streets or roads were unsafe.

When the destruction of his neighbour’s house brought the danger uncomfortably close to home, Mowbray slept in a public shelter for five weeks while awaiting safer accommodation. With a corridor reserved for his family, he dryly comments: ‘This mode of retiring was not exactly what I had visualised as being proper for a Head Postmaster’, but he found it a useful experience to understand what other staff and townspeople had to endure.

Apart from the numerous disturbances by policemen, wardens, gunfire and bombs, this shelter sleeping was not without its entertainment. Owing to the continuous strain under which we lived, people talked frequently in their sleep – of their fancies in ladies, beer or pictures, of the merits of this Dictator or that – I only trust I gave away no official secrets myself. The comradeship was most striking. It seems strange that it should take wars to settle national differences, yet in a public shelter, no matter whether the folk be rich or poor, clean or grimy, a tin of sweets works wonders with frayed tempers and jaded nerves.

On several other occasions Mowbray and the evening staff needed to spend all night at the office as safe travelling was impossible.

‘The Demon Postmaster’. This is believed to be a comic portrait of AWB Mowbray, Head Postmaster of Dover during the Second World War. (POST 118/1557)

‘The Demon Postmaster’. This is believed to be a comic portrait of AWB Mowbray, Head Postmaster of Dover during the Second World War. (POST 118/1557)

One American philatelist wrote to Mowbray at the time, keen to obtain letters date-stamped ‘Hell’s Corner’, as the German pilots had nicknamed Dover. A polite reply was sent, reading

…although this is a veritable “Hell’s Corner” to the Germans, we are proud of it. Our town and harbour have been bombed, shelled and mined, but there is not a finer lot of men, women and children anywhere. It is business as usual. I am sorry we have no date stamp ‘“Hell’s Corner”, but our lads have stamped “Hell’s Corner” on Jerry’s mind plain enough.

Vyki Sparkes’ podcast The Post Office and the Blitz can be downloaded for free from the BPMA website, iTunes or SoundCloud.

See Shells Over the White Cliffs for more from the AWB Mowbray accounts.

New Merchant Navy and Bertram Mackennal stamps

As always during Stampex Royal Mail are issuing several sets of new stamps. Today sees the launch of a commemorative issue on the Merchant Navy and commemorative sheets marking the 150thanniversary of the birth of Bertram Mackennal.

Merchant Navy

The Merchant Navy stamps salute the heritage of the UK’s trading fleet of ships, run by various companies. These export and import goods from around the world as well as carrying passengers, and historically have been intertwined with the fortunes of the nation.

Merchant Navy stamp - 1st Class – Atlas, 1813.

Merchant Navy stamp – 1st Class – Atlas, 1813.

Merchant Navy stamp - 1st Class – Britannia, 1840.

Merchant Navy stamp – 1st Class – Britannia, 1840.

Merchant Navy stamp -1st Class - Cutty Sark, 1870.

Merchant Navy stamp -1st Class – Cutty Sark, 1870.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Clan Matheson, 1919.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Clan Matheson, 1919.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Queen Elizabeth, 1940.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Queen Elizabeth, 1940.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Lord Hinton, 1986.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Lord Hinton, 1986.

The accompanying miniature sheet honours the contribution of the Merchant Navy in times of war, when its ships assisted in the war effort. 2013 will mark the 70th anniversary of the turning point of what is called the Battle of the Atlantic, after which losses reduced considerably.

Merchant Navy: Miniature Sheet - The Atlantic and Arctic Convoys.

Merchant Navy: Miniature Sheet – The Atlantic and Arctic Convoys.

Bertram Mackennal

Bertram Mackennal was born on 12th June 1863 in Melbourne, Australia, to parents of Scottish descent. After initial training in design and sculpture at the National Gallery in Melbourne, Mackennal travelled to Europe. Having completed further studies in London and Paris he began to receive commissions in Australia and the United Kingdom, and eventually came to the attention of King George V.

In 1910 Mackennal began work on the effigy of King George V for new British and imperial coins and medals, and from this he developed the designs for the King’s head on British postage stamps and also worked on Indian and colonial stamps. Through this work, he began a lifelong friendship with the king helping to establish his philatelic legacy. In 1921, Mackennal was knighted by King George V.

The Mackennal stamps available from today feature ten definitive sized 1st Class Royal Seal stamps alongside images showing key works from Mackennal. These include the halfpenny green and one penny red stamps from 1912-1913, the George V five shilling Seahorses stamp from 1913 and a commemorative Olympic Games medal from 1908.

Bertram Mackennal commemorative sheet.

Bertram Mackennal commemorative sheet.

Royal Mail has also produced a facsimile pack of the Seahorses stamps. The ‘Seahorses’ were high value definitive postage stamps issued during the reign of King George V and designed by Mackennal. These stamps were notable for the quality of the engraving and the design, featuring Britannia on her chariot behind three writhing horses on a stormy sea.

Bertram Mackennal facsimile pack.

Bertram Mackennal facsimile pack.

The Merchant Navy stamps are available online via www.royalmail.com/merchantnavy. The Bertram Mackennel stamps are available online via www.royalmail.com/mackennal.

Both issues are also available from the Royal Mail stand at Stampex, in Post Office branches or by phone on 08457 641 641.