GEORGE CRABB WRITES ABOUT THE EARLY DAYS OF THE FORCES POSTAL HISTORY SOCIETY
"Those were the days” — they certainly were “the days” for those interested in military postal markings — with World War II only seven years into the past and with little known or recorded of World War I and much still to be discovered. There was material in plenty I remember seeing a particular lot in The City Auctions near London Bridge — a tea chest two thirds full of World War II covers — probably from a troops fund office — just thousands of unchecked covers from all over the world.
Another gem I remember was provided by Ted Proud who brought in an auction a large steel ammunition box three to four feet long maybe more than one that again was packed solid with official British Army covers many registered, large parcel pieces all addressed to the Infantry Records Office in Ashford Middlesex. This “dip in at 9d " (4p in todays currency) a time hoard was there for collectors at Ted Proud’s then office at the top of a seventeenth century house in King William IV Street near Charing Cross, now a long time built over by a modern office block. The office was reached climbing three floors of rickety stairs with the office in charge of a plumpish faced (he's still that way) young chap Cliff Rayner later to have his own stamp business. I later corresponded with Major Collier who was based at the Army Record Depot at Ashford and who told me that with an interest of his own in Army FPO’s he had — against all the regulations — amassed some 15,000 covers & pieces of parcels etc covering all aspects of operations in the field. So if you came across one of these covers and they still turn up though most are in collections you can thank Major Collier who lived in Surrey. My own office at this date was in Victoria Street SWI so there were many days that I missed my sandwich lunch and took a bus trip to the Strand area where there was about a dozen stamp dealers in the area. This was then the philatelic market place of London, far more intensively from that angle than it is today and no doubt well known to those collectors of military mail who decided to start a Society for collectors of that philatelic interest who could spend a Saturday morning in the Strand Area and the afternoon in the company of like collectors in a Society meeting room in London.
The collecting world and the Strand market place have changed since the 1950’s most of the stamp shops in the area with plenty of interesting material have gone. The Stamp dealers and their successors now operate postal auctions from their homes and a trip to the Strand Area is much less interesting collectors now have the alternative to wait for the main London bourses for the opportunity to search through dealers boxes of covers. It would have been disastrous if that area of collecting had not changed for the better. Whereas in the 1950’s there was probably one Stampex each year there are now two Stampex bourses and four Postal History bourses in the London area, though much of the interesting material has gone into collections and comes on the market slowly. The facility to meet your collecting friends have increased abundantly by the satisfaction of obtaining the bargain item and even useful additions has virtually disappeared and much of the material in dealers boxes is the mass of first day covers issued by every country over the last 50 years and still going on!
The first Society meeting took place at the Lawns Hotel, South Kensington where subsequent meetings were supposed to take place but by April 1953 meetings were being held at the Imperial War Museum, South Lambeth and which was the start of about 20 years of logical location for our Society. We had a large room containing a massive mahogany table, white painted upholstered chairs both of which could be seen in a large oil painting on the wall in use surrounded by British and German Admirals during the official surrender of the German Grand Fleet. Car parking was easy.
I have a photocopy of the first Newsletter — not a present day photocopy but from the era of early photocopies, sheets of flimsy photographic paper yellow-brown and indistinct. It is dated in the text "18th October 1952” and fortunately names the first principal Society Officers; Col. Crouch — President, John A Smith — Chairman, D.W Harrison — Hon Secretary, E Jagger — Treasurer, E W Gould — Newsletter Editor.
Newsletter No 2 of March 1953 reported that the Society membership was already 32 full members plus a further six who will become members on receipt of the annual fee of 7/6d per annum — payable on the I st October.
Newsletter No 3 was late in September 1953 the Editor who was a member of the Metropolitan Police apologised and said it was due to 10/12 hour duties over the Coronation period, moving house, sickness and holidays — in that order!
Newsletter No 4 of November 1953 was interesting in detailing items in the display by Col Crouch the President which included a British 1669 military letter, another describing the Battle of Waterloo, the earliest known AB in circle mark, items from Army Manoeuvres in the 1850’s together with items from the Crimea War — so clearly Col Crouch the Society's first President was a collector of considerable note. This Newsletter also tells us that there was a new Newsletter Editor Derek Burney who was one of the stalwarts of the Society in the early days having known Col Crouch through their acquaintance at Philatelic Societies in the Aylesbury area where they both lived and which led to the eventual society formation.