(Notes by Nick Colley)
Seventeen members attended from France, Italy, Canada and Thailand as well as the UK. Eight of the attendees made presentations, the first of which was a selection of items illustrating the development and use of the tank in WW1, presented by Malcolm Cole. These were mostly picture post cards, but they included a remarkable ‘pigeon post’ form from a tank which had broken down. It was dated 15th September 1916, and the addressee on the form was simply ‘4th Army’. One hopes the pigeon knew where ‘4th Army’ was located.
Next to show was Wayne Schnarr from Canada. He presented a most singular and well-travelled cover from Canada to a Canadian soldier on the Western Front in September 1918. This cover was the rarest of beasts: nearly all the endorsements on the front could be related to events recorded in his personnel file. Likewise, of the 17 (!) datestamps on the reverse, 15 were legible, and several could be related to the movements of the addressee as per his personnel file. An excellent item, most diligently researched.
Third up was Martino Laurenzi who showed some most unusual items relating to British troops in Italy during the Napoleonic War and immediately after. I learnt that British troops collaborated with Austrian troops to secure the Romagna area of Italy.
Nick Colley then presented a few RAF curiosities from WW2. These included a couple of POW items recovered from Germany, one addressed to a Polish airman, and one from a Canadian airman. Also of note was the only know example (so far) of censor type R8 from Iraq (dated 28th December 1941), and the only known example of Base Censor 21 (7th September 1944, location unknown).
Following that, Ingrid Swinburn showed a cover from a Captain Cooper who was interned in the Vichy camp at Laghouat in Algeria. Ingrid had managed to research this individual quite comprehensively, and it seems he had a remarkable life, which included two spells in the French Foreign Legion. The experience of desert life that he thus gained would have stood him in good stead when he managed to escape from the camp – it was very remote in the Sahara, and about 300 miles from the coast.
Next came Harold Krische with the story of one man’s efforts to alleviate the lot of German POWs in Canada. Emil Aur was a US resident who had printed either 250 or 500 labels (Emil could not remember which when interviewed by Harold many years ago), red printing on white: ‘American Aid for German Prisoners of War’, claiming free postage. This was before the US entered hostilities. He had to cease using them after a visit from the local postmaster to explain his error…. They re-emerged after the cessation of hostilities, on mail from German (ex-) POWs apparently in transit en-route to repatriation. Most, if not all these later examples known to Harold are on mail addressed to Emil Aur.
Karl Winkelmann was the penultimate presenter: he showed a few photographs apparently depicting disabled/injured German POWs disembarking from a repatriation vessel in Newhaven in 1941. Karl will be pleased to hear from anyone who can cast any light on this unusual – even strange – event. He then showed an item addressed to Dublin, postmarked with a single ring Base Office E in March 1916, and bearing an octagonal OPENED BY CENSOR UNDER / MARTIAL LAW. Again, Karl will be delighted to hear from anyone who knows anything about these marks e.g. where was Base Office E and what circumstances justified the use of the martial law censor mark.
Finally, we had a lesson in the deployment (and loss) of submarines in two world wars from Colin Tabeart. This included three items from the submarines in the Baltic Flotilla, sent to assist the Russians in 1915. New to me was the fact that we lost one of our subs (E13) when she went aground in Danish waters and could not be refloated. She was illegally shelled by German warships. Those who survived were interned in Denmark, and Colin showed an example from her 1st Lt. while he was interned. The next two items were to individuals on board U boats which had been sunk. Colin then moved on to Italian submarines, and showed an item addressed to the CO of the Bagnolini in September 1941 and returned to sender. He had previously been appointed CO of the Bianchi which had been sunk with all hands on 5th July. Finally, continuing the theme of doomed submarines, Colin showed a cover addressed to the Settembrini, which, after the Italian surrender, had worked with the Allies. After a refit in the USA in 1944, she was being escorted back to Europe by the US destroyer Frament. En route, the escort accidentally rammed the Settembrini, which sank. The addressee was not one of the survivors.