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25th January 2024 - Zoom Meeting Report

First to present was Nick Colley with a presentation deferred from the December meeting. In the Christmas spirit, it was intended to have a light-hearted, verging on frivolous tone, and it brightened a typical January afternoon of dull and dreary weather. The theme was to see how many different nationalities can be represented on one cover. His first slide was from a RAF-censored honour cover from Egypt, to Scotland, bearing British, South African and New Zealand stamps – stretching a point slightly, that’s five nations. Other examples included an item from a Greek airman to Egypt from Italy bearing British stamps, dated in September 1944. A point of interest with this one is that it was endorsed (and franked) for air mail, but it took 16 days to travel from Italy to Egypt: air mail transmission seems doubtful! His last slide was not on theme but provoked some discussion: it was another RAF censored (and stampless) cover postmarked FPO 532 in December 1944 addressed to Alexandria. Proud places this in the Aegean at this time, but there is only one day difference in the posting date and it being handled by Base APO 4 in Cairo. It seems much more likely that FPO 532 was in Egypt, and Proud’s source for his Aegean attribution is mistaken.

 

Next was Pete Harvey, discussing the paper shortage in North Africa in WW2 – particularly from 1943 onwards. He opened by showing some quotes from Hansard from when questions were asked in Parliament in March 1943 about the disruption of mail to and from British forces in North Africa. Air mail letter cards and field service postcards for the use of the troops were supplied from the UK: shipping capacity was at a premium with supplies for the operations in North Africa naturally taking priority, and in early 1943, the U boat packs were ubiquitous, and were taking a heavy toll of shipping. Peter showed examples of locally-printed honour covers – designed and constructed for the message/letter to be written on the inside. He also presented an example of a conventional envelope converted to an honour cover by the adhesion of a locally-printed honour label, and, when nothing else was available, there was an example of a manuscript honour cover with the necessary wording added by hand and suitable signed by the sender. It appears to have been accepted, since it did not receive a censor mark. Peter also shared a newspaper cutting describing the loss of 1,086,000 airgraphs due to aircraft losses, but the authorities were able to replace them because the completed forms had been kept.

 

Third was Malcolm Cole with the nicely-researched story of Otto Hofbauer. Otto was a young soldier from Austria who ended up in the Afrika Korps and was taken prisoner. Malcolm showed a photo of him in his distinctive Afrika Korps uniform. The most interesting (to me) item was a letter to him from a male relative (Franz Hofbauer – father, perhaps?) addresses to him at 99 POW Hospital in the UK. This was part of a US military hospital at Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire. It had been forwarded to Camp Maxey in Texas, to where Otto had been transferred. It had received the attention of German, British and US censors. He was repatriated in early 1946. Malcolm finished with a chatty, friendly letter from a female member of the staff at Camp Maxey to Otto (now back in Vienna) in 1947.

 

Next came Peter Stockton with a selection of covers from French naval vessels in WW2 Most of the covers were from larger vessels and hence bore the usual hexagonal ship’s postmark and postal officer handstamp. The first item Peter showed was from the light cruiser Lamotte Picquet and this provoked considerable discussion after we learnt of its participation in the Battle of Ko Chang on 17th January 1941. This was part of the ongoing conflict between Thailand and France over disputed territory in (Vichy) French Indo China (i.e. Viet Nam). It appeared none attending were aware of this, and it is worth reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Ko_Chang, although be aware of the caveats at the top of that Wikipedia page. Peter presented seven or eight more vessels, each with a brief history. Of particular interest (to me) was an item addressed from Vichy France to the cruiser Tourville while it was interned at Alexandria with the rest of the French Mediterranean Fleet which were not at Toulon. It bore the tell-tale FRENCH NAVY purple handstamp, applied by the British authorities in Egypt. Also unusual was an item from a Polish children’s camp in India addressed to the Polish naval barracks in Plymouth. The French connection was that the ageing French battleship Paris provided the accommodation for these barracks. Peter explained how this came about. She had been hastily brought up to current fighting standards during the battle of France in May 1940, and was participating in the defence of Le Havre when she was hit and damaged by a German bomb. She retired to Plymouth to affect repairs. The surrender of France in June gave her an unusual status, and on 3rd July she was seized in Plymouth by British forces (Operation Catapult) – who subsequently found a good use for her.

 

Last to show was Chris Grimshaw.  His subject was Post WW1 British Constantinople, in which he described, in considerable detail, the re-introduction of civilian registered mail in 1919.  This consisted of a formidable series of registered items handled by British army post offices, mainly FPO H12, APO Y and APO SX3.

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