The Most Effective Weapon Used During World War One
12 million letters a week delivered to soldiers on the front line
Bullets, shells and tanks may have done all the damage in World War One.
But, morale was the biggest weapon.
And, in this respect, it was the British General Post Office which served as one of the biggest overlooked heroes from this tragic period in history.
Up to 12 million letters a week and a million parcels were delivered to soldiers during the war. Many of those soldiers were on the front line.
Amazingly, it took just two days for a letter to reach the front line.
By the end of the war, two billion letters and 114 million parcels had passed through the Post Office Depot in Regent’s Park in London.
Consider, this was at a time before mechanisation, other than a stamping machine. Sorting was all done by hand and the mail was transported in big sacks:
The aim was always to hand out letters from home to the soldiers with their evening meal. Apparently, no matter how tired and hungry the soldiers were, they always read their letter before eating their meal.
Mail exchanged between soldiers and their loved ones was an effective weapon on two fronts:
- It gave the soldiers hope, a distraction from the horrors of the trenches, a reason to fight and a huge morale boost
- The heavily censored letters from soldiers back home were turned into propaganda to sustain support for the war on the home front
One front line soldier, Private Noakes, expressed poignantly how letters were so important:
“Out here news of home is like food and drink to us, however trivial. Indeed, this life is like a dream and the old life is the only reality. We live on memories”.
Thus, never before and never again would the efficiency of the British Postal System prove so important in shaping history.
One small casualty of the war – the postage stamp
As you would expect, World War One resulted in the largest disruption to postal services around the world since the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840.
Stamp production was obviously not a major priority for nations around the world during the war. As such, printing levels dropped dramatically.
This resulted in a need for larger numbers of surcharges and overprinted issues at the time.
Furthermore, war brought destruction and stamps were not immune to this, including ships carrying mail being sunk. Survival rates of stamps issued during World War One are therefore lower and those kept in mint condition even more unlikely to find.
The war changed the map of the world including the emergence of new countries such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
Stamps created specifically for the war including Red Cross, “War Tax” and special local issues all add complexities to create a wide and absorbing area of interest for serious philatelists around the world.
Great Britain’s Propaganda Stamp
In my view, this stamp defines Great Britain during World War One like no other:
Great Britain SG411 1915 10s Deep Blue “Seahorse”
A very fine, unmounted mint example with full original gum, of the rare deep blue shade, printed by De La Rue.
Full perforations and superb centring.
Specialised catalogue number N70(2).
PRICE: £5,000 ($6,652)
King George V personally approved the design of this stamp. It was clearly designed as a message of propaganda.
It depicts Britannia being pulled through the waves by a powerful team of horses accompanied by an imposing portrait of King George V.
The imagery was a bold statement of defiance presenting Great Britain as a powerful force in command of the seas.
It is such a nostalgic stamp, so succinctly expressing British attitude and resolve during the conflict of World War One.
A sign of strength during a time of conflict
In the same vein, but from a completely different part of the world, this stamp tells a similar story:
Barbados 1916-19 3s deep violet SG191y
Barbados 1916-19 3s deep violet, type 14, variety WATERMARK INVERTED AND REVERSED, fresh and fine, large part original gum. A rarity. Mint. SG 191y
PRICE: £1,700 ($2,262)
The equivalent stamp design issued from Barbados in 1916 expresses the same bold show of strength during the difficult time of world conflict.
The Barbados seal on the stamp reads “et penitvs toto regnantes orbe Britannos”. This can be translated as, “and the British ruling throughout the whole world”. A bold statement, indeed!
It is interesting that the original seal of Barbados granted in 1663 told a different story. It was based on a line in Virgil’s first Eclogue in which the Italian herdsman expresses his fear of being banished to Britain.
The original seal read as “et penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos”, meaning “and the British, far removed from the rest of the world”.
An interesting occupational stamp with varieties
An interesting example of a war-time occupational stamp, showing rare varieties can be found here:
Togo 1915 ½d green SGH34/a/c/e
Togo 1915 (May) ½d green, type 7 Accra overprint, block of 18 (6x3) being rows 5-7 of the right pane with interpane margin at left, showing varieties 'small 'F' in 'FRENCH' (R5/1), 'no hyphen after 'ANGLO' (R5/4), and 'CUPATION' for 'OCCUPATION' (R6/3).
Very fine with original gum. Most are unmounted including 'CUPATION'. A scarce and interesting multiple from the first setting. Unmounted Mint. SG H34/a/c/e
PRICE: £140 ($186)
The German colony of Togoland in West Africa became Togo after independence during World War One. It was occupied from August 1914 following the French and British invasion.
This block of 18 stamps from May 1915 are overprinted with “Anglo-French Occupation”.
It is an interesting piece with three varieties present on three individual stamps in the sheet. These include a small “F” in “FRENCH”, no hyphen after “ANGLO” and “CUPATION” for “OCCUPATION”.
Wartime Postal History
This cover is of particular interest, carried on board the “Southern Sea”, arriving at the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan Da Cunha two days after Armistice day on 13th November 1918:
Tristan Da Cunha 1918 Cover to Guildford (SGC1)
1918 cover to Guildford, carried on board the 'Southern Sea', which arrived at the island on 13 November 1918.
Cancelled with a very fine strike of type I cachet in violet, franked at 1d rate by a horizontal pair of Great Britain 1912-24 ½d green, tied on arrival by two strikes of 'F.S. 62 / LONDON' circular date stamps dated '27 JA 19'.
Exceptional quality for a Type I cover, and rare thus.
An ex Stanley Gibbons stock item.
PRICE: £4,000 ($5,322)
It is an exceptional quality cover finally arriving at its destination in England on the 27th of January 1919.
Collecting World War One History Through Stamps
As you would expect, many countries have recently issued commemorative stamps to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.
However, I would suggest collecting stamps issued and postal history from the time of the Great War is of far more interest. These are the rarities that have real value.
Collecting pieces of history which come from the biggest conflict of mankind where nearly 40 million people lost their lives.
The relevance to such an important time in history, along with the low survival rates due to the effects of the war, make owning high quality rarities from World War One an important area of philately.
You can view the entire list of World War One stamps I currently have available by clicking on the link below:
The stamps in the World War One collection have a total value of £17,035 ($22,663).
If you would like to purchase the entire collection, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you can contact us on +44(0)1534 639998.
In collectibles, it is normal to see a major spike of interest around important anniversary dates.
The 100th anniversary of the end of World War One could bring a heightened interest amongst collectors for stamps from that period.
This could provide the momentum to drive prices upwards, making now a good time to buy.
CEO, Just Collecting
PS. Get FREE worldwide delivery and 28 day quibble free returns when you buy anything from us today.
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