On His Majesty’s Service

This well franked envelope certainly passed through a lot of hands before it reached Captain Stabb of the S.S. Lahore in 1941. Passing the censor’s office by way of the Bombay General Post Office and various other bodies, its route makes more sense when we consider the fate of the Lahore.

The envelope is postmarked 5th May in Bombay. It was presumably still in transit when, just three days later, the ship was torpoedoed by U-124 (a type IXB ‘Edelweiss boat’) just north of the Cape Verde Islands. One of four ships sunk in the attack, it caught fire and was abandoned the following day. Fortunately, all 82 crew were rescued by the British destroyer, HMS Forester. The mail ship’s wasted journey may well explain how the letter came to be surcharged twopence when it was eventually delivered to Captain Stabb!

My thanks to the redoubtable Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria for sending the photos and information.

Sweetheart brooches

Although it was technically an offence to wear a military badge unless it had been issued to you officially, these poignant pieces of dress jewellery were tolerated for reasons of morale.

The practice of wearing a miniature badge of your loved one’s regiment began in the late 1880s and reached its peak during the Great War. Some regarded them as a symbol of good luck for the safe return of their sweetheart (or family member) while they were also no doubt worn with a degree of pride that your nearest and dearest was ‘doing their bit’ at the front. For some, they would be treasured for altogether sadder reasons as the war took its toll.

If there is a ‘holy grail’ of sweetheart brooches, then it is surely this LAMB (Light Armoured Motor Batteries) badge. Made lcally of silver, it was made for someone in the Machine Gun Corps serving in the Middle East.

The Colonies Rally Round

Beyond the 2.6 million Indian troops who helped Britain stay in the fight during World War II, a significant number helped out on the home front. In this rare series of cards, ‘On War Work In Britain’, we see sheet metal workers in critical production positions, Indian women with roles in London’s Civil Defence service and as nurses as well as a Hindu technician from Bengal making a piece of the intricate mechanism of a reconoissance camera.

Also on sale this Saturday will be a well preserved pair of British Forces Day pins. The sale of these raised funds for Lord Roberts workshops, a charitable body set up to train and equip the many thousands of people disabled through war.

Home Front Fundraising Abroad

Last week, we featured pins which showcased the success of Britain’s ‘Spitfire Fund’. This was far from the first way to raise popular financial support for the war effort – as we can see with these stamps issued by some members of the First World War’s Triple Alliance.

This complete book of stamps from Imperial Germany is superbly preserved and features a back page illustrating how the monies raised up to that point had helped provide the troops with cigarettes, tobacco and knitwear.

Their neighbour and ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had their own version as we see here with a well equipped soldier presumably thinking of the public’s generosity with great affection!

The Spitfire Fund

One of the most extraordinary financial efforts made on the Home Front was the Spitfire Fund. This came about mainly thanks to Lord Beaverbrook who pushed the idea of public appeals to support the aircraft’s manufacture at a time when raw materials – and money – were both in short supply.

The Fund took off in May 1940 with the idea being that small badges or pins were sold with the proceeds going towards building Spitfires, the nominal cost of which was set at a (purely theoretical) £5,000. The response from the British public, councils and businesses was magnificent. In total, some £13m pounds was raised – somewhere in the region of £650m in today’s terms. By the war’s end, almost every big British town had their name on a Spitfire.

In fact, it’s the badges with the names of smaller towns which often fetch the best prices today. However, some of the most popular with collectors are the hand made brooches of copper, brass or even Perspex (from which the cockpit windows were made).