This week we’re following up on our Second World War military mail with some from the Great War. Rarely do ones from this period tell us much of what was happening. Often it’s just: date, field post office, officer’s signature and the censor’s mark. The soldier’s name and service number would usually count as a bonus!
However here we’ve got one that slipped past the censor. It gives us a glimpse into the shock which awaited those chaps who’d hitherto had no experience at all of the realities which awaited them. This particular example was sent from the front to a camp in Hatfield. The sender is a rifleman writing to another in a different company but both were part of the 17th Battalion, the London Regiment.
Dear Bert, just a line in answer to your most welcome letter. Thanks for the address, G Garwood got wounded in the leg. We were in the big battle, I saw plenty of sights i will never forget. Write more next time. Jim
There’s a note on front with the place name removed. More than likely by the officer that signed it (who looks like E. Chandler?)
While overprinted stamps are very popular, it’s quite rare to find any relating to military campaigns so these examples are a real find.
In most cases, soldiers used the free ‘on active service’ system which supplied free envelopes. Or they might simply write ‘OAS’ on the cover. However, as with the examples here, some members of the armed forces bought stamps which were overprinted to show their military designation.
These examples are from the North African campaign in Tunisia and Libya. The overprinted BA stands for ‘British Army’, MEF is ‘Middle East Forces’ and MAL is ‘Military Administration Lira’, the currency surcharge. The two postage due stamps indicated that the recipient had to pay an excess before their mail would be handed over.
Bonds formed in war have proved to be some of the most profound and enduring friendships in the world. It was exactly this which prompted Charles Evenden to found the Memorable Order of Tin Hats in South Africa in 1927.
With his supreme belief in the power of friendship, ‘Evo’ established local clubs, known as ‘shellholes’ all over the country. Within a year, the idea spread to the UK where the first shellhole popped up in Reading. The charitable works undertaken by its members, many of them disabled through their war service, was a real boon to the local communities and MOTH was organised along military lines for maximum efficiency. It will no doubt hit the news once more when it celebrates its centenary – a fitting illustration of the ties which bind all comrades in arms.
This cap badge features a candle on tin helmet and is surrounded by stars with inverted crossed rifles. The four arms refer to the principles and title of the war veterans groups: SM [ sound memory ], MH [ mutual help ], TC [ true comradeship ] and MOTH.
At first glance the pairing of both the USA and Canada on these Royal Air Force shoulder patches seems odd. When we discover that they were worn by Americans in the RAF before the USA became a military ally, it all starts to make sense. The earlier, more rounded pair feature a distinctly more American eagle while later versions were more clearly derived from the RAF bird.
Under the rules of the Commonwealth air crew, other nationality titles were often worn. The patches below were made in Canada but worn under the empire training scheme.
Today we feature two types of WWII patches worn on fobs by British troops in Greece. These are really very rare and we’re grateful to Michael Burroughs of Anything Military for sharing the photos with us.
Given the pivotal role played by Britain during the war, our role in Greece is far less than exemplary. Allied governments including ours had supported the partisans against Hitler but when it seemed likely this resistance force was likely to replace the Greek monarchy with a communist regime, Churchill changed tack. Still seen by some in the country as a betrayal, Britain sided with the nationalists and fought against the partisans as civil war loomed.
The patch fobs, similar in style to the ones worn by American GIs in Vietnam and known as ‘pocket hangers’, were there to show that the wearer was there in support of the legitimate government. It’s ironic that the soldier was probably unaware of their role in an unfolding Greek tragedy still remembered today – in Greece at least.
‘What a coin!’ indeed… This beautifully preserved 20 franc coin from the reign of Louis XVIII is in a capsule, boxed, graded and certified with a potted history of why it’s so special.
Amazingly, this rare coin was actually minted in London by our own Royal Mint. Used by the British army to pay their troops in France who had been fighting Napoleon’s army until 1815, it caused consternation among the French equivalent of our Royal Mint. In all, some 871,581 such coins were struck but many were smelted for their gold content. Such a coin can be identified by the profile of the French King on the obverse with the crowned arms on the reverse inside a wreath. On the same side we can see the ‘R’ mintmark for the Royal Mint.
Our eyes lit up when we received this stunning array of matchbooks from Michael Burroughs this week. We’re always keen on discovering a new field of collecting so today’s specialist topic is…phillumeny!
A hobby which has existed for over a century, phillumeny is the practice of collecting match-related items, such as matchboxes, matchbooks, and matchbox labels. The word comes from the Greek “philos” (meaning “lover of”) and “lumen” (meaning “light”). The British Matchbox Label and Bookmatch Society is an admirable non-profit which produces a magazine, holds auctions and regular meetings.
The matchbooks were just another way in which all sorts of enterprises advertised themselves: banks, fast food chains (as with the early McDonalds example here), airlines, theatres, restaurants… the variety is immense. Some collectors won’t countenance anything which is less than mint so it’s always best to preserve them in as near perfect condition as possible – just like most collectables.
Among the more valuable are those issued to special forces in World War II. These would form part of an escape kit and would always light no matter how damp they were. Attracting particular interest at present are any examples from Hong Kong before it was taken over by China.
…to find the unexpected every Saturday at Charing Cross Market. For example, this box which belonged to a former scout leader in Surrey during the 1960’s. It’s chock full of patches and pins. While many individual patches like this (and for the girl guides) can be had for as little as one pound, a box containing over 200 soon adds up.
The world record for a single scout patch was a cool $71,000. This related to the post-war World Jamboree in France in 1947. With scouts staying in different camps, the organisers needed a way of ensuring everyone was camping in the right place. Every location was sewn on the patch and these used a cloth loop so they could be worn straightaway.
A landmark birthday approaches for an esteemed Market trader from the eighties, Joe Randall. He will be 100 on 10th August!
He was well known as a seller of old military uniforms and made to order regimental blazer badges, buttons and cap emblems. He had a valuable network of contacts among the military tailors in London and could often obtain much sought after items. For example, the large bullion cloth ERII badges made for the Beefeaters at the Tower of London. Michael Burroughs of Anything Military has fond memories of the tea chests full of buttons which nearly brought down his ceiling!
He was always wearing his parachute regiment beret and closed every deal with the question “are you sure you’re happy?” But heaven help anyone who asked him if he was in the Paras!
Joe began his military service aged just 17 in WWII with the then little known RAF Engineers. In the photo here you can see the white training band in his cap. His unit built runways in newlay liberated parts of Europe. An ever present threat was the German planes on their way back to base which would attack them in passing.
Joe was later part of the occupying forces in Germany keeeping the Russians on the trains as they passed through the British zones. He also took part in shore patrols before joining the Parachute Regiment in the Territorial Army. His brother saw active service as part of the SAS in Malaya.
Joe now lives in Teignmouth with his wife Chrissie. Everyone at the Market would like to wish him a very happy hundredth birthday!
Hopefully, readers have seen through that appalling bit of word play in the title but if you are still with us, feast your eyes on these really charming examples of sentimental RAF jewellery.
Made from perspex (ideally from the canopy of a Spitfire of course!), these all feature the classic eagle motif from the badge and could be worn as a pendant or pin brooch. The rather unusual bluebird version is a nice handmade touch.
Yet the real oddity here is the small wing with DB set into the middle. This was made from the collar badge of the RAF’s Dental Branch. The blue-grey base (sometimes pink) is the same material used to make dentures!