Public Billet Doux: Postcards in Wartime

These four hand coloured postcards sent between two French star crossed lovers express sentiments which were obviously deeply felt. The very fact that these cards are still here today hints at how much they must have been treasured by the couple in question.

Our other example was bought in France by a British soldier and sent home to a sweetheart he rather endearingly calls ‘Peechums’! He’s also pleased to hear about the ‘two Zepps being fetched down’. The date means this relates to the night of 23/24 September 1916 when two newly designed and built Zeppelins were destroyed. One, L32 was shot down by Frederick Sowrey, RFC, aged 23, and crashed near Snails Farm, South Green, Great Burstead, Near Billericay.

Air Crew Brevets

Some more niche items which are a cut above what you might find elsewhere, these WWII Polish air crew brevets were specially made for them to wear alongside their national badges after qualifying through the RAF. The main image shows them alongside the usual RAF half wings – just 5.2cm long instead of the standard 8.5cm.

The ‘B’ denotes air bomber, the ‘N’ navigator – both introduced in September 1942. In December of the same year came the first ‘S’ – issued to wireless operators. Other designations were AG – air gunner, RO – observer radio, E – flight engineer and M – meteorological observer.

An interesting footnote concnerns the air gunner half wing. When this was sent to the king for approval, he noticed that it had thirteen side feathers. In His Majesty’s presence, this top feather was cut off, signed and approved by the King himself. Therreafter all other half wings had twelve feathers.

Sally Ann Tokens

Manufactured at the Salvation Army’s Spa Road Centre in London, these tokens were distributed to all the men’s social work centres around Britain. Stamped with ‘F’ and ‘S’ (for Food and Shelter), they were designed to be given out to those in most need – often in return for a chore or small service. They could then be exchanged for provisions or a roof for the night at any of their branches. Such a system allowed the organisation to ensure that their resources weren’t over allocated.

They are still waging war on poverty over a century and a half after William Booth, a Methodist preacher, first began his ministry in the East End of London. It can trace its origin to the Blind Beggar pub, still present on Whitechapel Road, and more recently notorious as the spot where Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell. More happily, it enjoys the distinction of being the site where the first modern Brown Ale was brewed!

Time for repairs…

Recently sold at the Market, this classic Swiss-made, Omega watch in 14 karat gold is a great advertisement for the brand’s durability. This highly collectable timepiece had been languishing in a drain somewhere for upwards of twenty years before it was recovered in a chance trawl by someone fishing with a magnet.

Happily, this once upon a timepiece does have a fairytale ending: its new owner is sending it back to the makers to restore it to its former glory.

My Kingdom for a Heraldic Horse Pendant

Well not a kingdom perhaps but you could always try haggling if you want a piece of history almost a thousand years old…

A quite astonishing find by a metal detectorist, this pendant would have been worn round the neck of a horse which was part of Richard the Lionheart’s forces. The distinctive coat of arms features a lion rampant standing on one leg with a separated twin tail. In the artist’s impression of Richard in the Holy Land around 1190, you can see he’s used round pendants in place of the ones which would have actually been used.

It’s not every day that you chance upon treasures like these. Just Saturdays. At Charing Cross Market.

Envelopes With A Story To Tell

The circuitous routes taken by some mail items, particularly during the war years, is a useful reminder of a time when postal jurisdiction, no less than the prying eyes of the censor, tells its own story.

Among the superb examples here is an envelope sent in February 1943 to Monaco during the Italian occupation. It was opened and resealed by both the German and the Spanish authorities – just to be sure!

Seeing other examples marked ‘Gone Away’, ‘Return to Sender’ or bearing entirely new forwarding addresses in far flung locations around the globe, one can only wonder about the stories behind them all.

Saint Paul’s Watch

The sight of Saint Paul’s Cathedral dome above the smoke of the Blitz in World War II became an iconic image of Britain’s survival when it stood alone against the might of the German military machine. Incendiary bombs were a particular danger and, from the air, the Cathedral posed an easy target.

The Saint Paul’s Watch, originally formed during the Great War in 1915, was composed of Cathedral clergy and staff, retired architects and public spirited locals. Numbering some 300 people in all, they worked tirelessly to protect the fabric of the building and preventing fire taking hold.

Unsurprisingly, badges denoting membership of this gallant band are extremely rare. Less surprisingly, market stalwart Michael Burroughs of Anything Military has managed to source one!

This is the male version of the badge with lapel crescent fitting. The women’s version was the same but had a wire pin fitting on the back. A rare badge for a rare breed!

Happy Easter!

Just a reminder that we’ll be closed this Saturday for the Bank Holiday weekend. We wish all our traders, collectors and friends of the market a lovely Easter. See you next Saturday!

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.