Warcovers :: Military Postal History

Military Postal History



Military Postal History is one of the better known and most popular topics within Postal History, about the study of anything to do with the function of the 'collection, transportation and delivery of mail' during disrupted periods such as wars and military occupations.
Mail service to soldiers was a very ad-hoc affair until 1882 when the 'Army Post Office Corps' was asked to perform "Postal Duties in the Field".  In 1913 the Army Post Office Corps was re-organised to form the Royal Engineers (Postal Section).


Military mail is concerned with any of the armed services or peace keeping forces or particular military / naval campaigns / conflicts i.e. WW1, WW2 & Falklands War.  A lot of military covers are "stampless" and endorsed 'On Field Service', 'On Active Service', or just 'OAS'.  
Military letters are most often distributed by a totally military controlled system.   During times of war, mail from the front is often opened and the offending parts are either cut out or blanked out with indelible pen.  Although it was important for soldiers to keep in contact with their loved ones back home, it was essential that morale was kept up. The authorities through censorship and propaganda were able to control this.
Typical examples of Forces Postal History include: entires, envelopes, campaign covers and letters, post cards, picture postcards, postal stationery, registered mail and printed ephemera.
The main areas of collecting in wartime postal history are set out below, but also include Army Post Office postmarks, Field Post Office postmarks, Camp cancels, censor mail, occupation & concession rate mail.


Postal censorship is a very old practice, & was usually linked to espionage and intelligence gathering and includes both military and civil censorship.  Censored postal history has taken place during times of conflict i.e. periods of civil disorder or a state of emergency.  Military mail is not always censored by opening or reading letters.   Postal censorship involves the inspection or examination of mail and adding re-sealing censor labels & censor handstamps before it is released.


Prisoner of War mail is concerned with combatants who have been captured by an enemy power immediately after an armed conflict. They are made POW's to isolate them from their own forces that are still in the field.   A large variety of camps were erected, including those for POW, internees, refugees, "slave" laborers, and displaced persons & includes prisoners that were housed in ships.  POW and Internee mail is frequently subject to both military and civil postal censorship because it passes through both postal systems. Prisoner's correspondence was usually handled by the Red Cross.


Postal stationery are products such as envelopes, letter sheets, postcards, letter cards, aerogrammes or wrappers on which the amount of postage has been pre-printed with an imprinted stamp & includes Registered mail which was used for documents or items considered valuable which could be tracked. There are numerous examples of HONOUR envelopes or GREEN envelopes to collect. Propaganda & patriotic labels, leaflets were used by all countries involved. Censor covers in this section are sought after.


Naval covers & naval post cards from the worlds Navies has a very large following. Aviation is dealt with in respect of Air Force mail including the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) incorporating RAF censor handstamps together with wartime airmails and their rates and routes.   At the end of WW1 the Royal Engineers and RAF pioneered International Air Mail Services by setting up airmail routes between Folkestone and Cologne in Germany serving the British Army on the Rhine.
Examples collected include: Air Mail Letter Cards, aerogrammes, airgraphs, V-mail, Naval censor handstamps, RAF censor handstamps, Hospital ships, transports & Hospital trains.


Picture postcards were introduced in 1898 and are collected for their military content including real photos of Regiments, soldiers etc. Other postcards collected include FIELD SERVICE PC's & censored postcards.


Geographical based studies relate to countries of origin which include "Mail from", "Mail to", and "Mail through a place" regarding one country collections. i.e. ADEN. Also country studies of a particular conflict.
Robson Lowe,who first organised the study of Postal History in the 1930's (professional philatelist, stamp dealer and auctioneer) described postal historians as "Students of humanity".  Military Postal History is a rich source of information for family research or social historians.


Military Postal History provides an opportunity to get first hand accounts of historical events and autographs of important figures in the military and government hierarchy including Diplomatic mail. There is a large following studying Undercover Mail - an undercover address is one which fails to show the true destination of the item.


Further help & advice can be obtained in the UK / USA from the following:
FPHS - Forces Postal History Society
MPHS - Military Postal History Society
CCSG - Civil Censorship Study group