Royal Mail will issue a landmark series of Special Stamps each year from 2014 to 2018 to commemorate the Great War. The set will feature 30 stamps, with six being produced each year. The first set of stamps will be issued in July this year. The public can register their interest in the stamps by visiting www.royalmail.com/greatwar
The stamp range will provide a wide-ranging and inclusive commemoration. Themes that will be covered during the five years include:
- How artists, including writers and painters, interpreted the events
- The role of non-combatants and civilians
- The role of the Services
- The role of women
- The contribution of the Commonwealth
Full details of the first set of stamps – available to the public at the end of July – are overleaf. They include an excerpt from the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Lawrence Binyon, a portrait of Private William Tickle, who enlisted at the age of 15, a month after the start of the war, and an image of the Princess Mary Gift Box, sent to all servicemen for Christmas 1914 and delivered by the postal service
Alongside the stamps programme, Royal Mail has published a searchable database of the memorials in its care -www.royalmailmemorials.com. Royal Mail is also custodian of around 250 war memorials commemorating those who gave their lives. More than 75,000 men from the General Post Office (GPO) fought in the Great War, including 12,000 men who fought with its own regiment, the Post Office Rifles
Royal Mail announces its programme to commemorate the Great War; featuring a five-year Special Stamp series, and a programme of events around the Royal Mail war memorials.
The stamp series has been designed to be as wide-ranging and inclusive as possible. It will feature a collection of subjects including the contribution of the armed services, the role of the Commonwealth Countries and non-combatants and women. The first six-stamp set will be available to the public at the end of July.
The stories of the War will be told through imagery including historic Memorials, artefacts that have become synonymous with the conflict, portraits of some of the participants, art showing some of the famous and moving scenes of the conflict, and newly-commissioned artworks of poppies – the symbol of Remembrance – from leading artists such as Fiona Strickland.The 2014 set, which will be issued in late July, will feature the following:
Poppy – Original artwork by Fiona Strickland, the Scottish born and Edinburgh based leading botanical artist. She is a member of the Royal Society of Botanical Artists and considered among the leading contemporary botanical artists.
War Poetry – Lines from the poem, ‘For the Fallen’ by Lawrence Binyon. First published in The Times on 21 September 1914, ‘For the Fallen’ is the poet’s response to the first few weeks of the War. It is familiar through its recitation at Remembrance ceremonies in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Binyon volunteered for hospital work in France during the War.
Royal Mail commissioned a letter-cutter to engrave a section of the poem into stone. This was then photographed and the image used on the stamp.
War Art – ‘A Star Shell’’ by CRW Nevinson. The image is of a flare that illuminated no man’s land. Nevinson is widely regarded as one of the most important artists of the Great War, with paintings in the collection of Tate Britain and Imperial War Museums.
The artwork is on display at Tate Britain.
Portrait – Private William Tickle, who enlisted on 7 September 1914, and served in the 9th Battallion, Essex Regiment. He was accepted despite being under age (15 on enlisting). He served until he was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. This is one of thousands of photographs donated to the Imperial War Museum shortly after the war’s end in response to pleas to send images of those who had died.
Memorial – ‘The Response’, a bronze memorial by Welsh artist Sir William Goscombe John, represents the raising of several companies of the Northumberland Fusiliers and depicts the men joining up in 1914. The memorial is located in a public park in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
Artefact – Princess Mary Gift Box. In October 1914, the Christmas Gift Fund was launched by Princess Mary, the 17-year-old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. The purpose was to provide everyone wearing the King\’s uniform and serving overseas on Christmas Day 1914 with a \’gift from the nation\’. The result was the production of an embossed brass box, which contained a Christmas card and a picture of the Princess along with gifts. Servicemen at the front or at sea who were smokers received a pipe, an ounce of tobacco, cigarettes and a tinder lighter. Non-smokers received a packet of sweets and a writing case with pencil, paper and envelopes.
The public can register their interest in the stamps by visiting www.royalmail.com/greatwar.Royal Mail is an official First World War Centenary Partner with the Imperial War Museum.
Stephen Agar from Royal Mail commented: “The Great War changed the course of world history in ways which are still being felt today. This is why we took the decision to produce 30 stamps over a five year period.
“To commemorate all those who were involved is a major undertaking so we have consulted widely, including taking advice from the Imperial War Museums, senior figures within the Armed Services, and other organisations, including the Royal British Legion.”
Helen Grant, Minister for the First World War Centenary said: “The Royal Mail have a long and distinguished history of recording special events and anniversaries with commemorative stamps. I am delighted that they are marking the First World War centenary with five sets, across the period. Postal workers played a really important role in the war, with many displaying gallantry and heroism of the highest order. I hope that these stamps will help to bring home the meaning of the centenary to everyone that sees them.”Diane Lees, Director-General of Imperial War Museum said: “The series of stamps being issued by the Royal Mail over the five years of the Centenary, and in particular the sheer range of themes they cover from not only the individuals affected but also the artworks and poems produced in response to the conflict, are taking these stories further into the homes and offices of people across the country. They are a fitting commemoration for this landmark conflict that claimed the lives of over 16 million people across the globe and affected the lives of millions more.”
Royal Mail’s war memorials
More than 75,000 workers from the GPO fought in the First World War.Royal Mail is custodian of around 250 war memorials commemorating those who gave their lives. Many of the company’s war memorials were established after the First World War, and feature the names of postal staff who fought during the Great War. 12,000 postal workers served in Royal Mail’s dedicated regiment, the Post Office Rifles which was formed in the 1860s to protect Royal Mail buildings from attack.
As part of the company’s centenary commemorations, a database of all these memorials has been published online. Royal Mail worked closely with the British Postal Museum and Archive (BPMA) on developing the content for the website. The database can be seen atwww.royalmailmemorials.com. The website provides searchable information about each individual memorial.
Many of these war memorials are in areas to which the public has access, such as the reception area in a delivery office. Members of the public wishing to visit other memorials can contact sites directly to see if special arrangements can be made. A special remembrance service will be held for each memorial later in the year.
Victoria Cross awards
Four former members of GPO staff will be included in the nationwide tributes to those awarded the Victoria Cross. They are:Sgt Albert Gill, a GPO employee from Birmingham, who was killed in action in 1916 when he faced down the enemy, despite knowing it meant certain death, to hold up an advance.Sgt Alfred Knight, a GPO employee from Nottingham who single handedly captured an enemy position during the Battle for Wurst Farm Ridge in 1917. Knight survived the war
Major Henry Kelly, who worked for the GPO at a sorting office in Manchester at the outbreak of war; he was awarded the VC after conspicuous bravery during an attack in Le Sars, France when under heavy fire he led three men into an enemy trench, and then, when forced to retreat when enemy reinforcements arrived, carried his wounded Company Sergeant Major to safety. Major Kelly continued to work for the GPO after the war
Sgt John Hogan, a postman from Oldham, was 30 years old, and a sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, The Manchester Regiment, British Army during the First World War. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for great courage under fire on 29 October 1914 near Festubert, France
Royal Mail’s involvement in the First World War
At the beginning of the war, the GPO was involved in distributing recruitment forms throughout the country urging enlistment. We then released 75,000 of our own staff to support the war.The GPO had its own regiment, the Post Office Rifles, which comprised 12,000 employees
The Post Office Rifles fought at the Somme and Passchendaele, Belgium, and suffered significant losses. More than half of their fighting force was lost at the Battle of Wurst Farm Ridge in September 1917 .Of the 12,000 GPO employees in the Post Office Rifles, 1,800 were killed and 4,500 wounded
The Post Office Rifles Cemetery is just outside the village of Festubert, France. It contains the graves of only twenty-six identified Post Office Rifles men but has over ten times as many unnamed tombstones dedicated simply to ‘A Soldier of the Great War’
How letters reached the Western Front: In December 1914, a special sorting office – the Home Depot – was built to deal with mail to the troops. It was constructed in Regent’s Park in London and covered five acres. It was said to be the largest wooden structure in the world at the time
With 2,500 employees, mostly female, the depot processed letters and parcels bound for the troops. At its peak 12 million letters and 1 million parcels were passing through the Home Depot each week
Once post sent from the Home Depot, arrived overseas, it became the responsibility of the Army Post Office until it was delivered to the postal orderly of each unit. Despite the volume, the service was highly efficient – on average it took only two days for a letter from Britain to reach the Western Front (unless it was held up by the censor) Trench warfare also meant that British positions at the front remained fairly static and this enabled a comprehensive network of lorries and carts to develop for written communications and parcels between units at the front. It was normal practice in the trenches for each days post to be handed out with the evening meal by ration parties. They would also collect the men’s letters and postcards for home
Letters and parcels in numbers
In 1917 over 19,000 mailbags crossed the channel each day with half a million bags conveyed in the run up to Christmas.Outbound letters to soldiers peaked at more than 12 million a week early in the first quarter of 1918. Outbound parcels soared to just over a million a week by the spring of 1917