11 February 2017

Events in 1917

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War continues, with the Society commemorating the events of 1917 through member’s displays of material - covers, postcards and ephemera - of that year.  To give you an idea of what was happening throughout the world at that time go to the following website: www.greatwar.co.uk/timeline/ww1-events-1917.htm for a day-by-day breakdown of events in 1917.

First off was Peter Burrows with a fantastic array of Christmas cards for that year - this was part of hid Christmas car collection which cover not only WW1 but WW2 as well plus a few in between.  The cards ranged from the very basic and cheap to others which were very elaborate.  For example that of 8th Division BEF was very elaborate in showing the Kaiser looking at a big long list of defeats.  Some designs were produced by an officer in the regiment whilst others were produced by card manufacturers - there was one from 14th (Light) Div and 16th (Irish) Div, 13th Corps, a postcard type card from 7th Div on the Italian front, 38th Welsh Div written in Welsh, 41st Div and one from 1st Highland Brigade RFA, 41st Divisional Train ASC with a cartoon inside by W S Maile and the Territorial Force Nursing Service.  There was also a souvenir Christmas menu and programme from the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regt.  “A Happy Christmas from the Balkans” was the greeting on one card, printed by the Survey Company RE, BSF; there were cards from un its in Mesopotamia, including one from “The Whale oil Guards” the Australian 53rd Battalion; as well as cards from New Zealand, Canadian and American units.  There were many more cards displayed and a simple listing of them would not do the display justice - you need to see them, so take a look at the complete display on our website - click here to view.

Second to show was Alistair Kennedy - well we were all expecting Alistair to come up with a large mixed bag of material and we were not disappointed !  He started off with APO London (i.e. the Home Depot); Belgian Government exiled in France; Belgian refugees who came to the UK - they worked in a munitions factory in Elizabethville near Birtley, Co Durham which had its own camp and post office.  There was an OAS from Monaco - this was a stampless postcard postmarked on 4-2-17 from an officer in the 17th King’s (Liverpool) Regt (the writer presumably in Monte Carlo for convalescence; mail to an interpreter at Le Havre and to the French Mission in Egypt.  1917 saw continued fighting on the Western Front with the Third Battle of Ypres, also known simply as Passchendaele with mail from British forces in that area; there was mail from unoccupied Belgium (July 1917) - just a small area on the French border, a cover addressed to a Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry soldier and posted through a French post office.  There were also a couple of photographs of Australian soldiers on the Western Front in 1917 and mail from Australian FPOs.  The Canadian Corps was at Vimy Ridge in 1917 and Alistair showed mail from the Canadian Section at Base Office 2 (2 Cdn Sec).  In 1917 the Americans arrived (hurrah !) and they had their own postal service and Alistair showed a number of covers with US APOs, including an Express Letter; the Americans also took over a number of British military hospitals and re-named them.  The US APOs started off with low numbers but were subsequently increased by adding 700 (e.g. APO 5 became APO 705).  He also showed US mail to England, posted unpaid but which was charged postage due.  There were also American air units on the Western Front.

Peter High was the third member to display with items from his hospital ships collection - by 1917 we were well into WW1 with theatres of war in Europe, Mesopotamia, German East Africa and German South West Africa.  He went through his collection and only drew out those connected with 1917.  Peter started off with hospital ships from Italy and the cachets used by these ships were quite interesting and colourful.  Italy was on the Allied side during WW1 and the British chartered some Italian passenger ships to act as hospital ships.  Items shown included material from the Cordova, Flora, Italia and Santa Lucia and others.  There were a few occasions when British hospital ships managed to be sunk for whatever reason (striking mines or deliberately or accidentally sunk by the enemy).  In this respect he showed a selection of photographs of the Asturias beached off Star Point in Devon.  He also showed a letter written by a crew member on board the Asturias at the time she was torpedoed off the Devon coast on 21 March 1917.  Shown was a selection of covers, postcards, etc from hospital ships such as HMHS Brighton Madras, Neuralia, Nevasa, Lanfranc, and the Rewa.  There was also a range of photographs of HMHS Gloucester Castle partially sunk from a torpedo attack from U-Boat UB-32 on 31 March 1917.  Other items shown were from the Australian hospital ship Warilda and also the American USS Solace.

Nick Colley put up a few pages of family history and ephemera connected with his Great Uncle James (James Colley) who served in the Lincolnshire Regiment (1st/5th (Territorial) Battalion) and who was killed in November 1917.  He was awarded the Military Medal for his involvement in the capture of Lens in June 1917: during the Battle of the Somme they participated at Gommecourt and they were still in this area during the actions of Spring 1917.  In June 1917 they moved to Lens and on 1st July 1917 were involved in an attempt to capture the town, an action in which Jim was awarded the Military Medal.  The exact circumstances are not recorded but he was attached to the Scout Section at the time.  His demise in November 1917 was by friendly fire - so not a new phenomenon - artillery shells fell short and fell into the British trenches.  At the end of his talk he displayed the actual Military Medal.

Then we had another showing from Alistair Kennedy - this time moving away from the Western Front with mail from the Italian Front.  Italian soldiers paid postage at the inland rate when in Italy; in late 1917 British troops were sent to Italy, particularly heavy artillery and infantry to support the Italians and Alistair showed mail from such units.  He also showed German feldpost mail from this period and mentioned that in early 1917 the feldpost office designation was removed from postmarks.  He also mentioned and showed examples of Austro-Hungarian Army mail where the datestamp had the year first (e.g. 17-SEP-21).  He showed a variety of mail from the German Military Mission in Turkey; mail from Turkish troops with civilian postmarks; Austrian FPO (451) in Constantinople; German Military Mission in Jerusalem; and 6th Turkish Army with German mail from Feldpost Damascus.  Then to the Egyptian campaign with mail from British forces involved; also military TPOs as they advanced into Palestine.  There was also mail from Malta in 1917 - FPO SZ9 changed to FPO HD1 (because Malta came under the direct control of the Home Depot in postal terms); Expeditionary Force B in East Africa; the British Mission with the Serbian Army accompanied by FPO SZ6.  In 1917 the Greek king was forced to abdicate and Alistair showed mail from Salonika - 60th Division with FPO X179, APO R60 and FPO 228 - 179 Brigade was sent to guard the Provisional Government against any hostility by Greek Royalist forces; also shown was mail postmarked with APOs in the SX series.

© Forces Postal History Society 2017