21 January 2017

An Afternoon with the Vice Presidents

Billed as an afternoon with our Vice Presidents - or an afternoon with the “Three Vees” as I like to call them - very nearly didn’t take off as the Union Jack Club didn’t have a record of our booking !  However, I’m pleased to say that they pulled out the stops and placed us in the Disney Room on the 23rd floor.

Edmund Hall 20-1-2017A

However, before the meeting started we had a presentation to make - to our President !  Ed Hall had won “his” Cup (i.e. the President’s Cup) at our all-day meeting on 8th October last year, but because your Hon Secretary could not make that meeting (alternative meeting in Jamaica) the cup was not presented to Ed.  Sorry it took three months to organise, but I thought it most appropriate for him to be presented with the Cup (to hold not to keep) and his Certificate (to hold and to keep) signed by the “Three Vees” at this meeting - very well deserved.

We them got down to business and Robin Davis started off with a new subject - Stamps !  He started to show us 1937 Coronation issues when Richard jumped up and told him to sit down as this was a postal history society !  As Richard Berry explained - it was a bit of a spoof on his part as he collected stamps and he wanted us to see what he collected.  He started off with a medal and was going to end with a medal - he started with an 1895 school medal (not Richard’s I hasten to add !) and the display was about an Englishman named Sidney Coleman living in France.  He moved to France in 1909 and the display was about his story in France.  He showed Sidney’s identity cards and with the end of the First World War Sidney remained in France and joined the Police (at this point Cliff Gregory walked up and down the room with a police armband on his arm).  With the start of the Second World War and with the invasion and occupation of France many British civilians who found themselves in France at the time (on business, on holiday or living there) found themselves interned in Ilags (short for Internierungslager, these were numbered Ilags in Germany).  Sidney was duly rounded up in 1940 and placed in an Ilag at St Denis - there was a letter from his senior officer to the Germans to try and get him freed (but to no avail), train tickets from his wife who visited him.  Also shown was a 1942 Christmas card, his prison identity card and various letter cards.  In due course his wife, Florence, was rounded up in October 1940 and she was interned at Vittel.  At this point Peter High read a poem written by Florence called “La Fret”.  Civilians were usually interned in hotels, but they were not all in good condition.  The Germans even imprisoned nuns - some 500 were interned - many of whom were nurses.  In due course Florence was released under licence with severe restrictions placed on her movement.  The items displayed told the human story of life in the camp: there were newsletters showing articles written by Sidney, and also details of plays put on by the internees as well as different styles of envelopes used by the internees to write home.  Sydney was internee 620 and Richard displayed his armband and also his key fob.  At this point Michael Dobbs read out a poem called “Out in the Snow”.  After the war Sidney acted as an interpreter for the Americans, but sadly Florence died in 1947. The display ended with his political internee identity card and a medal presented by the French as a political internee medal.

Robin Davis was next, this time with a “proper” display !  He started off by showing letters from the American Civil War 1863/64 period - this was family correspondence from a brother to his sister and from a sister to her cousin.  He then moved forward several years and showed World War I censored items from the Gold Coast and also crossed over into Togo from where he showed a registered cover to Switzerland in 1915.  The next display was of naval ships connected with Cyprus from before to just after WWI - this included mail from HMS Essex (1905), HMS Irresistible (1907), HMS Inflexible (1914), HMS Senator and HMS Emperor of India (1924).  There was also an item from HMS Ocean in 1955.  Robin next showed mail from the air mail service from Bagdad to Cairo - he collected covers during the period that the RAF operated the service 1921-26. 

We then came to the elusive Mr George Odom who, he reckoned, his business activities was a cover for intelligence activities.  As the Leicester Mercury put it in an article published on 31 July 2015 on George Odom – which states he was a benevolent Leicester businessman, with an unusual and distinctive name, who travelled the world, living an adventurous life.  "I am hoping you might be able to bring some light on a well-known Leicester businessman, George Crawford Odom," wrote Mr David Horry, of Shanghai, China.  "Odom was chairman and managing director of a mail order woollens business, from Diamond Mills, Albion Street, in Leicester.  But it's somewhat strange that such a business could thrive on orders from some of the hottest parts of the world.  It may seem even stranger that no Odom catalogue has ever surfaced and that his advertising campaign was sparse indeed.”  Robin stated from around 1934 no further adverts from his business base in Leicester.  However, in Jamaica a stamp business emerged called “Barrington Smith” which appears to have been owned by Mr Odom.  Mr David Horry also wrote an article for Gibbons Stamp Monthly in October 2014 and there have been various articles in the British-Caribbean Philatelic Journal in 2014 and 2015 - there was a further article in Gibbons Stamps Monthly in January 2016.  Robin showed a number of items of mail connected with George Odom Ltd in Leicester as well as the “Barrington-Smith” stamp business in Jamaica.  In Jamaica Odom was in close proximity with Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame); shared a common interest in stamps with Sir Harry Luke (head of MI6 in the Caribbean) and employed a lady in Leicester who spoke four European languages and was later known as agent “GABY” of the SOE.  A most interesting and fascinating story with mail from a host of countries world-wide visited by the elusive Mr Odom !

As a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, people from Arab countries could not communicate by post with those located in areas occupied by Israel as Israel would not accept or deliver mail which bore Arab stamps.  As a result an undercover mail service was operated by Cyprus between 1969 and 1973 and mail was routed through Cyprus and postmarked in Nicosia; from 1974 onwards until sometime in 1983 such mail was routed via London.  Also shown was mail from the Lebanese civil war of 1976-77 - there was a temporary external mail service initially via Rhodes and then via Cyprus.  This was operated by the Phalangists. 

Geoff Hanney was our third and final VP and he showed a wide variety of topics from various parts of the world.  His first few sheets concerned Camp mail from Britain in particular from Canadian Forces during WWI.  There were also a couple of postcards depicting Grove Park Barracks, South East London from the ASC MT HQ (this was near to where your Hon Secretary lives).  Geoff had purchased a number of items from the collection of the late Mike Knott and the next seven sheets all featured material connected with the international peacekeeping force in the Dominican Republic during 1965/66.  This was followed by a selection of mail showing US military postmarks from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba with differing US APO numbers.  He then went onto show Irish naval material with mail showing ships cachets, including those on fishery protection and international duties, all accompanied with pictures of the vessels concerned.  This was then followed with a selection of covers from the Irish Army from three battalions and a motor squadron which had been formed for border protection duties.

We then had the history of the US Marine Corps in the occupation of Haiti from 1915 until 1934 along with a large selection of covers showing the various postal markings used.  Then we came to the Indian Army and a series of very attractive postcards showing Indian Army uniforms and all used during WW2 in the Middle East (Egypt, Palestine, etc) and South Africa - sent by the Rev’d Taggart to his daughter in the Isle of Man.

Geoff’s display can be found on our website by clicking here.

© Forces Postal History Society 2017