9 September 2017

ALL DAY meeting: “Aspects of NATO: 68 Years of the North Atlantic Treaty” with Michael Dobbs, President’s Cup Competition (9 sheets) and Members displays

The day did not start well when upon arrival I found that the room had not been prepared for us - there were no tables or display frames.  We managed to get the tables and green cloths after a delay, but the frames did not arrive until after midday.  The number of members attending was down from our usual numbers and sadly we had only three entries for the President’s Cup Competition.  So this is a plea to members who live within easy travelling of the Union Jack Club in Waterloo to come along and support your Society.  We are a friendly and informal bunch and you can be assured of a warm welcome.  Also those that do attend offer a wealth of information and many queries are resolved by those present.  There are times when members bring material for sale.

When we finally got started we had a moments silence in memory of two recently departed London attendees - Bernard Atkinson and Edmund Hall, our Immediate Past President.  They shall both be missed.

Your Hon Secretary, Michael Dobbs, then proceeded to introduce his display.  It was called “Aspects of NATO” and featured extracts of covers and other material drawn from his NATO collection.  He started by explaining the meaning of NATO - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established on 4th April 1949, when twelve nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty to counteract the perceived threat from the Soviet Union.  He went on to show a selection of stamps, postmarks, slogans, including meter marks, issued by the various nations to commemorate the anniversaries of NATO; followed by a similar selection of postmarks and stamps for the twice yearly Ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council; the inter-parliamentary North Atlantic Assembly; the Atlantic Treaty Association - voluntary organisations in support of NATO; and various other NATO-themed activities such as NATO Tattoo (NATO Taptoe) held annually in Arnhem, NATO Music Festivals in Germany and various Air Meetings - international air days and tactical competitions which featured NATO; the Inter-Allied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) and the Radiation Biology Conference in Wales in 1967.  He also showed mail from various agencies of NATO such as the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD), the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) and the NATO Defence College (NDC).

The second half of the display then featured the military structures of NATO and he also explained the relationship of France and NATO - in 1966 the French President, General Charles de Gaulle removed French forces from the integrated command and all foreign forces were told to leave France.  France itself did not withdraw from NATO, it just withdrew from NATOs military command structure.  As a result NATO HQ and various other NATO command HQs and military agencies were required to leave France and were re-located to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy.  The display started with covers from NATO HQ in both Paris and Brussels, followed by SHAPE; in addition to the civil post offices in these locations there were also British, Canadian and American APO/FPOs established.  Michael followed this with HQ Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT), an HQ were he served March 1969 to June 1971 and showed his certificate of service; he then moved to HQ Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) in Rheindahlen in Germany where served from June 1971 until August 1975 when he left the Army (by that time he was also a member of the Society).

The display covered all the Major Subordinate Commands of Allied Command Europe (ACE) under SHAPE: AFNORTH, AFCENT, AFSOUTH and AFMED as well as subordinate commands (AFNORTH) BALTAP and LANDJUT; (AFCENT) NORTHAG/TWOATAF, CENTAG/FOURATAF and (AFSOUTH) LANDSOUTHEAST and LANDSOUTH.  Then came the ACE Mobile Force (Land) (AMF(L)) - a brigade sized multi-national organisation that could be sent at short notice to any threatened part of ACE.  This was followed by a display of material (postal markings, printed envelopes and leaflets) of the other Major NATO Commands of Allied Command Atlantic and its various subordinate commands and Allied Command Channel.

Michael explained that in recent years the NATO military structure has undergone various transformations which have reduced the number of military headquarters from 65 to under 20.  The largest transformation came about in 2003 when two strategic commands were created - Allied Command Operations (at SHAPE) responsible for all Alliance operations and Allied Command Transformation at Virginia, USA responsible for training and interoperability.  The aforementioned write-up is but a simplified explanation of a very complex military structure which has changed considerably over the years, particularly over the large number of acronyms it has created !  A small selection of Michael’s NATO material can be viewed by ‘clicking’ here.

After lunch we held the President’s Cup Competition and as explained at the beginning there were only three entries which were (in alphabetical order):

-       Michael Dobbs with “Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe” as a follow-up to his main display on NATO.  The entry showed the SHAPE datestamps and machine cancellation used in Paris and then the Belgian datestamps and machine cancellation following its re-location to Mons. 

-       Peter High with “German Hospital Ships of World War Two”.  This was a few pages from his collection of German Hospital Ship covers, including a couple in service on the Danube River which were mainly smaller vessels, steam yachts and paddle steamers. 

-       Alistair Kennedy with “The American Expeditionary Force”.  This was during the First World War and consisted mostly of British Field Post Office datestamps used by the American Forces serving in British areas.  The Americans when they eventually arrived were attached to British Forces for training.  They were issued with British datestamps coded ‘K’ for the Divisional HQ, Railhead HQ and Brigade FPOs.

The winner was Peter High with his superb display of covers and cards from German Hospital Ships, several of which were accompanied by postcards showing the vessel concerned.  A worthy winner - Peter’s entry can be viewed on our website by ‘clicking’ here.

Lastly our President, Richard Berry, showed a selection of ephemera he had acquired connected with World War I conscientious objectors that comprised of Notices of hearings and Notices of decisions.  It was “as is” and had not yet been mounted and written up.  In addition to these notices there were copies of official correspondence connected with Tribunals and also Charge sheets from 4th (Reserve) Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment.  This material would in due course form part of a larger display.

© Forces Postal History Society 2017