12 May 2018

 1940: A desperate year for Britain - Jim Etherington


Our President, Richard Berry FRPSL, introduced fellow member Dr Jim Etherington FRPSL to give a display on a subject which was not going to be the usual display of forces postal history we were used to.  Rather than displaying exclusively postal history he showed how such material could be woven into telling a story within a thematic exhibit.  He explained that the secret of creating a good thematic exhibit was two-fold - first you needed to develop a well focussed story and then secondly you must endeavour to use the widest variety of philatelic material possible.  To achieve the first he decided to take a single year, 1940, and a single perspective, that of Great Britain, hence the title of the exhibit “1940: A Desperate Year for Britain”.  To meet the second criteria the display included stamps, artist drawings, proofs, errors, missing colours and colour shifts, postal stationery, perfins slogan cancels, booklets, meter marks and a good amount of postal history !  When collecting the material for this exhibit he very quickly realised that to tell his story effectively he would need to rely heavily on forces postal history.  This element in the display was of obvious interest, but hopefully members found the remainder equally interesting.

Before Jim talked us through the exhibit he explained how it was set out as this aided our viewing and avoided him having to give us a history lesson !  The first sheet provided a brief introduction and the plan of the exhibit. The aim of the plan was to enable a good understanding of the structure and content of the display.  Throughout the display the main chapter headings appeared on the top left of the sheet, with sub-headings on the top right, both outside the frame line.  The main story line appeared top left within the frame, with the main thrust of each page being in bold type.  The text within the body of each sheet either elaborated aspects of the story more fully or provided philatelic information about an individual item.  The philatelic information was given in italics.  Jim displayed his sheets ‘nodding donkey’ fashion, i.e. top to bottom as opposed to row by row.  He reiterated that he did not intend to give a history lesson as he was sure most of us knew the events of 1940.

In presenting his display he drew our attention to items that he thought would be of particular interest and provided the odd anecdote that brought the act of collecting to life.  The first half of the display developed the following aspects of the story:

  • Hitler’s expansionist policy leading up to the invasion of Poland and the declaration of war;

  • British forces in France - both the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF);

  • The Royal Navy’s role in imposing the economic blockade and defending Britain’s sea lanes, including convoy shipping across the North Atlantic from Canada and the South Atlantic; Scapa Flow and the sinking of HMS Royal Oak were also included;

  • The conflict in Europe, first the German invasion of Norway then in the Low Countries and France, culminating in the British and Allied evacuation from Dunkirk.

  • Initial measures taken on the Home Front.

The second half of the display covered the following aspects of the story:

  • It continued with the Home Front, covering the topic of internment first with Germans and Austrians and later with Italians.  A large number of whom were shipped to the Isle of Man; those who were considered more dangerous were shipped to Canada.  There was a page on industry - going onto a war footing, reserved occupations, etc; then the changing role of women, recycling, raising funds for the war effort, food production and rationing.

  • It included the role of the RAF and Royal Navy, in particular the use of radar and the function of Bletchley Park - the top-secret home of the code breakers and others involved in intelligence gathering as well as the support given by French, Polish and Czech troops who had also escaped from Europe to the UK from Dunkirk.

  • The invasion threat and the support given by the Empire and Dominions with Canada mobilizing its troops first followed by Australia and New Zealand.  

  • The air war including RAF Bomber Command activities, the Battle of Britain and two pages relating to the Blitz.  

  • The war with Italy.

  • The strategic importance of Gibraltar and Malta, its fortress and submarines in Malta harbour.

  • The land war in Egypt and East Africa - in the latter case the Italians had invaded Sudan and taken over British Somaliland.

  • And finally the successes against the Italians as 1940 came to a close.
© Forces Postal History Society 2018