February 2004

Report of the meeting of February 14, 2004


Barrie Jay last displayed to us some 8 years ago now and whilst some of the first half (covering the period to 1793) may be a duplication of what he showed last time, the second half (1793-1815) was to be all new. In his introduction Barrie remarked that what was interesting about early forces mail was not the postal markings, but the content. Much of what was stated in these letters would not have escaped the censor of WW1/2 ! During the 17th/18th Centuries there was a well regularised system of getting mail to/from the forces overseas. His display covered a number of wars, but these could usually be defined as being between England and France. His earliest item was a document from 1440 (during the 100 Years War) from a Captain at the siege of Honfleur and "signed with my blood" ! For the rest I can only pick out individual items from the wealth of material displayed. This was a history lesson illustrated with many fine letters of unusual routes or rare markings; this was a unique display which many of us dream about and which has taken a lifetime to put together.

A letter from a British mercenary during the 80 Years War (between North and South Holland); at the end of the 17th Century during the War of the Grand Alliance a letter from Rotterdam to Antwerp that travelled via London. It described the campaign for the capture of Namur. A selection of letters with the AB mark; apart from clear handwriting the letters contained good descriptions of what was happening at the time. The War of the Austrian Succession - including POW mail. Correspondence from Lt Philip Browne of the King's Own Royal Regiment of Horse including a letter where he mentions he would like to be a Captain "in one of the better regiments". He was eventually offered a captaincy in a Troop of the Horse Guards at a cost of £3,000 - he could sell his lieutenancy for £1,700. The Second Jacobite Rebellion (1745/46) including examples with manuscript 'P' for privilege; The Severn Years War (1756-63) a number of campaign letters and also a POW letter to a French prisoner aboard the Boyne, a Man-of-War at Portsmouth. Mail from the War of American Independence (1775-83).

The second half started with interrupted mail from France to England; civilian mail that travelled unusual routes to their destination with mail passing through various forwarding agents. During the Revolutionary War in France there was an edict from Napoleon that all English aged between 16-60 in France were to be considered as POW. Civilian POW mail from this period was displays as was mail from the British Army in the Low Countries (1793). This brought in the 1d rate for soldiers - pre-paid letters from soldiers and unpaid on mail to soldiers until 1806 when such mail had to be pre-paid. 1806 Bremen Campaign in north-west Germany - only one of two known letters from this campaign. Also displayed were a series of letters on various aspects of what became the last invasion of Britain (by the French) in 1796. Landings were made at Bantry Bay, Killala Bay (both in Ireland) and Fishguard (Wales). There was French POW mail, including one with the rare Porchester Castle POW mark; British and French POW mail from the period 1804-15 and letters with the Army Bag and Post Paid / Army Bag marks of the Helder Expedition of 1799.

The Cape was given to the Dutch, but as they continued to help the French the British recaptured Cape Town in February 1806. A letter of the period recounted what may have been the earliest use of shrapnel. There was mail from the West Indies and a letter from Paris that gave details of the British Army encamped and on guard in Paris as well as a variety of mail from the Peninsular War. The War of 1812 saw America declare war on Great Britain and Barrie showed a number of items to/from the Americas. He also showed a letter written in 1841 by an individual who stated that he was involved in the capture of an American vessel in 1814 (the schooner "Mary of Boston") and asking for a share of the prize money. A gem was a letter from Wellington only 11 days after Waterloo.

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