Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Great War 1916 - Royal Mail First Day Cover

The new Royal Mail First Day Cover collection is dedicated to The Great War 1916. Specifically this new collection by Royal Mail is promoting the Post Office at War (1914-18). About 114 million parcels had passed through the Home Depot during the war. In October 1914, the Home Depot handled 650.00 letters a week. By March 1915, the number had risen to 3 million a week, peaking at 12 million a week at the height of the war.

The Post Office Rifles originates in the 1860s as a volunteer rifle corps. By the outbreak of the First World War, the regiment was organised as 8th Battalion, London Regiment. Two more battalions were raised during the war, and 12,000 men served in them; 1,800 of them were killed and 4,500 wounded. The Rifles took part in many battles, including Loos, the Somme, Passchendaele and Amiens. Its members received 145 gallantry awards, including a Victoria Cross for Sergeant Alfred Knight, a pre-war postal clerk from Birmingham who was decorated for his bravery.
Home Depot at Regent’s Park, London. A reliable postal service was vital to keeping up the morale of Britain’s soldiers and sailors. In December 1914, to handle the volume of military mail, the General Post Office built a vast sorting office in Regent’s Park, London. Covering five acres and employing 2,500 staff, most of them female, the Home Depot received and dispatched staggering quantities of material. During 1917, 19,000 mail bags were crossing the English Channel every day, with half a million making the journey in the run-up to Christmas. At its peak, the Home Depot was handling up to 12 million letters and a million parcels every week.
Delivering the Mail on the Home Front. Whether delivering call-up letters that conscripted men into military service, carrying vital correspondence that organised war production or distributing ration books, the postal service constituted an essential part of Britain’s war effort. During the war, the Post Office released 75,000 men for military service and took on thousands of temporary staff, many of them women, in their place. The war took its toll. Many areas saw reduced deliveries, and the government’s need to raise revenue meant the end of the famous Penny Post rate in June 1918.
Writing a Letter from the Western Front. With only rare opportunities for home leave, letters were an essential link between servicemen and their loved ones at home. Higher standards of literacy, compared to previous generations, meant that most soldiers could read and write. Often written in pencil, on whatever paper could be found, letters gave soldiers an opportunity to imagine themselves in conversation with loved ones back home. Around two billion letters went to and from servicemen during the war. A century later, those letters surviving in archives, libraries and private collections provide fascinating insights into individuals’ experiences of the war. 

Battlefield Poppy, Giles Revell. Giles Revell is a London photographer who is particularly interested in the ways in which photography can capture form and texture. In his Battlefield Poppy, a single poppy stands against a chaotic and barren background. The image has an ethereal quality, suggesting the alienation of life from a world of violence and suffering. To create this delicate and atmospheric photograph, Revell suspended real poppies in a water tank and added coloured dyes to create swirling mist-like patters. The result, after much painstaking experimentation, is a painterly effect that captures the solitary poppy’s fragility and vulnerability.
Travoys arriving with wounded at a dressing-station at Smol, Macedonia, September 1916, Stanley Spencer. This painting by Stanley Spencer was inspired by an incident he witnessed in September 1916. During the time he was serving with a field ambulance unit in the Macedonian region, a stream of wounded was brought to Spencer’s dressing station, which was housed in a Greek church. As a Christian, Spencer saw this scene in religious terms; the suffering of the wounded reminded him of Christ’s crucifixion, while the life-saving work of the surgeons made him think of the Resurrection.
‘To My Brother,’ Vera Brittain. Vera Brittain was born in 1893 in Staffordshire. At the outbreak of the war, her younger brother Edward applied for a commission, and in 1915 Vera trained as a nurse. In June 1918, she wrote ‘To My Brother,’ a poem commemorating Edward’s bravery on the Somme two years previously, in which she addressed her brother with the following words: ‘May you endure to lead the last advance.’ Four days later, Edward was killed. Vera was devastated by his death. After she died in 1970, her ashes were scattered on his grave, according to her wishes. By then, her writings had made her a major figure in the literature history of the war.  
Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France. The village of Thiepval was a key strategic point on the Somme battlefield. Fought over many times, it was finally captured by British troops in late September 1916. Thiepval was later selected as the site of the Thiepval Memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The arches symbolise the unity of Britain and France. The memorial’s inner faces bear the names of 72,253 British and South African troops who dies on the Somme and who have no known grave. Rising up to 48m, the memorial now stands over a peaceful agricultural landscape, dotted with British and imperial cemeteries and memorials.
Munitions Worker Lottie Meade. This studio portrait shows Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Meade. Reflecting her work as a munitions worker, Meade is posing in her overalls, she wears a small triangular brooch, an ‘On War Service’ badge that marks her as playing her part in the war effort. During the war, millions of women entered Britain’s workforce, while many others left work such as textile manufacturing and domestic service in favour of higher-paying war work. Employment in the munitions industry could be hazardous. Meade herself would die of TNT poisoning on 11 October 1916, leaving a husband and four young children.

Captain AC Green’s Battle of Jutland Commemorative Medal. After Jutland, unofficial medals were struck to commemorate the battle. Designed by Prince Louis of Battenberg, a former First Sea Lord, these medals were made by Spink and Son of London and sold in gold, silver, bronze and white metal versions to raise money for naval orphanages. The design features a trident, a symbol of naval power. Crossed flagstaffs bear a Union flag and the Royal Navy’s White Ensign, and a shield carries the date of the battle: 31 May 1916. This particular example belonged to Captain AC Green of the Royal Marines. 

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