Sunday, February 7, 2010

Indian Military Air Letter Cards - WWII

It's good to see year starting on hectic note on work front. Unfortunately, that means I will have less time to publish posts. That was the case in January. Even February seems going the same way. So before, I go back to work let me post some interesting item :-)

Today's post is first of its kind in my blog. This is one of the area I have recently started collecting and I am really enjoying it. Though, the items are costlier than stamps, these are worth spending your hard earned money. OK, this is my personal view. I know most of the people say stock market or real estate are worth investing. Well, you know what I mean when I say spending money. I see it as investment in divine happiness :D that it brings to me which no monetary return can ever buy!

Let's cut the philosophy part and concentrate on item. The item shown below is called Military Air Letter. You can search on Google to find the history behind it such as when did it start. In brief, as name suggests it was air service started for soldiers serving in WWII in various theaters by British government.

Initially, the design of these air letters were common in most of the areas but slowly, the air letters became localized to region it was being sent from. Thus, you can find military air letters of India, Middle-East, Europe, Canada and others. Of course, we will be concentrating on only Indian air letters of WWII. In general, every military air letter is worth collecting given the illustrations it carry.

The best work on Indian Military Air Letter of WWII had been done by late O.R.J. Lee. His work titled "Indian Military Air Letters Card 1942-47" was published by the Forces Postal History Society.
The book covers various aspect from its origination to classification of air letters mentioning various illustrations, variations and unrecorded types. I will just touch lightly on its origin. According to the book, the exact date/origin of Indian Military Air Letter is disputed but it is supposed to be somewhere in September/October 1942 when first time British Government started Indian Military Air Letter service in India for soldiers serving in SEAC region.

Some of the air letters were issued with 3 annas while majority of them carry 4 annas. Later, the Christmas and New Year Greetings Air Letters were introduced which were distributed free to soldiers (of course there was various rationing done such as 1 per week to 2 per month etc).

My interest lies more on these type of illustrated air letters which the book calls "Christmas Greetings Issues", category ICG. For my readers benefit, I am going to quote a complete para on it.


As in the Middle East, troops in India, Ceylon and South East Asia commands had the concession of sending Air Letters to U.K. postage free for Xmas delivery in 1942 to 1945. Each year, specially printed forms were issued but not all of them were postage free and the supply did not always equal the demand. In cases of shortage, the normal issues of Air Letter forms were printed to carry an endorsement. FREE XMAS LETTER CARD, FREE XMAS MAIL or POSTAGE FREE were the usual endorsements used. Sometimes the endorsement was made by the sender in manuscript, sometimes typed on (by the unit?) and occasionally impressed with a rubber stamp. They have been seen in 1942 and 1943 only and the use of normal forms with endorsement is not the subject of a listing in the ICG category.

Let me stop here ;-) and continue on exact item details. The item I am going to show is categorized as ICG 44, Sub-Type 1. Coded S.S.P. Ltd. - G1623 - 15-9-44 - 3 lacs.

Shown above is Sub-type 1, issued in 1944. The air letter shown above was postage free. The same year also saw the formation of SEAC (South East Asia Command) which added its own Greetings forms to the various issues of 1943. [We will cover them in future.]

This was the general issue from for India Command and had an exterior layout as for the normal forms of the period but with the overlay cut out 52x44 mm. at the left to take a block illustrating a tigers head over a map of India and Ceylon. The background of this block is a set of dots at right angles to one another but slanted 78 degree upwards to the right (and 12 degree up to the left). This dotting is cut out behind the tiger's face. At the bottom in script is:- "Greetings from India". On this sub-type, the "from" is in albino over the blue land area of the map.

The air letter mentions I.A.F.F. 1083 below the map. Down below on the back side appears - THESE CARDS ARE FOR THE USE OF H.M. FORCES ONLY. and there is provision for Sender's details and the language written in.

If you look further down you can see the printer order coding. The vast majority of these air letters are identified by a printers code consisting of four main parts:-

1. The initials of the printer,
2. The Forces Order Reference,
3. The date of the order (not the printing date)
4. The quantity ordered.

So, this one mentions S.S.P. Ltd. - G1623 - 15-9-44 - 3 lacs. The printer here is S.S.P. Ltd. or Sree Saraswaty Press at Calcutta, India. G1623 was order reference. The forms were ordered on 15th September 1944 and the quantity of printing was 3 lacs.

Here comes the best part of this air letter: the illustration. The inside of the air letter form, taking up the full double page (sideways) is a picture of the Taj Mahal in green, blue and black, enclosed in a thin orange-yellow circle. It is surrounded by designs of two monkeys at the top left, faces of two Indian men and two Indian women at the top right. The designer appended his name "Dust". Just below the centre is CHRISTMAS GREETINGS in orange-yellow with a white space underneath for a short message.

This being a used air letter, it cost me a good money but given the fact that it is still in good shape without any tear, it was just worth grabbing. Since, I like monkeys and tigers you know these WWII stuff was fatal attraction for me not to mention the Taj Mahal :D Oh man! I just love these vintage art work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o:

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