Sunday, May 9, 2010


Yesterday, I gave you a lesson on Italian pasta and pizza from Po Valley so don't you think it's time to brush up a bit on French cheese and wine ;-) France and Italy have contributed so much in the area of art, culture, food and fashion that both go hand in hand. I know you will agree, hence I have selected today's topic.

For a change, I will not start with giving lecture on French resistance and armistice during WWII but first show you the item and then we will go down the memory lane :D

Shown above is one of the famous airmail letter issued by Indian Airmail Society during WWII. The concept of such letter was from Stephen Smith, secretary of Indian Airmail Society and a known pioneer of Rocket Mail during those times.

Let's first get into technical part of the letter and then we will touch upon literary section! The letter was carried through a airplane piloted by J. S. Salisbury. The letter carries his signature close to large shaped 'V'. The letter carries two red and one purple colored special cancellation cachets: "BY AIR" on front, "V with M" on reverse side in red color and "A" -> Calcutta on front and reverse side both in purple color.

It is also said that the "A" flight originated in Jhabua according to J. C. Cooper's notes published in "Bulletin of the Airmail Society of India", II, II, (Oct. - Dec. 1974) pp.42-45. The letter has cancellation of Dum Dum (a place in Calcutta) of September 12, 1941, 9:15 a.m. It has been backstamped with slogan "Buy Defence Savings Certificates" dated September 12, 1941, 5 p.m. at Park Street (again Calcutta).

This cover has also been signed by Stephen Smith on the reverse side twice. It also states that 20 piece of mail was carried. Only 12 such envelopes were carried on the flight.

I know by this time you would have already noticed the main attraction of this cover: the text. I am not surprised if you would have read it also and found it amusing :D Well, it is and most important of all carries a good propaganda message.

The letter carries a very large V in red color with text in center "DONT BELIEVE IN RUMOUR" and "DO NOT BE BLIND". At the left side of V, an old English nursery rhyme and musical round has been molded into a great message of war.

The cover has a rhyme:


Man! this is what I like about WWII propaganda. The people working under Psychological Warfare division were so creative and imaginative that they always came up with superb message on any form that they touched whether it was leaflets, posters or covers.

Literature Class

According to Wikipedia, a version of this rhyme was published in Deuteromelia or The Seconde part of Musicks melodie (1609). The editor of the book, and possible author of the rhyme, was Thomas Ravenscroft, who in 1609 was still a teenager. The original lyrics are:

Three Blinde Mice,
Three Blinde Mice,
Dame Iulian,
Dame Iulian,
the Miller and his merry olde Wife,
shee scrapte her tripe licke thou the knife.

Attempts to read historical significance into the words have led to the speculation that this musical round was written earlier and refers to Queen Mary I of England blinding and executing three Protestant bishops, but problematically the Oxford Martyrs, Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer, were burned at the stake, not blinded.

Later, the wordings became:

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?

History Class

The rhyme was beautifully modified according to the then situation in France. The rhyme on cover mentions three blind mice as Philippe Petain (WWI hero and later becoming chief of the French state known as Vichy during WWII after German forces run over France), François Darlan (Admiral of the French Naval Fleet and Prime Minister of France between 1941 to 1942 when this cover was issued) and finally, Pierre Laval (Prime Minister of France just after French Armistice with Germany in 1940 and then he continued as head of Vichy state after Darlan stepped down.)

These three people were key figures in France during WWII and instrumental in getting Armistice signed with Germany in 1940 after France fell to the Germany. There are numerous articles on internet which talks about the role played by each of these figures during WWII including disagreement between them during WWII days.

Despite, the fact that they never openly agreed to German stand of declaring war on Britain and handing over the French North Africa to German forces as part of armistice which some historians say would have prevented allied landing in Africa, there is no denial in their role in Vichy government which caused thousands of Jews handed over to Germany which resulted in their execution and be part of other atrocities which Germans did during their rule in France.

We can go on writing about each person's role and involvement with Nazi regime but I think internet is right place for people who want to go in depth. Thus, I would end my history class abruptly here with concluding remark that Darlan was assassinated in 1942, Laval was executed by firing squad after his trial and prosecution post-war and Petain died in 1951 after his death sentence was converted into life imprisonment considering his old age during his trial post-war.

Last but the least, they introduced the word "Collaboration" to French people and gave an important history lesson to all coming generations!!!

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