1911 First Official UK Aerial Post
By Craig Buggins
We take for granted that we can post a letter and have it flown via airmail to arrive on the other side of the world in relatively quick fashion. The origins of airmail services in the UK go back over a century when the first official UK airmail was flown from Hendon to Windsor on September 9th 1911.
The experiment owes its place in history to Commander Sir Walter Windham, a British aviation pioneer. Windham served in the Royal Indian Navy during the First World War, but before the outbreak of hostilities he organised the world’s first official airmail service in India which transported roughly 6500 mails from Allahabad to Naini on the 18th February 1911. On his return to England he decided a similar UK first aerial post would be an excellent way to commemorate the Coronation of King George V, which had recently occurred on 22nd June.
After receiving the support of Post Master General Sir Herbet Samuel, Windham established an organising committee which was chaired by Mr Lewis-Poole. They worked with the Grahame White Aviation Company to transport the mails and four pilots were selected; Clement Greswell, Gustav Hamel, E F Driver, and Charles Hubert. They intended to fly in two Farman biplanes and two Blériot monoplanes, however, Hubert broke both his legs in a crash at take-off in one of the Farman biplanes and was unable to continue.
Special postal stationery was carried on the flights which members of the public could buy and then post in specifically built pillar boxes. Both postcards and envelopes were available to purchase and featured an illustration of a biplane flying over Windsor Castle. The stationary was produced in a variety of different colours, and for each colour there were several different shades of dyes available. The dye number used can be identified by the number at the bottom of the postmark, under both the date and place.
(Illustrations of the London & Windsor Postmarks used for the 1911 first UK aerial post)
Adverts can also be found on the reverse of some stationary, companies that are known to have paid for adverts are Schweppes Ltd., J & J Coleman Ltd., The Gramophone Company, Hardware Trade Journal, Black & White Whiskey, Financial Outlook, Remington Typewriters, Teofani Cigarettes, Worcestershire Advertiser, Wright’s Coal Tar Soap, Zog Ltd, Windsor Chronicle, Nobel’s Explosive Company, General Accident, Fire, and Life Assurance Ltd, and Brown Bros Ltd.
If you have come across any more then please let us know on the comments section.
Gustav Hamel had the honour of piloting the first flight in which he carried the violet ‘privileged’ mail. These were not available for purchase by the public, and included mail addressed to high ranking members of society and even King George V. These ‘privileged’ mails are scarce and highly sought after today.
The first return flight from Windsor to Hendon was piloted by Clement Greswell on September 17th. The final flight which carried mail was flown from Hendon to Windsor by Hamel on September 26th.
In total over 1000lbs of mail was carried which roughly equates for 120,000 pieces of stationary. After all expenditure was accounted for, a final profit of £937 was recorded. The money was used to donate a bed at the King Edward VII Hospital in Windsor which was to be primarily used for patients recovering from injuries sustained during aeronautic incidents.
In 2011 Royal Mail released a stamp issue to commemorate the Centenary of the First UK Aerial Post, the miniature sheet cover which we produced is offered below. We also have an example of one of the special stationaries flown on the first day, plus the scarce signature of Commander Sir Walter Windham himself.
Centenary of the First UK Aerial Post miniature sheet with Windsor postmark and carried aboard the Centenary Flight from Hendon to Windsor.
BC431M Normally £17.50 Now £15 (Offer Ends 5th Feb 2016)
1911 First UK Aerial Post, Olive Green Dye 1
ARU05 Normally £90 Now £80 (Offer Ends 5th Feb 2016)