Today in Postal History

Great Britain to France
September 9, 1911

The first United Kingdom aerial mail was part of the ceremonies surrounding the coronation of King George V.

Walter Windham, an automobile racer and manufacturer,
promoted the first official airmail flight in India on February 18, 1911.
On his return to England, he worked out a plan with Postmaster
General Herbert L. Samuel for a demonstration airmail flight.

A problem to be overcome was financing the flight without
changing postal rates which was forbidden by postal regulations.

Windham's solution was to sell special postal stationery for the flight at major London retailers.
The stationery was stamped, addressed, and deposited in collection boxes at the stores.
The stationery was printed in a variety of colors.
Violet was reserved for use by the sponsors.
The cards were sold at 6d, 6½d with a stamp; envelopes sold for 1/ or 1/1d with a stamp.

The Postmaster General approved the use of a special cancellation.
The special cancellation reads First United Kingdom Aerial Post London.
This card was cancelled with the second of 6 special handstamps.

Four airplanes were acquired for the flights: two Blériot monoplanes and two biplanes built by Farnham.
The very first flight was made by Gustav Hamel in one of the Blériots.
He took off from Herndon Aerodrome in London at 4:58 pm to the strains of "God Save the King."
He landed near the Royal Mausoleum at Windsor and was met by a postman on
a bicycle who took the mail to the Windsor Post Office for sorting and further dispatch.

The first mail was 'privileged' mail addressed to kings and queens, other
reigning sovereigns, ambassadors, and notable individuals all over the world.
The special violet stationery was used for this flight.

Although a second flight was attempted, Hamel's was the only flight completed on Saturday, September 9.
The next flight was made on Monday, September 11.

Flights were made through September 15.
Although this mail was postmarked September 9, it was not flown until later.

This card is franked with a ½d King George V green issued in 1911 (SG 322).

This card was addressed to Messr. Raymond Gaumont in Paris.
The ½d was insufficient so the card was marked with T | 10 in  a hexagonal box.
A 10c brown French postage due issued in 1893 (Scott J30)
was affixed and cancelled with the DISTRIBUTION CDS indicated by the arrow.
The remainder of this CDS is illegible so we don't know when the cover arrived in Paris.

There is more about this pioneer flight in Donald B. Holmes' AIR MAIL an illustrated history 1793-1981.


Today in Postal History
January February March April May June
July August September October November December

Pastnotes Index - The First 300 and the Next 208
provides more tidbits about stamps and collectors.

Comments? Send me an e-mail
Please include a reference to this item.