Squadron 420 “Snowy Owl” (RCAF) of Bomber Command: A Postal history connection

March 14, 2018

As a collector of postal history I search for interesting mailings during World War II. I’m especially interested in both world wars because I have relatives including my father who served.

7c BCATP Airmail-Military-RAFMarsdon-30c rate-1943

Airmail to a Canadian serviceman in England

Recently I obtained an interesting mailing, or cover, as we collectors call them (see scan above). The mail was to a Canadian serving overseas with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as part of the Allied Bomber Command. What I like to do is research the individual service members to see what history lies behind the mail. The cover was postmarked September 6, 1943 from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

The serviceman and address on the cover read,
P/O Len B. Greenhalgh (the P/O stands for Pilot Officer)
CAN – J-25735Royal Canadian Air Force
Overseas
(the Overseas is stroked out by pen and redirected to “RAF Long Marston”)

The sender and address on the reverse is,
Mr & Mrs Greenhalgh (likely his parents)
Ste 410 Pringle Apts 3
Saskatoon, Sask
Canada

Postage on the envelope consists of four 7c War Issue airmail stamps plus two 1c War Issue King George VI regular issue stamps. Total postage is 30 cents. The airmail rate from Canada to England at this time was 30 cents per 1/2 ounce so it was properly paid. Mailings from this period are frequently damaged as this one is, but still interesting.

Bomber Command sustained heavy casualties during the war so my first thought was did Pilot Officer Greenhalgh survive. There are several sources for finding those who were killed in the service of Canada and the Commonwealth (I’ve listed them at the bottom). A search showed he wasn’t killed.

Next I did a genealogical search using Ancestry and found several hits on Leonard Greenhalgh, an entry in a high school yearbook, a couple of entries in the Voters List database and finally a newspaper article from the Lethbridge Herald of March 13, 1944 titled “RCAF Makes Up Half of Force Raiding Le Mans”.

From these searches and sources I learned,
– Leonard Greenhalgh went to high school at City Park Collegiate Institute in Saskatoon. The yearbook of 1943 contained an Roll of Honor listing him as a member of the Air Force. It also gave his age of 23 years.
– the newspaper article from March 13, 1944 reported on the bombing of rail yards in France. It quoted Leonard Greenhalgh from the Snowy Owl Squadron saying the raid had gone well and they suffered no losses on this occasion.
– the Voters Lists showed him in Saskatoon in 1949 listed as a custom officer, and in Burnaby in 1962 listed as a business manager.

Using this information and good old Google, I located information on Squadron 420 nicknamed the “Snowy Owl” squadron as being part of No. 5 Group of Bomber Command. I knew he was part of the squadron in 1943. I also found out the squadron was flying Handley Page Halifax III bombers at the time. I even found a website containing logbook entries showing the raid on Le Mans taking place on March 7, 1944. These raids on rail yards were precursors to the Normandy Invasion of June 6, 1944. The intent being to hinder the Germans sending up reinforcements via rail during or after D-Day.

handley-halifax bomber

Halifax bomber in flight. Photo: RCAF

Squadron 420 (Snowy Owl) was based at Tholthorpe, England about 12 miles northwest of York. They were there from December 12, 1943 until June 1945 when their mission in England ended. Later they returned to Canada and prepared to be part of a Canadian contribution to the war against Japan, but Japan surrendered before they were deployed. Much more can be read about the squadron but I focused on the time Leonard Greenhalgh would have been part of it.

Now I have another connection to the history of the Second World War, another appreciation of the sacrifice those young Canadian men made.

Further Reading
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Books of Remembrance

Canada at War

Bomber Command Museum, Nanton, Alberta

Squadron 420 Snowy Owl Blog

RCAF Squadron 420, Snowy Owl

RCAF History – World War II

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Kid Being a Brat – Mail ‘Em Away

August 10, 2009

LetterCarrierChild1913This is a photo from the National Postal Museum showing a child posing with a letter carrier in 1913.  (photographer unidentified, Smithsonian Institute, Collection: U.S. Postal Employees)

At this time you could legally mail children. It was actually done several times. Postage stamps were attached to their clothing and the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination.

When the Post Office Department found out this was occurring, they issued a regulation to prevent “the sending of children in the mail”.

There are definitely times when I’d like to mail mine away, but with today’s postal rates it would bankrupt me.


The Highway Post Office Service: On the Buses

February 19, 2008

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Above: Souvenir cover from first Highway route. 

February 10, 1941 the first Highway Post Office service began between Washington, D.C. and Harrisonburg, Virginia. Special buses were used for this service. They were configured to allow clerks to sort the mail in transit. There was a Railway Post Office service, but rail travel was rapidly declining so the Highway service was started to replace that service.

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Above: President Roosevelt mailing the first letter (National Postal Museum)

The expansion of the service was delayed by World War II. In 1946 a second route was created. The buses became a common site on American highways during the 1950s and 1960s. Each route served about 25 post offices.

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Above: 1941 White Post Office bus (National Postal Museum) 

In the 1970s the Post Office Department reorganized and began taking mail to regional sorting plants where it was processed using high-speed machinery. As a result the buses were phased out. The last run took place June 30, 1974. The service had been in existence for 33 years.

Further Reading:

www.sossi.org/articles/highway.htm

www.postalmuseum.si.edu


Inverted “Jenny” Sold for $970,000

November 16, 2007

jennysingle.jpgOne of the rarest and most popular U.S. stamps was sold at auction November 14, 2007 for a whooping $850,000 plus 15% buyers premium for total of $970,000!!

This was one of the famous 24c U.S airmail stamps issued in 1918. Yes that’s right the face value was 24c which was actually quite expensive in those days.

There was only ever one sheet of 100 of these stamps, the inverted error, sold to the public. The post office did find some others but they were defaced and then shredded to prevent profiteering.

I won’t go into the complete story because a book and many articles have been written which detail its fascinating history.

It was sold by the auction firm of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc. of New York City on behalf of the owner. In 2005 they also sold a plate block of four of the same stamp for a record of $2,970,000 for a U.S philatelic item. How much higher can these go? Only time will tell. Read more at the Robert Siegel Auction website:

http://www.siegelauctions.com/2007/946a/s946a.htm

The sale catalogue (sale #946A) has wonderful write-ups on the history or the invert error by Scott R. Trepel (“The Allure of the Inverted Jenny”) and a great introduction by Joe R. Kirker ((“…and my heart stood still”). The catalogue can be downloaded in PDF format.


Airmail Speeds the Mail, snail mail that is!

September 24, 2007

Last night I was working on an exhibit that I have entered in an airmail philatelic exhibition coming up in October.  I thought I would try to explain the fascination with the collection of airmail material to non-collectors.

First of all a definition.  Simply put “Airmail” or “Air Mail” is mail that is carried to its destination by aircraft.  Obviously this is faster than by truck or train.  It was one of the great innovations of mail delivery which was made possible by the invention of the airplane.

Until recently airmail was a premium service of the post office and the user paid more for it.  Special airmail postage stamps were issued to indicated payment for this service. These stamps were only allowed to be used on airmail, not for other mail.  Later on that changed.

The first regular airmail flights in the U.S. began between New York City and Washington, D.C. in 1918. The planes were operated by Army pilots.  Later the government contracted the routes out to private contractors.  Some famous aviators who carried mail were Charles Lindbergh, Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart.

Early commercial airline routes were really paid for by the carriage of mail.  There were not enough passengers to pay for the airlines expenses.  Even today mail is a lucrative cargo for airlines.  Passengers do take precedence today though.  If weight is an issue the first thing off the plane is not passengers or their baggage, but mail bags. 

Today in Canada and the United States airmail has been abolished as a separate service. All first class (lettermail) mail is delivered by the speediest method of  transportation.  International letters are charged a premium for airmail service, but it is still technically not an airmail service. Both countries charge substantially more for international lettermail than domestic lettermail.

Collectors have always been fascinated with mail and aviation.  So much so that specialist societies exist dedicated to the pursuit of airmail stamps and covers (envelopes).  One such society is the American Air Mail Society.  For the first time ever the American Philatelic Society (APS) is hosting an exhibition that is entirely airmail related.  It is called Aerophilately 2007 and has been given “World Series of Philately” status.  This means that it has national level judging and standards. The grand award winner is entitled to compete against the award winners of all the other WSP shows.  It is being held October 19-21, 2007 at the APS headquarters in Bellefonte, PA.  Coincidently, Bellefonte was one of the mail refueling stations along the first trans-continental airmail route in the United States. 

My exhibit is entered in this exhibition and I am very proud to have mine displayed alongside some of the greatest airmail collections of our time.

 

Above: Early airmail pilot “Wild Bill” Hopson.

Here are some facts about early airmail:

– messages were carried prior to airplanes by homing pigeons.

– first mail to be carried by an air vehicle was January 7, 1785 on a balloon flight from England to France.

– first official airmail delivery in the U.S. took place August 17, 1859 via balloon from Lafayette, Indiana to New York City. Weather forced him to land and the mail was carried by train to its final destination.

– first official airmail flight was February 18, 1911 in India.  6,500 letters were carried a distance of 13 km (7.8 miles).

– first international airmail delivery flown by Theodoro Fels from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Montevideo, Uruguay on September 2, 1917.

– Scheduled airmail flights begin between New York City and Washington. DC May 15, 1918

-first airmail flight in Canada was June 24, 1918 from Montreal to Toronto.

– first woman to fly airmail: Katherine Stinson from Calgary to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on July 9, 1918.

– regularly scheduled transcontinental U.S airmail flights begin in 1924.

– In 1927 regular international airmail flights begin.

– Trans-Pacific airmail begins in 1935.

– In 1939, Canada implements regular trans-Canada and trans-Atlantic airmail.

So remember when you mail that letter that today it flies to overseas destinations in hours.  Before air transport it went by train or ship and took days or weeks to arrive. Of course now it is possible to send an e-mail letter to someone anywhere in the world and it will arrive in seconds.  The only thing about an e-mail is that it doesn’t have a colorful airmail stamp on it that I can collect.


StampShow 2007 – Stamp Collecting Heaven

July 27, 2007

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Another of my interests besides writing is philately. What the heck is that many of you will wonder. Well it is the collecting of stamps and postal history. In a couple of weeks I am off to Portland, Oregon to attend the annual convention and show of the American Philatelic Society (APS).

The American Philatelic Society founded in 1886 is the largest nonprofit society in the world for stamp collectors. APS has 44,000+ members in over 110 countries. Membership benefits include a subscription to “The American Philatelist” (monthly magazine), ability to buy and sell stamps in their on-line StampStore, insurance for collections, and access to their American Philatelic Research Library. Just being a member gives opens doors with dealers and others because it means you are a reputable collector or dealer. APS requires references as part of their application process.

The show and convention is held annually at various locations in the United States. Usually it is held in the eastern U.S because that’s where the biggest population base is. This year it is relatively close to me, so I am taking the opportunity to attend. I am also exhibiting one of my collections at the show.

It will be held August 9 – 12, 2007 in the Oregon Convention Center, Portland, Oregon. The show will feature:

– about 150 dealers from throughout the U.S. and other countries

– public stamp auctions by major auction houses

– a couple of first day of issue for U.S. stamps

– more than 100 meetings and seminars

– 15,000 pages of exhibits

– unique block of four of the “Inverted Jenny” U.S. airmail stamp. This was sold at auction last year for 2.7 million US dollars. Other rarities from the Smithsonian will also be on display. The Inverted Jenny is presently owned by Donald Sunderland of Mystic Stamp Company.

Beginners and youth are especially welcome and there are many programs geared to them.

Admission is FREE and the public is welcome.

Further details or information about the APS is available on their website at:

http://www.stamps.org


How I Started Collecting Postal History

July 23, 2007

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I have been collecting since age 8 years (50 years now). For most of that time I was a “general” collector, I was however, always attracted to the stamps of the United States and especially the airmail issues. In 2003 I finally decided that I wanted to become a specialist for a couple of reasons. One I wanted to learn a lot more about the stamps I collected, and second I wanted to focus my budget on obtaining the stamps I was really interested in. At that time I didn’t even collect covers, but only stamps. A stamp collector friend suggested that I should look into covers if I really wanted to be able to research and learn more about them.

A little skeptical at first, I started looking very closely at the exhibits at the shows and noticed that more and more of them were of covers and that those covers told a story that I was attracted to. I was a Second World War history buff This interest came from the fact that my father and a couple of his brothers had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war.

It was at the Edmonton Spring National Stamp Show in April 2004 that I came across the cover that got me addicted to postal history and in particular to the United States Transport Airmail Issue of 1941-44 (Scott C25 – C31). I was looking through a dealer’s box of U.S. covers when I saw this cover that I just knew I had to have. It looked so very interesting being a registered airmail cover to an exotic destination, Brazil. Not only that, but it was dated October 9, 1944 and was censored. A Second World War cover.

Immediately I wanted to know more about the censorship of mail, the rates and how the cover was carried to Brazil during the war. The handwritten notation “Written in German Language” totally fascinated me. Could this be a letter from a spy or to a war criminal? All these fantastic thoughts went through my mind. Not only that, but it had a stamp with the plane on it. This also attracted my attention because it was a U.S. airmail stamp that I had seen before, but never postally used on cover. Also I just like planes. So how could I resist. I had to have this cover. I bought it even though I did not collect them.

On the three hour drive from Edmonton back to my home in Calgary, my minding was swirling with thoughts of this cover. I just had to learn more about it.

When I got home I immediately started researching using the Scott catalogue and the internet. I found in the Scott Specialized catalogue that the 30c Transport stamp on the cover was issued in 1941 and was part of a series issued during that year. At this time I knew nothing about rates. On the internet I found the book I needed. This was “The Transports” by GH Davis. I immediately ordered it from the United States Stamp Society and waited for it to arrive.

This particular cover it turns out is not a rarity or not even that uncommon because mail to South American was never interrupted during the war. I did find out that the valid airmail rate to Brazil at the time was 40c with the foreign registry fee being 15c. The postage on the cover totaled 55c. Therefore this cover had proper postage paid in the correct rate period. Turns out that the censorship regulations required that letters written in foreign languages had to have that noted on the outside front of the envelope so that the censors could make arrangements for a translator to be available to read the letter. Further research showed that South American countries, and in particular Brazil, had many German immigrants during the first part of the twentieth century, so it was not at all unusual for this letter to be written in German. That was a bit of a let down, I was expecting or hoping espionage might be related to my cover.

A couple of weeks later the book arrived. I read it from cover to cover, and back again. Totally fascinating. Here was all the rate information I needed and detailed data on each of the denominations of the Transport airmail issue. Away I went to eBay and other on-line auction sites and started searching “Transport” as a key word. Bingo! Lots of covers for not too much outlay of cash. Managing to pick up many covers over the next few months I started researching the covers as I got them for rates, routes and any history behind them. I especially enjoyed the APO covers and trying to find out about the various military units and the history behind them.

Here I am four years later and I am still hooked. Since starting in 2003, I have built my exhibit of “Usages of the U.S. Transport Issue 1941-44” that has evolved from being awarded a Silver (at two frames) at its first showing, to a Vermeil (at five frames) at its most recent showing in late 2005. Most of all though I have combined a couple of my interests, philately and WW II military history. The result is that I am just having way too much fun!!


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