“The military Postal Section was a highly organized department that worked with remarkable smoothness and promptness so that the men in the fighting-line had little to complain about in the delivery of letters sent to them by their friends or delays in their own letters home.”
While browsing different philatelic auction sites, my attention was drawn to 3 different military covers, offered among hundreds of items from Lebanon.
Cover A) 29 June1941 YMCA cover from LEBANON to Egypt with s/r. AUS FPO 32 p/m. and triangle censor 3466 handstamp. Located: Tyre. (Lebanon) Also EXAMINED BY BASE CENSOR label tied by triangle 3100 censor h/s. Australian Forces.
Cover B) Envelope sent from “vaguemestre d’étape 14” of “Postes aux Armées FFL” (in Homs) dated 8 December 1942 and heading for Egypt. Beirut military transit cancel on reverse(FFL 1). Arrival french military cancel in Cairo (BCM4). Double censored by French and British authorities.
Postage stamped Lebanese rather than FFL stamps is explained by the fact that the FFL issue was not recognized by the UPU and had therefore no franking power outside the areas under FFL control.
Cover C) Flown cover from Beirut (BCM1) with a couple of 2Fr Levant stamps to Algeria after re-opening of air flights Levant -Alger (LAM-14/04/43). Air mail fee: 2Fr. This stamps was valid since mail remained in the Free French network territory.
These covers are recognized with the famous YMCA logo on front cover. In French Levant, YMCA was one of the three official welfare organizations; the Red Cross and the “Foyer du Soldat” were the other two.
Why is the British cover (Cover A) stampless while the French mails (Cover B and C) required the use of stamps for the same destination during the same period?
For the British army post, free transmission of mail applied only to troops on service overseas. However, concessions were made and Field Service Regulations laid down that “private correspondence of civilians employed by or accompanying the army was permitted to be sent through the Army Postal Service and such personnel were forbidden to use the French civil post.”
It all goes back to June 1915, when permission was given to construction workers employed by Army Contractors to send mail by the A.P.O. Similarly, “Personnel employed by the Red Cross Society, St. Johns Ambulance and St. Andrews Ambulance Society were granted the same facilities, as were the YMCA and kindred associations.”
As for the French “poste aux Armées”, postal franchise was given to French soldiers and seamen in time of war to communicate with their families in the metropol. But French military authorities denied civilians to access to their military post office.
To illustrate that, this is a letter request from the Director of Foyer du soldat/ YMCA to the army headquarters, in Beirut (June 1921), to continue to receive mail through the “Poste aux Armées” as civilian post operation was irregular, and argued the fact that Ministry of War recognized the association as part of the army body.
Old Post card depicting the “Foyer du soldat” home in Beirut, Marechal Foch street.
Less than a month later, Tresor et Postes department answered back:
“I cannot respond favorably to your request. By internal memo I reminded staff under my orders to comply strictly, per the memo of January 12, 1921, which prohibits civilians regardless of their function and their nationality to make use of military post for sending and receipt of their mail… On the other hand, Madam Bleyfus seems to ignore that even for the military the franchise exists only for single letters not exceeding 20 gr… “
Another similar correspondence to the responsible of “l’union des combattants”, a public utility association since 1920 whose aim is the recognition of the right to compensation for veterans, and more generally the recognition of the Nation to them:
“In the name of General Weygand,
High commissioner of France in Syria and Lebanon,
Chief in command of the Army in the Levant,
The Act of May 30, 1871 has expressly reserved the benefit of the franchise to incoming mail or to the address of the military. Civilians attached to the military in various capacities (doctors, pharmacists, voluntary nurses, Secretaries etc.) cannot benefit of the franchise. And this without any exception and is applicable as anywhere else. …………….”
This didn’t really explain the difference in postage rates and mail processing. The assumption to consider these covers mailed by civilians from YMCA borrowing the military circuit was a faulty one; rather it was the YMCA was putting its writing tents, huts and reception centers at the soldiers’ disposal, giving free writing paper and envelopes to any soldier who asked for them.
As evidenced by the obliteration on the stamps or cover, all three covers are military mail. As stated above, the French would even have prohibited the use of military post by civilians, even civilians depending of the French forces’ personnel.
– Cover A is an English mail that benefit from the military concession because it is correspondence between an English military stationed abroad and its base, Cairo, English rear base; By the way, Barclays military branch is where their money was.
-Cover B is also posted through military mail but requires fees because it left the French circuit for Egypt under British Mandate and lost its right to the military concession. 20 piasters was the correct postal rate by surface mail.
-Cover C remains in the French network but the sender had to pay the airline fee (4 francs).