World Stamps

By Ken Lawrence

Britain’s wartime Airgraph anniversary: Covering the World

April 29, 2016 02:36 PM

  • From the first wave of British Airgraph letters distributed and mailed 75 years ago, this example is postmarked May 14, 1941.
  • The printed letter developed from microfilm was mailed inside the 1941 Airgraph envelope shown nearby.

By Ken Lawrence

April and May 1941 were dire times for Great Britain during World War II. With limited capacity to transport letters between soldiers overseas and their loved ones at home, the British government introduced the Airgraph system.

Army men wrote their messages on lettersheet forms, which were photographed onto microfilm. Rolls of film were flown from foreign bases to England where they were developed and printed; the prints were enclosed in window envelopes and mailed.

Microfilm needed just one-fiftieth of the space on an aircraft as an equivalent number of original letters.

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Airgraph forms were first distributed in late April 1941 to members of the armed forces in the Middle East. The first flight arrived in Britain on May 13 with about 50,000 letters.

By May 16, they had all been processed and mailed. The letter pictured here from that first flight is dated April 25 and postmarked May 14. 

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