World Stamps

New Battle of Britain souvenir sheet features period photographs

Jun 26, 2015, 12 PM
Royal Mail will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on a souvenir sheet to be issued July 16. Each design shows a photograph reflecting different aspects of the battle.

By Denise McCarty

Great Britain’s Royal Mail remembers the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on a souvenir sheet of six stamps to be issued July 16.

A previous stamp set (Scott 430-437) was issued in 1965 to commemorate the 25th anniversary.

Fought from July 10 through Oct. 31, 1940, in the skies over Britain by the Royal Air Force and Germany’s Luftwaffe, the battle was named before it even started.

In a June 18, 1940, speech, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. … The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. … Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”

Another quote from Churchill is inscribed in the selvage on the left side of the souvenir sheet: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

This phrase is from a speech, now referred to as “The Few,” made during the middle of the Battle of Britain, on Aug. 20, 1940.

In the end, Britain prevailed in what the History Channel website calls the “largest sustained bombing campaign to that date” and “a significant turning point of World War II.”

The website also states, “Britain’s decisive victory saved the country from a ground invasion and possible occupation by German forces while proving that air power alone could be used to win a major battle.”

The six new stamps from Royal Mail are se-tenant (side-by-side) in the souvenir sheet. Each design shows a photograph reflecting different aspects of the battle and the various people involved.

Starting in the upper left, the first stamp shows Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilots rushing, or “scrambling” to their Hawker Hurricane planes.

The next two stamps picture Supermarine Spitfire aircraft.

The Royal Air Force website says of these planes: “The defence of the homeland during the Battle of Britain was dominated by the partnership between RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes, both single seat monoplanes carrying four pairs of Browning machine guns that were only a few months apart in terms of entering service.”

On the stamp in the center of the top row, Supermarine Spitfires of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron are patrolling the sky.

The next design pictures Armourer Fred Roberts replacing the ammunition boxes on a Supermarine Spitfire, while the pilot, Sgt. B.J. Jennings, has a word with his mechanic. A manor farm is pictured in the background.

All three stamps in the top row are nondenominated. The “1st” inscription in the upper left of each design indicates that the stamps pay the domestic first-class rate (63 pence).

The stamps in the bottom row are each denominated £1.33.

The first design in this row shows spotters of the Auxiliary Territorial Service receiving a lesson in identifying enemy aircraft. The women’s branch of the army, ATS was formed in 1938.

The middle stamp pictures the operations room at Bentley Priory, the headquarters of Fighter Command.

The final stamp depicts pilots of 32 (The Royal) Squadron relaxing while awaiting orders.

The photograph shown in the selvage was taken July 31, 1940, during Churchill’s visit to a North Sea coast defense position near Hartlepool, England.

A design firm called The Team designed the stamps and souvenir sheet using photographs from a variety of sources, including the Imperial War Museum.

The pane measures 179 millimeters by 74mm, and the stamps are 41mm by 30mm, perforation gauge 14.5 by 14. International Security Printers printed them by lithography.

Other Royal Mail products offered in conjunction with the Battle of Britain souvenir sheet include a first-day cover; seven postcards reproducing the designs of the six stamps and the souvenir sheet; and a presentation pack with a time line of the battle, information about the aircraft involved and text by RAF Museum curator Peter Devitt.

The Battle of Britain souvenir sheet will be available online from Royal Mail’s shop. Ordering information also is available from Royal Mail, Tallents House, 21 S. Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB, Scotland.

Royal Mail’s two agencies in the United States are Interpost, Box 420, Hewlett, NY 11557; and the British Stamp Service in North America, 1 Unicover Center, Cheyenne, WY 82008.