Saturday 15 June 2019

Postbox, Postmark, mark Centenary of First Transatlantic Flight,

Royal Mail press release:

Royal Mail is launching a commemorative postbox, special postmark and online gallery to mark the centenary of the first transatlantic airmail flight.

The commemorative postbox is being unveiled on Harlington High Street, close to Heathrow Airport, the home of Royal Mail’s Worldwide Distribution Centre. The postmark is appearing on stamped mail from June 14 to June 15, while the online gallery marking the event can be found here.

Pictures from ITV news website (which may be from Royal Mail):

Picture from Royal Mail:

On 14 June 1919, pioneering aviators Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten-Brown completed the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic, carrying with them hundreds of letters in a mail bag, the first transatlantic mail. The mailbag also contained a letter written by Alcock to his sister Elsie prior to the flight.

The aviators took off from Newfoundland, the nearest point — in transatlantic terms — to the British Isles, at around 1.45pm. They flew a modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber.  The flight to Ireland was beset with challenges including mechanical failures, heavy snow and blinding fog. The flyers wore electrically heated clothing, overalls, fur gloves and fur-lined helmets, but the battery failed soon into the journey.

The team crash landed near Clifden in County Galway at 8:40 a.m. on 15 June 1919, after around sixteen hours' flying time. The average speed during the Atlantic crossing was around 120 miles per hour.  When incredulous locals were unable to believe that the pair had flown across the Atlantic in less than a day, Alcock handed them the sealed bag of mail as proof, all of it stamped in St John’s, Newfoundland the day before. News of their success quickly spread.

Back in 1913, the Daily Mail, offered a prize for £10,000 - £1 million in today’s money - to “the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland in 72 continuous hours”. The prize was put up by Lord Northcliffe, the aviation-loving owner of the Daily Mail.

Alcock and Brown were feted as heroes on completion of their flight receiving the £10,000 reward from the Daily Mail, 2,000 guineas (£2,100) from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence Phillips for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean.  The then Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presented the men with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by aeroplane. In his speech, Churchill hailed these exemplars of ‘the audacity, the courage, the physical qualities of the old heroic bygone times’.

The two aviators were a week later awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE)  by King George V at Windsor Castle.

Sadly John Alcock was killed during December 1919, whilst performing at the Paris Air show. Scottish born Brown was later employed by Metropolitan-Vickers, and by 1923 he was appointed as chief representative in the Swansea area.


  1. I was going to comment on your previous piece about today marking the Centenary of Alcock’s and Brown’s incredible achievement and why on Earth was Royal Mail producing rubbish like the Curious Customs set (a good theme but distressingly awful designs - can you do a piece one day on the make-up of the Design Committee?) when I opened your site and found this piece about the postbox and postmark. How have we got to this distressing state when truly great Britons have to settle for commemoration on a postbox and a bizarre portrait of a gurner occupies a British Stamp Design which is a sort of ambassador to the rest of the world? Is Royal Mail so ashamed of our history that it can’t bring itself to commemorate these extraordinary men on a postage stamp (yes I know they did so in the past but that was 50 years ago)?

  2. You are right. This anniversary is far more worthy of a set of stamps than either Curious Customs or Forests

    John Embrey

    1. I do hope Royal Mail's ignorance of the centenary is not born of petty nationalism - "the flight took off from [pre-Canadian] Newfoundland and landed in the Irish Free State, so not our pigeon."

      Maybe if Disney had made a movie of the feat, Royal Mail would have given it pride of place in its calendar. (I fully expect one of the "TBA" issues from the tail-end of 2019 will be devoted to the Disney stable (incl. Marvel and Star Wars).)

    2. Perhaps worth pointing out that the landing (in 1919) was in what would become the Irish Free State in 1922.


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