Tuesday 26 April 2022

Unsung Heroes: Women of WWII - 5 May 2022

I'm not really sure about the timing of this stamp issue.  The subject is worthy enough, and indeed the Royal Mail write-up makes several references to the Women of World War II memorial in central London. That was erected in 2005, sixty years after the end of the war.  An unambitious miniature sheet was issued that year, but (apart from the Battle of Trafalgar) there was no other conflict commemoration. 

So why now, 77 years after the end of the war?   For sure, with most of the women concerned having contributed when in their 20's they are all reaching an age where there are fewer left to see such a commemoration (certainly fewer than when the memorial was unveiled), but Royal Mail makes no attempt to explain why now. 

The Royal Mail write-up:

A stamp issue paying tribute to the contribution made by women to the war effort during WWII.

Until 1941, women’s work was voluntary, but the increased demands of a global war meant that female conscription was increasingly seen as necessary by the government. By the middle of 1943, most women in wartime employment, both full and part-time, were working in industry, agriculture and the women’s services. The women’s auxiliary services were established at the outset of the war: the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1938, and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) in 1939.

To begin with, roles in the ATS were limited to cooks, cleaners, orderlies, store women and drivers, but as the war went on these were expanded to include other duties, notably work on the anti-aircraft sites. More roles were open to women in the WAAF and the WRNS, while the ‘Spitfire women’ of the civilian Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) delivered planes to airfields around the country.

Among the volunteers were many women from the British colonies and Dominions, who served in the auxiliary and medical services. Other women worked as nurses, air raid wardens and tube and bus drivers, while over one million women volunteered with the Women’s Voluntary Services. At the war’s end, many of these roles disappeared, but women’s contribution to the war effort is commemorated by the Women of World War II memorial in central London.

Women overcame prejudice about their gender, and sometimes about the colour of their skin and their social class, to contribute to the war effort. While much of women’s war work was temporary, ‘just for the duration’ of the war, the changes brought about by their work helped to drive some of the post-war social changes that eventually saw equal opportunities and equal pay legislation. Today, the Women of World War II memorial, erected in Whitehall in 2005, reminds passers-by of the vital work, and contribution to the war effort, undertaken by nearly seven million women in Britain during the war.

The stamp issue

The issue consists of a set of 10 x 1st class stamps, a miniature sheet, and a prestige stamp book. 

The stamps

Set of 10 x 1st class stamps showing Women in Wartime, issued 5 May 2022

Details - 1st class x 10:

Row 1:   Protecting Civilians / Air Raid Precautions; Nursing on the Front Line / Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service; Repairing Army Vehicles/ Auxiliary Territorial Service; Arming The Fleet/ Women’s Royal Naval Service;
Row 2:   Powering The War Effort/ Factory Worker; Deciphering Enemy Messages/ Codebreakers; Supplying Military Production/ Women’s Voluntary Services; Lighting The Way To Victory/ Auxiliary Territorial Service; Maintaining RAF Aircraft/ Women’s Auxiliary Airforce; Meeting Britain’s Demand/ Women’s Land Army.

Miniature Sheet

The miniature sheet honours the ‘Spitfire Women’, an incredibly brave and ground-breaking group of women whose job it was, in the Air Transport Auxiliary, to "ferry” the planes to the front line airfields once they were ready for combat.

Miniature sheet of 4 stamps depicting the 'Spitfire Women'.


1st Class - Pilot Meet in their Ferry Pool Briefing Room;
1st Class - Pilot climbing into the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire;
£1.85 - Pilot Completing her post-flight paperwork in a Lockheed Hudson;
£1.85 - Pilots of the No. 5 Ferry Pool disembarking from an Avro Anson.
Background: Airfield photograph of the first eight women to join the ATA in 1940.

Technical details
The stamps and miniature sheet were designed by Supple Studios, printed in lithography by ISP (Cartor).  The 35mm square are in two sheets of 50.  Perforations are 14½, and there are two phosphor bands.  The 192mm x 74mm miniature sheet contains 41mm x 30mm stamps perforated 14½x14.  © Royal Mail Group Ltd 2022

Credits and acknolwedgements.

Air Raid Precautions photo © Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service photo © IWM B 5842, Auxiliary Territorial Service (Repairing Army vehicles) photo © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images, Women’s Royal Naval Service photo © IWM A19470, Factory worker photo © Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Codebreakers photo used with kind permission of Director GCHQ, Women’s Voluntary Services photo © Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Auxiliary Territorial Service (Lighting the way to victory) photo © Popperfoto/Getty Images, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force photo © Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Women’s Land Army photo © Sayers/Popperfoto/Getty Images,

Miniature sheet: Background image – First eight women to join the ATA, 1940 photo © Saidman/Popperfoto via Getty Images. Pilots meet in their ferry pool briefing room photo © Leonard McCombe/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Pilot climbing into the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire and Pilot completing her post-flight paperwork in a Lockheed Hudson photos © Maidenhead Heritage Trust. Pilots of the No. 5 Ferry Pool disembarking from an Avro Anson photo © Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty.

Prestige Stamp Book

The Prestige Stamp Book is a 24-page booklet written by Professor Lucy Noakes, Rab Butler Chair in Modern History, Department of History at the University of Essex. The book starts with the outbreak of war, looks at the discussions around female conscription and then goes on to explore specific areas such as women in the military, women in industry, women from across the Empire, the Ferry Pilots, the front line, SOE and Home Front. The book is filled with photographs of the women, many in action in their wartime roles and contains all 14 Unsung Heroes stamps perforated as ‘panes’ within the book plus an extra pane of definitive stamps which is unique to the stamp issue.

In the information provided to us before the issue, Royal Mail made much of the fact that "this is the first PSB to include barcoded definitive stamps and also the first gummed Barcode Stamps as those issued to date have been printed in self-adhesive only."

Except that it isn't.  The definitive pane actually turns out to be self-adhesive, with stamps coded MAIL, not MPIL, which makes them the same as the stamps printed in sheets.

UPDATE: a new picture of an actual definitive pane is shown below.  The backing paper is the same as for counter sheets in the same orientation; there are no roulettes between the stamps of course.

Because of the new size of the definitive stamps, the book is a slightly larger size to accommodate this barcoded pane – it will be 4mm larger in height - 96mm increased to 100mm.  (A larger leaf for the PSB album will be needed and will be available to buy at issue.)

Prestige Stamp Book cover and some open pages (above).

Panes 1-4 (below)

Click on the images to see enlargements.

Pane 1: 4 x 1st class stamps; Pane 2: 'Spitfire Women'; Pane 3: Machin definitives with datamatrix codes, 2 x 50p, 3 x £1.  Pane 4: 6 x 1st class stamps.

UPDATE - images of real definitive pane:

Scan of actual definitive pane from Women of World War II Prestige Stamp Book.
The Datamatrix codes are different on each stamp.


50p stamp from Unsung Heroes Women of World War II Prestige Stamp Book definitive pane, showing iridescent printing with year code M22L and source code MAIL (the same as on counter sheets).

Other products

First day covers x3, presentation pack, uncut press sheet of 14 miniature sheet. / Framed set, and framed miniature sheet.


  1. Hi Ian,
    Is the definitive pane in the PSB printed in gravure or litho? If the latter, then the stamps would be different from the counter versions.

  2. "The definitive pane actually turns out to be self-adhesive, with stamps coded MAIL, not MPIL, which makes them the same as the stamps printed in sheets.£

    But - Litho vs Gravure? That might earn them their own SG Numbers perhaps.

    1. Indeed they would be different. Our pre-release information from Royal Mail was "All panes, including the Definitive Pane, are printed in Lithography with PVA Gum." I haven't had time to examine them closely enough to see that they are different, so I will await a positive confirmation.

    2. A pity there is no letter code on the new Machin stamps from the PSB. I wonder if this is an error as letter codes were used on the booklets and the business sheets

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. And the perforations look to be different with a gap in the die cutting after the third 'perforation' across presumably so that the whole pane can be lifted for transferring onto a cover.

  5. Even if there are differences of the type that make philately 'fun', these still aren't "the first gummed Barcode Stamps" - which we still await.

  6. The information provided still leaves a lot of questions. As has already been noted, is the definitive pane gravure or litho? Where was it printed – Cartor in France or Walsall in the UK? Does Cartor in France have the necessary hybrid machine for printing the datamatrix labels alongside litho stamps? The advance information from RM says litho, but what does the information on the booklet itself say? Although the stamps do not have MPIL codes, what identifier code do the datamatrix labels carry? The fifth character in the stamp identification for NVI sheet stamps is a 5 and for the denominated sheet stamps issued on 4th April it is a 4.

    In addition to leaves in albums no longer being big enough for booklets, the Showgard mounts for booklet panes will also be too small.

    I await delivery of the new booklet next week with interest.

  7. Such a shame the PSB pane is not gummed and that the stamps are not coded MPIL , is it worth purchasing these items any more? I don't think so if we are not getting any different definitive stamps.

  8. Am I not looking closely enough or do these five Machins have identical barcodes ?
    I thought beforehand that having unique barcodes on such a short print run would be challenging and it's not as if more than a few dozen of such stamps bought at a premium ( and not representing any postage rate ) are going to be postally used.

    1. Yes, they will be the same as the counter sheets and all others in the publicity images (hence also the green edges to the perforations). I must add a scan of the whole pane, rather than just the enlargements.

    2. Thanks for that explanation. I missed the green edges.
      There's the question of gravure or litho but is it known how the extremely glossy barcodes are printed ?

    3. They are printed in the same way as the business sheet stamps (which leads me to think that they may be gravure, unless the special unit has been added to Cartor's Litho machines as well as Walsall's gravure. See https://blog.norphil.co.uk/2021/03/barcode-added-to-2nd-class-business.html

  9. To answer to petemk – you will get different definitive stamps. The barcode on the stamps from the prestige book differs from that on the counter sheet stamps. Time is changing - also the features on the stamps.

  10. For people who don't collect individual barcodes - like most of us - until I know whether the pane is litho or gravure it is 'the same' albeit with different bar codes. As every stamp has a different barcode, that doesn't really matter.

    1. I agree you cannot possibly collect barcodes! Bring back gummed MPIL stamps

  11. Thank you, Ian, for displaying the image of a real pane rather than the publicity version. As a result, the resolution was enough for me to read the datamatrix label of the £1 stamp in the top left corner, with the following result. The first five characters of the stamp information are S1998. S1 is common to all stamps – I believe S is the RM code for stamps as opposed to other items where datamatrix codes are used on mail and 1 is the version number. 99 is used on all denominated stamps, as opposed to 11,12,21 and 22 on the NVIs. 8 is new and is presumably the code for prestige booklets – the previous denominated sheet stamps all stated with S1994. There is therefore an anomaly, in all previous cases the source code in position five had been compatible with that on the stamps. Whether or not these stamps are litho, I shall regard them as a new variety.

    Among the other information is the value, 100 pence, and the assumed printing date of 250122.

    1. Thank you for your analysis, most helpful, but until we know the printing method most people won't regard them as different.

    2. I class them as different format, they are not on backing paper as per counter sheet

    3. They have the same backing paper as the counter sheet stamps, in the same oreientation.

  12. From the latest Deegam report
    © Deegam Publications, 28 April 2022 DGR148 – 22Deegam Report No. 148
    Pane DP610 was printed in gravure, sideways right direction of printing. Therefore, the
    stamps are similar to the counter sheet printings, but with the matrix intact, interrupted
    die-cuts and different 2D data matrix codes – see the following:
    DP610 with five barcoded value stamps
    £1 JGB S19981017031000050260010025012201 stamp 1
    50p JGB S19981017031000050260005024012201 stamp 2
    £1 JGB S19981017031000900260010025012201 stamp 4
    £1 JGB S19981017031001750260010025012201 stamp 5
    50p JGB S19981017031000900260005024012201 stamp 6

  13. Shouldn't the title of the booklet be Unsung Heroines?

  14. The 50p and £1.00 in the barcoded Machin pane are noticeably paler than the sheet versions. Perhaps this will trigger separate SG listings, whether litho or gravure.

    1. That seem unlikely given their reticence to recognise some earlier real differences in colour. I don't think shades are that different, on the copies I have.

  15. I have no idea why Royal Mail tend to send the new issues out in two separate envelopes nowadays.
    I've had the miniature sheet and PSB today, one day late, and expect the stamps tomorrow, two days late.
    ( I had two of everything before the 95th birthday debacle a year ago )

    1. Stamps supplied on Standing Order are packed as they are received, which may mean two packages are eventually sent - the day before the issue date. Delays may be down to individual local circumstances.

  16. I received all mine in one envelope but on Saturday, after being told by customer service on Friday that it had been posted Thursday night so no hope of getting it on issue day, delay blamed on swap out business

  17. Having not received my FDC MS for this issue, enquiries with RM reveal, that one of the machines printing these covers broke down on Wednesday night. They should be out to customers in the coming days

    1. That's a weak excuse that doesn't hold water. The covers were printed months ago. The postmarking machine may have broken down, but standing order FDCs should have been produced and packeted a week early ready to post on the day before the day of issue.


Thank you for reading the blog and commenting: please use an identity (name or pseudonym) rather than being Anonymous; it helps us to know which 'anonymous' comments are from the same person to avoid confusion. Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but will be published as soon as possible.