Barbara P opened her presentation explaining that when she had looked at the covers she had from the period November 1942 to the end of the war, there were an ‘awful lot of them’ but practically few were written up. The first half of this display was therefore to be called ‘Voyage of Discovery’.

 Barbara began with a series of maps illustrating the companies and routes operating during the Second World War. Included were the networks operated by Lignes Aériennes Militaires, Air France and Aéromaritime, the changing routes of PAA’s transatlantic service and the British service between West Africa and UK.

The first covers shown represented undeliverable mail from France to French West Africa or vice versa in the immediate aftermath of Operation Torch in November 1942. We saw cachets such as Relations Suspendues, Retour à l’Envoyeur, and Inacheminable. Then followed examples from resumed internal flights from Niger to Ivory Coast and from French Soudan to French Guinea.

By April 1943 most of North Africa was in Allied hands and the Lignes Aériennes Militaires were able to open an airmail service along the North African coast to Algiers where it met up with Air France. Meanwhile, down on the coast, Aéromaritime was resuming service from Dakar to Cotonou, and in May 1943, to Lagos. We saw examples of 1943 mail between Abidjan and Casablanca, Dakar and Algiers and Conakry and Lagos.

In February 1944 all Free French airlines were placed under one control, that of the Direction des Transports Aériens. The West African network was christened Réseau Occidental des Transports Aériens Militaires. A splendid cover was shown franked Dakar to Réunion, clearly by French airline all the way, but did it go clockwise via Cairo or anti-clockwise via Lagos?

Clearly the old route via France to Northern Europe and the Americas was no longer available, and in early 1943 routes and rates are variable and confusing. One registered cover paying only 18F25 displayed a very tortuous route. It started at Maradi in Niger, went to Dakar, up the coast by air to Morocco, then by rail to Tangiers, where the British Post Office put it on an Aero Portuguesa flight to Lisbon and Lisbon put it on a PAA flight to New York. En route it was censored in Bermuda.

After viewing, Barbara introduced the second half of her display explaining it would concentrate on the months leading to the end of the war and the restoration of services to France. She reiterated that due to the complex routes and rates, it was still a ‘Voyage of Discovery’.

A beautiful large cover was shown containing messages from people in West Africa trying to contact their families in Europe which was sent by the Dahomey Red Cross to the International Red Cross in Geneva. It was franked 322F, was posted at Porto Novo on 29 April 1944, was censored in Berlin, and reached Geneva on 9 June. Clearly at some point it must have transited Lisbon, but other than that Barbara could only speculate on the route.

The first part of France to be liberated was Corsica. It was evacuated by the Germans between 16 September and 3 October 1943, and Barbara showed a cover from Adjutant Chef Pierre Massa in Dakar to his brother Paul in Ajaccio dated 28 October. Clearly it went by air up the coast to Morocco, but thereafter is unknown. In September 1944 the Free French government was installed in Paris and at some point soon after postal communications between French West Africa and France recommenced. Initially only postcards were accepted.

Many of the planes used were old, insufficiently maintained or badly designed and crashes were not uncommon in the late 1940s and early 1950s. We saw examples of crash mail on flights from Beirut to Tripoli, Paris to Dakar (crashing in Minorca) and Douala to Niamey. Barbara related the unfortunate history of the long-range flying-boat manufactured by Latécoère, the Laté-631, which Air France commissioned to fly directly from France to the Antilles and which was tried out on the old route via Dakar to South America. It was a beautiful creature but unfortunately not held together very well: on its first flight in South America an engine came loose from its moorings and killed two passengers. Undaunted, Latécoère built more flying-boats to the same specification and service to the Antilles began in July 1947: by 1948 two more aircraft had vanished into the Atlantic and the service was suspended.

The last two frames displayed rate tables and covers divided into three categories – French West Africa to France, French West Africa to Europe and French West Africa to non-French Africa. There was often little parity between the published rates and the actual frankings.

After lunch, members were invited to show a few sheets of their own.

Alan B. gave a comprehensive display of the private postal systems during the period of the Paris Commune showing labels produced by three agencies – Lorin-Maury, Edouard and de Tédesco. Alan acknowledged that one had to beware of reprints and forgeries.

Hugh L. displayed his collection of Journée du Timbre issues each with an informative description of the design. The display terminated in 2000 when the occasion was renamed Fête du Timbre.

Richard B. put up several airmail covers in search of comments and observations from other members. Highlights were a 1925 long distance flight cover to Dakar, a trans-Saharan test flight to Chad and a souvenir cover bearing the 1927 Salon International de l’Aviation overprints on the 2F and 5F Merson.

Maurice A. related the last few years in the life of the Sage issue when, after the failure to find a replacement design in competition, the stamp was ‘re-issued’ and continued into the 20th century. Millésime pairs of the 15c were shown displaying gutter margin widths varying between 11 and 13 millimetres.

Len B. gave a comprehensive display of Red Cross booklets from 1914 to 2008 giving members the opportunity to see some of the scarcer printings.

Mick B. put up two frames. The first illustrated the 25c Visiting Card Rate from 1920 to 1925 unrecorded by Alexandre, Brun et al and Derek R. in their respective books on postal tariffs* and the second showed examples of mail sent from Vichy France to the French colonies.

Mick B. gave the vote of thanks to all members who had contributed to such an enjoyable day and particularly to Barbara for her most entertaining and colourful display of French West African Airmails.

*An article on the 25c Visiting Card Rate will be published in a future edition of the Journal


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