Canvas Parcel Bag

Today’s object is one of those that should, by all normal standards, never have survived. The British Army operated an efficient postal service bringing items to and from their soldiers in theatre and it was possible for troops to post small gifts and souvenirs home to their loved ones in Britain. Today we are looking at the outer packaging for one such gift, sent from India back to the UK in 1942:

This packaging is made of cotton fabric, much like that used inside the 37 Pattern small pack to divide it, and would have been far more robust in transit around the world than brown paper. It has a plethora of markings and labels on both the front and the back:

The label on the back is the customs declaration and shows what this parcel originally contained and who sent it:

From this we can see it held two regimental photographs and was sent by Private T Meheux of the Royal Berkshire Regiment via the base post office at Artay in India. The writing on the front shows it was sent to a Miss M Meheux in Reading. As she is unmarried and shares the sender’s surname I am assuming it is his sister:

Note how he has written across the top that this is a Soldier’s Parcel and he is on active service- this shows that it is to be carried for free and the soldier does not need to pay postage on it. The parcel was processed through a Field Post office and this is indicated by the ink stamp on a small label stuck to the front of the parcel:

The parcel has also been reviewed by the censor and passed and this is indicated by a number of purple ink stamps marked directly onto the cloth on both the front and back:

The mail services for troops serving in the Far East was administered and provided by three agencies: the RE (PS), the Welfare Department of the Adjutant-General’s Branch of the Indian Army (GHQ, India) and the Indian Army Postal Service (IAPS), an arrangement that was fraught with political tensions and proved to be an uneasy working relationship.

The outbound surface mail travelled by sea from Liverpool to Durban, South Africa, at which point an APS Postal Regulating Office was established, the mail then crossed the Indian Ocean to the IAPS Postal Clearing Section at Bombay (now Mumbai) and from there it was forwarded to the battle fronts in the Far East.

There was a limited airmail service in operation between India and Britain that followed the Empire air post service routes across the Middle East.

After the fall of Singapore and the retreat from Burma in 1942 the military postal services in India came to a virtual standstill because a serious backlog of undeliverable mail had built up at the IAPS Postal Clearing Section, Bombay (now Mumbai). A situation that prompted complaints to be heard in the Houses of Parliament. The Director Army Postal Services (DAPS), Brig F Lane, who worked from the GPO HQ, London was instructed to resolve the problem. He sent a member of his staff, Lieutenant Colonel EG Hucker RE to India to investigate the apparent shortcomings of the service.

Hucker concluded that the IAPS should be reorganised along British lines and the adoption of this recommendation coincided with the establishment of the HQ Allied Land Forces, South East Asia (HQ ALFSEA) in 1943.

A Base APO was established at Calcutta (now Kolkata) by the RE (PS) and mail for the British and African troops engaged in the recapture of Burma was forward from there to postal units at the forward supply depots and hence to the front line FPOs.

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