At the last meeting before Christmas, Banbury Stamp Society member David Hood gave a presentation on the Crimean War. This was very much a history lesson illustrated with postal history and one of the most fascinating aspects of the evening was being able to read first-hand accounts of events that can otherwise become a dry list of dates, battalions and casualties.
With the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Russia was keen to expand its borders and gain a Black Sea port to give access to the Mediterranean. In order to prevent this, a collection of countries including Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia faced Russia in the Crimean War from March 1854 to April 1856.
David described the various routes that mail took during the war, along with rates and how letters were paid. Mail went either by land across Europe or via the French Mediterranean Paquebot from Marseille. Both routes were too expensive for soldiers and so a concessionary rate of 3d/ ¼ oz was agreed. Stamps were scarce and only available if the soldiers had the foresight to take them. Mail was cancelled either at Constantinople or in London, and unstamped mail was given a manuscript 3 or 6 for payment by the recipient.
The first piece of mail was a postcard from Queen Victoria to one of her German cousins. It described watching the soldiers heading off to the Crimea and was signed ‘Cousin V’.
Then followed a number of letters which showed the development of the war – a letter from Greece where Britain and France sent troops as they were concerned that Greece would ally with Russia because of the Orthodox connection. One of the star items was from an Officer in the 8th Hussars describing his action in the Charge of the Light Brigade, which included a musket ball striking the holster in front of him which should have held a pistol but in fact held a bottle of mixer (presumably to go with the whiskey in the other holster); he also described losing part of his uniform to grape shot. Other letters described different engagements and the wounds received during battles.
A number of letters were written twice in order to save paper and David had done a great job in transcribing some of these.
Prisoner of War mail is very scarce but David had one example from a British General. To round off the material there was also a letter from Prince Albert and a commission signed by Victoria.
Members also met on January 3rd for a post-Christmas social and to display recent acquisitions.
The next meeting will be on Tuesday January 17th at 7:30pm at Hanwell Fields Community Centre. Society members will be displaying material related to the letter F. The Banbury Stamp Society is on-line at ‘www.banburystampsociety.co.uk’, or contact John Davies on 01295 255831.