2018 marks the centenary of the end of World War One. From poppies to poetry, Assistant Curator Georgina picks her favourite commemorative stamp designs.

Royal Mail have been producing World War One stamps every year since 2014 to commemorate the lives of those individuals lost in the war. This year marks the end of this tradition and the centenary of the end of the war. These stamps are some of the most powerful and emotive designs we have seen on stamps for many years. I hope to bring together the stamps from each year to unify the recurring themes.

Poppies

Two depictions of poppies on stamps, one in a battle field and the other shattering into small pieces.

1st NVI, Battlefield Poppy, Giles Revell, 2016 & 1st NVI, Shattered Poppy, John Ross, 2017

The depiction of poppies have been outstanding for the last 5 years and have produced some of my favourite stamps. The different interpretations of the iconic image have been both interesting and thought provoking. Giles Revell’s depiction from 2016 ‘Battlefield Poppy’ makes the flower look like its smoking, whereas John Ross’s poppy is shattering under the destruction.

Stamp depicting 100 images of poppies merged to make one poppy.

1st NVI, 100 Poppies, Z and B Baran, 2018

The final poppy to appear in this series was created by Z and B Baran who took 100 pictures of poppies and by splicing them together produced this transparent, soft image to mark 100 years.

Poetry

Stamp depicting the words of CH Sorley's poem.

1st NVI, All the Hills and Vales Along, CH Sorley, 2015

Sometimes images can’t truly depict an event or an emotion. People have turned to poetry as a means of expressing the horror of war. The last piece to be depicted was W Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth which reads, ‘What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? only the monstrous anger of the guns’. He expresses the anger of losing men with no commemoration of their passing, whereas the first passage to feature, Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen reads ‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them’, highlighting that these men will never be forgotten.

Two stamps depicting words from poems by W Owen and L Binyon.

1st NVI, Anthem for Doomed Youth, W Owen, 2018 & 1st NVI, For the Fallen, L Binyon, 2014

Portraits

It must have been so hard to pick individuals to depict for this section. Men and women did amazing things in such horrific times. Royal Mail have tried to document the different types of people involved in the war. The first set featured William Cecil Tickle who signed up before he reached of age as many men did to fight for their country, unfortunately William died in the Battle of the Somme.

1st NVI, Private William Cecil Tickle, 2014
1st NVI, Private William Cecil Tickle, 2014
1st NVI, Rifleman Kulbir Thapa, 2015
1st NVI, Rifleman Kulbir Thapa, 2015
1st NVI,  Second Lieutenant Walter Tull, 2018
1st NVI, Second Lieutenant Walter Tull, 2018

Two stamps have documented women in the war, as munitions workers and nurses. The war also brought together men from different ethnic backgrounds, Rifleman Kulbir Thapa was the first Nepalese Gurka to be awarded the Victoria Cross and Second Liuetenent Walter Tull was the first mixed raced Army officer to command troops. The war did not distinguish between race or colour.

Two stamps depicting women doing jobs during the war.

1st NVI, Lottie Meade, 2016 & 1st NVI, Nurses Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm, 2017

War Art

Stamp depicting a painted by E Wadsworth of a boat being painted with stripes.

£1.57, Dry Docked for Scaling and Painting, Edward Wadsworth, 2017

Men were sent to the front to document the battlefields and many used art as a way of depicting what they saw when they returned from service. The artworks chosen illustrate the action and the war efforts going on at home, Edward Wadsworth’s ‘Dry Docked for Scaling and Painting’ shows a boat being camouflaged to confuse German U-boats.

Stamp depicting a painting by Stanley Spencer of horses pulling wounded on stretchers.

£1.57, Travoys Arriving with Wounded, Stanley Spencer, 2016

Stanley Spencer worked for a field ambulance unit and used his experiences to create the image ‘Travoys Arriving with Wounded’, of men being brought in on stretchers to receive treatment. Some of the other artwork chosen looked instead at the landscape of war and the destruction, instead of the human sacrifice.

£1.47, A Star Shell, CRW Nevinson, 2014
£1.47, A Star Shell, CRW Nevinson, 2014
£1.52, The Kensingtons at Laventie, E Kennington, 2015
£1.52, The Kensingtons at Laventie, E Kennington, 2015
£1.55, We Are making A New World, P Nash, 2018
£1.55, We Are making A New World, P Nash, 2018

Object

Stamp depicting an old football on a white background.

£1.52, London Irish Rifles’ Football from Loos, 2015.

We all know the story of the famous football game between British and German soldiers at Christmas. However, the ball that featured in the 2015 First World War stamp issue was actually kicked during battle. At the Battle of Loos a rifleman kicked a football into no man’s land and dribbled it towards the German trenches. The ball was kicked into the enemies trench and got stuck in the barbed wire, later retrieved.

Stamp depicting a bible with a hole blown through it.

£1.57, Private Lemuel Thomas Rees’s Life-saving Bible, 2017

This bible actually saved the life of Lemuel Thomas Rees, who found himself too close to an exploded German Shell at the Battle of Passchendaele. The bible was kept in his breast pocket and saved his life.

Memorial

When so many lives were lost at the front and unable to be returned to their families memorials and overseas cemeteries needed to be produced. The Thiepval Memorial below was a significant area during the Battle of the Somme and it bears the name of over 70,000 servicemen with unknown graves. Some of the graves at the Tyne Cot Cemetery remained unnamed but provide a symbol of the loss.

Two stamps depicting war memorials; one a arch at Somme, France and another of the graves at Tyne Cot cemetery.

£1.52, Thiepval Memorial, 2016 & £1.57, Tyne Cot Cemetery, 2017

Another commemoration of the dead that has no name is the grave of the unknown warrior. Randomly selected this body was brought back to England and buried in Westminster Abbey on armistice day 1920. The burial was even presided over by King George V.

Stamp depicting the grave of the unknown warrior in the nave of Westminster Abbey.

£1.55, The Grave of the Unknown Warrior, 2018

The First World War will never be a forgotten event and I feel that the repeated theme to commemorate the number of years it took to bring peace reminds a contemporary audience of the length of the war. The stamps convey the people, places and objects that speak for so many more. Hopefully seeing one of these small designs come through their letter box will remind people to remember.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Assistant Curator (Philately)