The first stamps to be issued in a series to commemorate the First World War will be published this summer, with a special gift to soldiers on the frontline among 30 iconic designs.
Royal Mail will make the first six stamps available from the end of July, with the full set to be issued over the next five years, marking the centenary of the war.
Among the designs is an image of the ‘Princess Mary Gift Box’, a painting of a poppy, lines from Lawrence Binyon’s 1914 poem ‘For the Fallen’ and a portrait of a 15-year-old soldier, Private William Tickle, who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
The Princess Mary Gift Box was the idea of the then 17-year-old Princess Royal, who went on to live at Harewood House in Leeds for 35 years after she married the sixth Earl of Harewood.
A successful public fundraising appeal led to 426,724 brass boxes being sent to soldiers on the frontline as a morale-boosting gift to mark Christmas 1914. Each box contained a photograph of the young Princess with a note of her best wishes, and items such as letter-writing kits, bullet pencils, tobacco and chocolate.
They were delivered by the postal service, which operated with incredible efficiency during the conflict. On average it took just two days for a letter from Britain to reach the Western Front unless it was held up by censors.
But postal staff did not simply operate as delivery personnel. Royal Mail had its own regiment, the Post Office Rifles which originally formed in the 1860s to protect its buildings from attack. The Rifles’ ranks swelled to 12,000 men and during the First World War, 1,800 were killed and 4,500 injured.
In total, about 75,000 postal workers fought in the war. A cemetery outside the French village of Festubert contains the graves of 26 identified Post Office Rifles men, and ten times as many unnamed tombstones.
Royal Mail has also unveiled an online database to map the locations of postal staff war memorials in Britain, including memorials in Thirsk, York, Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Halifax, Bradford, Keighley, Selby and Hull. The names of 464 postal workers who died serving their country during the First and Second World Wars are listed on these 12 memorial plaques.
Sheffield’s memorial records 100 colleagues who died in the First World War.
RAF veteran Maurice Collin, chairman of the Sheffield Central branch of the Royal British Legion, said the new commemorative stamps were a welcome way of honouring those who gave their lives: “Anything to remind people, especially the younger age groups, and bring home what they gave to allow them to live the life that they live now is a good thing.”
The stamps honour the contribution of the armed services, the role of Commonwealth countries and non-combatants, as well as the vital role women played.
Stephen Agar, consumer and network access managing director at Royal Mail, said: “The Great War changed the course of world history in ways which are still being felt today. This is why we took the decision to produce 30 stamps over a five year period.”