India Post Celebrates a Hundred Years of Airmail by Issuing New Stamps on Aero-Philately

By Alkesh Tyagi
Deputy Director(M&C), Press Information Bureau, New Delhi

New Delhi, Feb 23, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB-India) India Post celebrated the centenary of the World’s official airmail flight. On  February 18, 1911, a flight carried 6,500 letters from Allahabad to Naini. To commemorate the occasion a set of four stamps on aero philately was issued at Allahabad on  February 12 this year. The historic flight was also re-enacted, courtesy Indian Air Force.  INDIPEX 2011- was organised in Delhi  from  February 12 to 18, 2011 and was inaugurated by the President, Smt Pratibha Devi Singh Patil.

Post is said to be the treasure house of history but even the way it was carried and delivered, makes an interesting piece of history. India can boast and bask in the glory of being the pioneer in the world in the field of airmail.  The glory came accidentally in an interesting unfolding of events. The idea of the World’s First Official air mail was born out of a fund raising request to an invitee to the Allahabad exhibition in 1910 to demonstrate aero planes.

Rev. W.E.S. Holland a warden of a hostel for Indian students and Chaplain of the Holy Trinity Church in Allahabad is said to have appealed to Mr. Walter Windham founder of “The Aeroplane Club” in England an invitee to the Allahabad exhibition for raising funds for construction of a new hostel. Mr. Windham thought that this could be done by inaugurating an Aerial Post,  serving the twin purpose  of advertising the Allahabad Exhibition and demonstrating the possibility of rapid and safe transportation of mails.

On request of Capt. Windham both the Postmaster of the United Provinces, Sir Geoffrey Clarke and the Director General of the Post Office in India granted approval for mail to be officially received and specially cancelled before transporting it by plane.

The public was informed about this venture and people willing to have items flown were asked to send them addressed and stamped at the appropriate postage rate to the Chaplain of the Holy Trinity Church. An additional nominal sum of six annas (or six pence) was asked  as a donation for the new Church Hostel Building. Only letters or cards under one ounce were accepted.

The Special Postmark used on the Allahabad mail was quite distinctive. The die for it, wrote Windham “was cut at the insistence of the Government of India and I had the honour of drawing the design, the silhouette of a biplane in flight over the mountains of Asia.” The die for the postmark 4 cm in diameter was cast at the postal workshop at Aligarh. The Postmaster General announced that “this will be destroyed on the day following the carriage of the First Aerial Mail. This will ensure the unique character and value of the stamps and those who take advantage of the present opportunity will secure a monopoly of the stamps thus marked.” (Newspaper The Pioneer Mail’ -12th Feb. 1911)

The mail flight flew on February 18, 1911, two days earlier than planned. Thousands of Indian citizens witnessed French Pilot Henry Pequet’s take off. At least one million Indians were in Allahabad at that time to observe the religious festival of Purna Kumbh held only once in 12 years.

Henri Pequet flying the Humber biplane took off around 5.00 PM from the aviation ground, circled around twice and then flew across the river Yamuna to Naini Junction creating history by carrying approximately 6500 letters and cards on the first official airmail flight. Among these letters of many eminent people was one from Pt. Motilal Nehru to his son Jawaharlal Nehru.

In contrast to his departure from Allahabad, Pequet descended to be  greeted by only a postal employee. He handed over the mail bag and returned to Allahabad. The entire trip lasted around 30 minutes. The mail was then transported further by surface to their destination all over the world.

After Allahabad the Windham team proceeded to Bombay for another appearance before departing  for home. Windham used his experience in India for organizing  the well known Hendon to Windsor (U.K.) and return flight for the coronation, Aerial Post of September 1911. Windham was Knighted in 1923, and made a freeman of the city of London in 1933.

(PIB Features)