The story of the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society (RAFES) commemorative postal covers is described in Group Captain Bill Randle’s 2003 book, Blue Skies and Dark Nights (Crecy Publishing), pp. 302-306 and 313. Group Captain Randle was raising money for the RAFES Benevolent Fund on behalf of charities in Belgium and The Netherlands when asked to help in fund-raising for the Royal Air Force Museum. He came up with the idea of, in his words, “something which was new in the collecting world, an illustrated envelope made into a commemorative postal cover.”. As he noted, “The history of the Royal Air Force was a treasure house of notable events and anniversaries, so there would be no difficulty in finding the subject for a cover.” With the help of artist Tony Theobald, they produced a simple cover showing the Cenotaph and the flags of the three services to be issued on Nov. 11, 1968, marking the 50th Anniversary of the Armistice. The 1000 envelopes they had printed were snapped up by stamp dealers. Working through the British Forces Postal Services, Randle next produced a cover dealing with the history of RAFES. As he said, “The problem was that I was dealing only with stamp dealers and knew that if I were to realize full profit, I had to get into the retail market and bring the individual collector under my control. I decided to produce the covers in series, handle my own advertising, and to add interest and value by having everything flown in RAF aircraft.” To commemorate the inauguration of regular passenger and cargo services in 1919, he produced 7,050 covers, which were flown by the RAF from Northolt to Paris over the same route followed in 1919. Randle became head of what would be called the Royal Air Force Philatelic Commission and made formal presentations to all Station Commanders. He said, “I soon made a start on the regular production of commemorative covers, which has produced millions of pounds for Registered Charities, and is still doing so today.”
As Diana Morgan notes, in addition to fund-raising for the RAF Museum, sale of the covers was used to raise money to support helpers of downed airmen. As she noted, “Many of the helpers were poor farmers, as the airmen were advised to go somewhere remote. Many were hidden in farms.”
My thanks to Jean-Marie Schrynemakers of Brussels for sharing some of the covers, which are shown below, and to John Clinch for providing the parts of Randle’s book describing the author’s experiences fund-raising for RAFES.
Following the images below are links to two covers published later.
Lord Dowding, Spitfires
Sir Basil E. Embry, Retour Aux Pyrenees, Weerzien in de Biesbosch
Escape From Singapore, Echappés De Belgique
Terug Naar Nederland, Capt. J. Arnott, Capt. D. Bridges
Here are links to other covers of interest:
- The Great Escape From Stalag Luft III, 23 March 1944, published 50 years later, featuring Squadron Leader Bertram Arthur James and Flight Lieutenant Ivo Peter Tonder.
- Liberation of Brussels, 3 Sep. 1944, also published 50 years later, including the signatures of Andree Antoine and Raymond Itterbeek, both members of Resistance organizations.
- Operation Manna, 29 April – 5 May 1945, commemorating the Allied aid to starving Dutch citizens in areas still held by the Germans.
- The Landings in North Africa, Operation Torch, 8 November 1942.
For a link to Aviation Collectibles’ “50th Anniversary of World War II Events (JS50) Series” collection of postal covers. click here.