Last Updated: October 18, 2010

Illustrated WW2 British Military AirLetters

by

Jerome V. V. Kasper


This is an exhibit of illustrations on Air Mail Letter Cards (AMLCs) intended for use by British servicemen during World War II. Illustrations range from small ones on the front panel to large ones covering the entire inside of the AMLC. Most inside illustrations are shown in their entirety with a reduced (80% of full size) image of the outside placed to cover as little of the illustration as possible. The material shown is the result of over 35 years of collecting and has been obtained from numerous sources around the world. This exhibit includes two unreported illustrations and all but one reported illustration. Also included are several hand-drawn illustrations which are unique by their very nature.

Early in World War II, British military forces adopted the AMLC for communication between servicemen and their families. The AMLC was considered a secure medium light enough to be carried by the overtaxed British military air services. Servicemen generally received one or two AMLC forms per week. Although forms were often postage free, markings such as "Postage Free" or "Postage Paid" were applied to a very small number of AMLCs. Although these forms are quite elusive, several are in this exhibit. By war’s end, the name was officially changed to “Air Letter” and they were postage free to servicemen.

So that servicemen could easily send cheerful holiday missives, illustrated AMLCs were created. Most were centrally produced and distributed to the forces. Some had only a single printing. Others were produced by several printers with noticeable variations in appearance and different identifying reference codes. Illustrated forms were usually intended for servicemen in a specific theatre of operations. Some forms were restricted to members of a single branch of the military while others were available to all. A few were printed locally and available only at the base where printed. A few talented servicemen embellished the printed illustrations or drew illustrations by hand. During holiday season, 4 to 8 such forms were issued to each serviceman (only one of which was postage free in 1942).

Illustrations are organized by command and by year within each command. Commands operating from home bases could and did print numerous illustrations. India and Ceylon commands were especially prolific, printing almost half of the recorded illustrations with 1 to 6 printings per illustration. Commands operating in the field far from home printed few or none. Thus, the AMLCs in this exhibit are not unbalanced, as the numbers of pages do reflect the number of printings of the illustrations.

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