Friday, 28 July 2017

French Settlements in Oceania 1948 - Tahitian Women

In 1834 a group of French Catholic missionaries landed on the island of Tahiti to convert the local population to Christianity. Not surprisingly the locals didn't take too kindly to this idea, and in 1836 the missionaries were expelled. Unfortunately this led to further problems. Deciding retaliation was the order of the day, the French dispatched a gunboat to Tahiti in 1838. By 1842 Tahiti and Tahuata were declared a French protectorate. And Catholic missionaries were from that point on allowed to do whatever work they found necessary. A year later in 1843 a new capital, called Papeetē, was founded. Then, in 1880, France annexed Tahiti, altering its status from that of a protectorate to a colony.

Between 1843-1903 more surrounding islands were annexed by France. In 1892 French postage stamps were first issued in the colony, which at that time was called: Établissements de l'Océanie (Settlements in Oceania). In 1903 the official name of the colony became Établissements Français de l'Océanie (French Settlements in Oceania) or EFO. The year 1957 saw another name change for EFO, a name we are now familiar with: French Polynesia. French Polynesia is composed of 118 islands and atolls spread across more than 2,000 kilometres in the South Pacific Ocean.


In 1948 French Settlements in Oceania issued a set of 19 definitives incorporating six different designs. To date, I have acquired two designs from this set. The first depicts a Tahitian woman. This lovely stamp was designed by Charles Mazelin and engraved by Jacques Boullaire. This design was issued in 4 values: 2f, 2,40f, 3f & 4f.

The second design depicts two Tahitian women enjoying the warm weather and having a bit of a chat. The stamp was designed by Jacques Boullaire (the guy who engraved the above stamp) and engraved by Jules Piel. This particular design was issued in 3 values: 15f, 20f & 25f.

As I acquire more of this lovely set I will share them with you all.

Until next time...

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

I Study... Aspects of an Airmail Design

Sometimes it is difficult admire the beauty of a lone tree amid a vast forest. This can also be the case when viewing a beautifully engraved stamp vignette with an elaborate border. It is true, of course, that the border should compliment the vignette, but I find it a bit of fun and quite interesting to separate the relative parts. I do this with the use of basic editing software. There are loads of editing software packages out there, and different people have their own preferences. I personally use  But enough of that. On with the show, as it were!

A great specimen to use for an exercise such as this is the France 1950 1,000f airmail stamp. Not only does it have a stunning vignette and lovely decorative border, each aspect of the design had a different engraver. This enables us to single out the vision of each engraver. It is true that I have already written a blog studying this stamp and the other stamps in this series - click HERE. But by employing the method mentioned above, hopefully we will see this stamp in a whole different light. And if not, it was a bit of fun.


First, let's take a look at the entire stamp.


Now let's manipulate the image a bit so we can focus solely on the vignette (central grey portion). This part of the stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

There is instantly a different feel to the image. A smoky, dark presence yet an alluring quality that beckons us down into the design. To roam the narrow streets of Île de la Cité. To traverse the gorgeous, uniquely-styled bridges. To explore the stunning Cathedral of Notre Dame. Vraiment superbe!


It was actually only recently that I realised that the border of this stamp was not designed and engraved by Decaris. This magnificent border was entrusted to Jacques Combet. Let's take a look at it with the vignette removed.

The fine details sculpted into this border are quite amazing!  The feathered wings down each side of the border. The intricate scrollwork. I particularly like the sailing vessels to be found at each corner! This border is a stunning piece of art in and of itself.


Incidentally, this was not the only time these two engravers collaborated. In 1956 their talents were again combined to produce the 500f airmail stamp for St. Pierre et Miquelon, depicting a Douglas DC-3 over St Pierre Port. 

I believe Decaris was responsible for most of the work in this stamp and Combet engraved the lettering. Many thanks to Adrian at Stamp Engravers for his blog on this issue. To take a look at his blog post click HERE. It's well worth the read.

Anywho, enough from me for now. I hope you enjoyed this little exercise! What's the point of computers and all this fangled software if we can't play around with it from time to time?

Until next time...

France 1942 - Philippe Pétain

How does a man go from brilliant military strategist intent on protecting France to a seemingly cold dictator craving ultimate control of said country? This is a question that has sparked controversy among military historians for decades. And just who is this man? He is The Lion of Verdun. Marshal Philippe Pétain. Hero or villain? You decide...


Philippe Pétain was born 24 April 1856 into a farming family. But farming didn't seem to be in his blood. In fact, what inspired him in his youth were the exciting tales told to him by his great-uncle, a Catholic priest, Father Abbe Lefebvre, who had fought in Napoleon's Grande Armé. Petain heard swashbuckling adventures set in Italy and the rugged Alps in Switzerland. So hooked by these tales was Petain that a military life seemed certain. But interestingly, this was not his first career choice. As a young adult he left home to study, of all things, philosophy! 

But studying to think deep, philosophical thoughts didn't last. A year later, in 1876, Pétain enrolled at St Cyr Military School. His rather lack-luster results in the entry exam didn't bode well for an illustrious career. He finished 403 out of 412. Surprising, considering when he was at school he was considered quite intelligent. But undaunted by the initial test results, he studied with vigour and his results radically improved. In 1878 he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant.

His military career progressed rather slowly and by 1911, some 33 years later he had achieved the rank of colonel. It should be said, that before World War I Petain saw next to no military action, serving mostly in garrisons in France, consequently the opportunities for promotion were not exactly lapping at his heels. Also, his rejection of long-standing French military doctrine probably didn't help his cause very much. His willingness to stand up and criticize French military strategy was a clear indication of his fear for the safety of France.

In 1911, Petain was given command of the 33rd infantry regiment at Arras. By this time he was teaching what was to become his trademark leadership style. He believed in meticulous preparation. That the role of artillery - the bigger the better - was necessary for victory in modern warfare. That information gathering and sharing, and effective reconnaissance were vital. That new technologies must be researched and utilized. And most of all, he advocated harsh discipline and good living conditions for the men.

Everything about this style seemed to conflict with the conventional wisdom of the day in the French army. It was widely believed that morale through dense infantry formations charging valiantly toward the enemy was the more honourable way to fight. Petain knew that with modern weaponry this was a useless style. He was to be proved right. In the early stages of WWI this antiquated approach to warfare led to the needless slaughter of thousands of Frenchmen at at the hands of the Germans, who had embraced modern technology and were putting it to devastating effect. Machine guns, and long-range artillery such as howitzers were now the order of the day.
"The lessons of fire cannot be ignored anymore. From now on, war will change in its character. Material will take an ever more considerable place, as factories will develop its power and quantity."
It was perhaps his new adaptive modern style of leadership that saw Petain rise from colonel to Lt. General in the first few months of the war. After some early success and a devastating loss at the Champagne offensive, he came to realize that success in this new war would not be gained through one off offensives but through a war of attrition. This belief was surely put to the test when he was given command of forces at Verdun.

At Verdun, he proved to be an excellent commander. He organised the very successful "sacred road", the main supply road in and out of Verdun. This road saw the movement of up to 90,000 men and 50,000 tonnes of supplies, per week in and out of Verdun. And when he saw the staggering death toll at Verdun he introduced a system whereby if a battalion lost a third of its strength it was replaced by another fresh battalion. This is why 70% of the French army fought at Verdun. After several months of fighting though, it was decided by the French Commander-in-Chief, Joffre, that more decisive attacks were needed in this campaign, and Petain was promoted out of the way. Command was given to Robert Nivelle.

This was not the last time Nivelle would steal Petain's thunder, as it were. At the end of 1916 Neville was chosen over Petain to replace Joffre as Commader-in-Chief of the French army. This is important, because in April 1917 after Nivelle had completely botched the Chemin des Dames offensive there were wide-spread mutinies in the French Army. Nivelle was ousted and Petain made Commander-in-Chief. Petain put an immediate stop to the mutinies by holding 3400 court martials. Additionally he promised no more suicidal attacks, that rest would be provided for exhausted soldiers, which included brief stays at home, and of course a return to moderate discipline. Indeed, Petain's treatment of the regular soldier made him a hero in the ranks. He was a "soldier's soldier".

By the end of the war, Pétain wax regarded as 
"without a doubt, the most accomplished defensive tactician of any army." 
On 8 December 1918, Philippe Pétain was presented with his baton of Marshal of France at a public ceremony at Metz by President Raymond Poincaré. He was also present at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.

In the period between the First and Second World Wars, Pétain's battle arena changed from muddy fields to political arguments around a table. But his battles seemed no less heated. He violently opposed changes the government were making to the military, such as shortening the length of national service to a year. and the reduction of the number of standing infantry division to twenty. Pétain was seeing the military strength of France crumbling before his eyes. But what could he do? His was just one voice.

But he did what he could. On 1 March 1935 Pétain's now famous article was published in the Revue des deux mondes. In the article he reviewed the history of the French army since 1927–28, criticising the Militia (reservist) system in France. And he also attacked France's lack of adequate air power and armour. Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler announced just five days later the creation of Germany's new air force and it was increasing its army to 36 divisions. This new must have scared Pétain terribly. France was no match for Germany. Was this part of his rationale for his later decisions? Who knows.

Then in May 1940 what had been dreaded for some time became reality. Germany invaded France. Now, many things happened in a very short time - far too much to go into here. But a couple of things are noteworthy and perhaps attest to the altered mindset of Pétain. After the Germans pushed further into France in 24 May British forces began to retreat and they could no longer guarantee air support. The French government now started to discuss the possible need for an armistice with Germany. Britain responded to this by stating that if an armistice were signed Britain would have no choice but to bomb German occupied ports of France. Here we see a perfect illustration of the tenuous state of relations that can arise between nations. Both sides are quite justified in their positions. But there is really no mutually beneficial answers.

After the fall of Dunkirk on 5 June 1940 and with Germany closing in on Paris, the newly reshuffled French War Cabinet considered the possibility of leaving Paris and calling again on Britain. Pétain was against this move. He thought that France could work things out for themselves. He was probably already thinking armistice with Germany was the only way to save France.

On 10 June the government left Paris and moved to Tours. There was a growing feeling that fighting was useless and would only lead to destruction. Churchill flew to France to try to talk them out of an armistice with Germany, suggesting options such as guerrilla warfare within France. Pétain responded by simply stating that France no longer had the reserve forces to defend against the Germans. Incidentally, Pétain had years earlier fought to have more and better reserve units.

So, the upshot of all this was that some in the government still thought resistance against the Germans was the way to go. But these voices were outvoted. Some now even thought surrender was an option. But this was violently opposed by Pétain's camp. Subsequently, the current Prime Minister Reynaud resigned and Pétain was made PM. Shortly after this the government moved to Vichy.

Now 84 years old, Pétain took over the government completely, even going so far as to pass a law on 10 July granting himself what was essentially absolute power. His leadership seemed to go downhill from here. Among other things he began a persecution of Jewish people and he created his own army the "French Legion of Combatants". His outward friendliness towards Hitler did not win the man any brownie points either! Why? Who knows. Perhaps an overreaction to the fear brought on by the possibility of France being totally destroyed by the Nazis. Of course, no one will know the man's thinking or motives.

As a consequence of his pro-nazi actions as leader of Vichy France, Marshal Pétain was charged with war crimes, found guilty, and sentenced to death. But due to his advanced age his death sentence was commuted. He died in exile on 23 July 1951 in Port-Joinville on the island of Yeu.


On 31 March 1942, France issued a set of two stamps of the same design, featuring the bust of Marshal Petain. The stamp was engraved by Pierre Gandon, based on a design by Paul-Pierre Lemagny. This stamp design, printed in intaglio, was actually a re-engraved version of a stamp engraved by Georges Hourriez printed in typography and issued 21 January 1942. This stamp set was issued during the Vichy Government in France as a propaganda tool to support Marshal Pétain. In fact, many other stamps were issued in France for this reason during the Vichy government.

So there you have it. The story of The Lion of Verdun. Hero or villain? That is up to the individual to decide...

Until next time...

Friday, 21 July 2017

France 1947 - Abbey of Sainte-Foy

Torture, theft, and pilgrims. What do these seemingly disparate deeds have in common? For the answer we need to travel to the Occitanie region in southern France. Here you will find the lovely little village of Conques. A village nestled among rolling hills and crisscrossed with narrow medieval roads. And perhaps most importantly the Abbey of Sainte-Foy.  

It all started in the 8th century. Fleeing from the Saracens in Spain, their lives in the balance, a small group of monks found a safe haven in Conques, and there built themselves an oratory.  Thus the Abbey was born. But what is an abbey without holy relics to worship? After two failed attempts to secure some desperately needed relics, the abbey authorities sent a lone monk on a holy quest to the ancient St. Faith's Church, in Sélestat. His mission: to acquire the relics St. Foy. 

According to the story, St. Foy (or St. Faith) was a young woman from Aquitaine, who was arrested during persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. Apparently she refused to make pagan sacrifices. The Romans even employed torture in order to force her to perform said sacrifices, but no dice. Consequently, St Foy was tortured to death with a red-hot brazier. Not a pleasant concept to envisage.

But back to the story of our intrepid undercover monk. Unfortunately for him his mission was somewhat trickier than what he had probably hoped. Believe or not, it took him nearly ten years to manage to get himself close enough to the relics in order to steal, then deliver them to the abbey in Conques. As a result of this brave, albeit somewhat dubious deed, the abbey became known as the Abbey of Sainte-Foy.

Over time the abbey became more popular as it was now a regular stopping point on a well-used pilgrim trail. Increased traffic to the church demanded a larger structure to accommodate more pilgrims. In the 11th century the original church was destroyed and a much larger building erected in its place. Significant additions were made to the abbey in the 12th century, further adding to its mystique. Today, visitors to the village can walk along narrow streets lined with gorgeous medieval buildings. I'd suggest doing a google image search of 'Conques'. I did, and fell in love!  


On 18 September 1947 France issued a stamp featuring the Abbey of Sainte-Foy. The stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon.

This is a stunning design which really captures quaint, almost fairy tale, quality of this beautiful French town. Je l'adore!

Until next time...

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

I Muse... On a Mystery Solved!

Last week I tracked the journey of a lovely cover I recently purchased bearing a stamp engraved by Pierre Gandon. Click HERE to check it out. The cover bears a lot of intriguing cancels. Luckily I was able to identify all but one of the cancels.

At the time that I wrote the blog, this cancel had me stumped. I managed to work out that "Centre de Tri" is a French mail sorting centre. But the name of the sorting centre I couldn't work out. Yesterday, with the help of a stamp buddy, I had another crack at it. As often happens after having a bit of a break from the dilemma, we solved this one in a matter of moments!

The mysterious cancel, as it turns out, isn't so mysterious after all. It is a cancel for the Orly Mail Sorting Centre at the Orly Airport in Paris, France. Before the opening of the Charles de Gaul Airport in 1974, Orly was the main airport in Paris.

Of course, however, a particular cancel cannot be definitely identified without another full example for comparison. thankfully my stamp buddy's search came up trumps, and I have my proof!

It's always a good feeling when a little mystery gets solved!

Until next time...

Thursday, 6 July 2017

I Muse... On An Intriguing Journey

I am continually fascinated by the amazing stories a postal cover can tell us, its route, the places it passes through, and even the times of arrival and departure from said places. And of course the stamps affixed to the cover can also tell a story. Recently I purchased a cover that, in my opinion, has a fantastic tale to tell. Let's listen closely to see what it has to say...

Before the full cover is revealed, first, let's consider the stamps affixed to the cover. 

On the left we have a stamp featuring an Morane-Saulnier MS 760 light aircraft. This stamp was issued 11 January 1960 as part of a four stamp Airmail series. The stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon. Incidentally, this is the second printing of this stamp. It was first issued 16 February 1969, bearing a value of 300f (old francs). The stamp on the right features the Isle of Gosier, Guadeloupe. It has a face value of 1f and was issued on 22 June 1970. This lovely stamp was designed and engraved by Pierre Béquet.  These two stamps give the cover a total face value of 4f.


Now we can reveal the entire cover!

A beauty, isn't it! Immediately apparent from the front of the cover is that it was sent express, which probably accounts for the high franking of 4f, and that it was sent to two different locations. But more on that in a moment. From the two cancels tying the stamps to the cover, we see that it was posted on 17 August 1971 from La Faloise, Somme at 4pm. Interestingly, one of the stamps on this cover is over ten years old! Perhaps pulled from an old horde?


Now we can turn our attention to the reverse of the cover in order to decipher the journey it took.

According to the cancels, the cover's first trip took place between 17-18 August. It left Somme at 4pm and arrived at Paris Gare du Nord at 8pm. Later that night it then left Paris Gare du Nord at 11:30pm. Its next destination was Rueil-Malmaison (Ile de la Cite, Paris) on the 18 August at 6am. The map below gives an idea of its journey.

Then something happened. Either the person was no longer at that address or they wanted the letter sent on. Whatever the case, the cover was again checked in at Rueil-Malmaison post office and was on its way again at 4:45pm that same afternoon.

Now the cover takes a much longer journey, all the way to 74 Boulevard Chanard, Quiberon, where it arrives on the 20 August at 7pm. See the map below.


Interestingly, the cover seems to have had a short stopover at a sorting centre. Unfortunately I am unable to work out where the sorting centre is. If anyone out there has any idea where the below sorting centre is located, I'd love to hear from you.

Wow! What a journey. This is precisely why I love covers so much.

Until next time...

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

France 1957 - Heroes of the Resistance

Resistance is 'the act of fighting against something that is attacking you, or refusing to accept something (Cambridge Dictionary, 2017)."

Our history books are riddled with heroic tales of resistance to foreign invaders. From the Greek resistance to the Persian invasion in the 5th century BC to the more recent Aboriginal resistance, led by Pemulwuy, to British occupation of their territory around Sydney, NSW, in 1797; and from the American resistance to the British Empire in the Revolutionary War to the French Resistance against German occupation during WWII. These brave acts of defiance bring with them stories of individual gallantry and heroism against overwhelming odds. 

One such hero was French Resistance fighter, Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves. D'Estienne d'Orves, born 3 June 1901, was educated in some of the finest schools in Paris before joining the École Navale, (French Naval Academy) in 1923, where he was stationed on the training ship Jeanne d'Arc. Life in the Navy seemed to have agreed with d'Estienne d'Orves, and he quickly rose through the ranks. By the time World War II erupted in 1939 he was the under-chief of the headquarters of the 2nd flotilla of torpedo boats in Mediterranean Sea, and by December of that year he became an aide to Admiral Godfroy in the Headquarters of "Force X".

On 25 June 1940, an armistice was signed between France, led by Marshal Philippe Petain, and Germany, allowing German forces to occupy France. Unsurprisingly, not all of France was happy with this scenario. Many, such as General Charles de Gaulle, considered this tantamount to surrendering in defeat. Having fled into exile to London, de Gaulle spearheaded the "Free France" movement.

Unwilling to accept the armistice like so many others (including de Gaulle), D'Estienne d'Orves sailed from Africa to London aboard a cargo ship. On 27 September 1940 he met with Charles de Gaulle. Unable to obtain a sea command at this time, d'Estienne d'Orves was given a different mission by de Gaulle. On 15 December 1940, he was tasked with organising an intelligence network in western France, code-named "Nemrod".

Code-named "Jean-Pierre Girard", d'Estienne d'Orves set up his intelligence network headquarters in Chantenay-sur-Loire, near Nantes along with his radio operator, Alfred Gaessler, a 20 year old German-speaking Alsatian, with the code-name, "Georges Marty". Over the next several months, d'Estienne d'Orves created an efficient spying web, allowing him to gather intelligence pertaining to German military movements. Unfortunately, it turns out that d'Estienne d'Orves' radio officer, Gaessler, happened to be a double agent, informing the Nazis of the movements of d'Estienne d'Orves. On a trip to London, d'Estienne d'Orves was cornered by the Gestapo. But d'Estienne d'Orves didn't go easily. He and his companions put up a strong fight. Eventually, however, the Gestapo captured and arrested him. D'Estienne d'Orves was wounded in the fight. Thankfully, the spy web he had created remained undiscovered and continued to operate right up to the Liberation of Paris in August 1944.

D'Estienne d'Orves was held in prison by the Nazis to await trail, which began on 13 May 1941. At the trail d'Estienne d'Orves claimed full responsibility for the spy network. On 28 August he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed. An anecdote that speaks to the character of d'Estienne d'Orves occurred shortly after the conclusion of the trail. When being interviewed by the German military judge who had sentenced him, d'Estienne d'Orves is reported to have said:
"Sir, you are a German officer. I am a French officer. We both served our duty. Please allow me to hug you (Wikipedia)."
At dawn on 29 August 1941, Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves was executed by firing squad at Fort du Mont Valérien, France. But this man's heroism was most assuredly not forgotten. He was posthumously promoted to Capitaine de frégate (Commander) and made a Compagnon de la Libération (Fellow of the Liberation). And inspired by his martyrdom, many people joined the ranks of the French Resistance.


On 20 May 1957, France issued a set of five stamps honouring the Heroes of the Resistance. The 10f value depicting Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. The portrait is a fitting testimonial to the courage, loyalty, and honour of Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves. A true hero!

Until next time...