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Learning More About: Philately

A stamp showing a helicopter and with the word 'Bahamas'

In this new feature, we will put a spotlight on a particular Subject Adviser each month to get to know them better and highlight the expertise that all u3a members can access.

To kick us off we have spoken to Jeff – the u3a Subject Adviser for Stamp Collecting – 

I was 7 years old and, like most youngsters, was fascinated by all the various colours that stamps used. I was bought a typical SG. All World, soft cover album for Christmas and diligently proceeded to stick my stamps under the relevant country heading using those ‘fiddly’ hinges. During these early years my father, who was the senior Warrant Officer of the 8th Army in North Africa, often sent home ‘food’ parcels containing tins of fruit and various selections of Cadbury’s ‘goodies’. The parcels contained GB definitive which were overprinted with M.E.F., (Middle East Forces). I graduated to buying packets of stamps most of which were bought for the variety of colours rather than what was on them. They were not very attractive or interesting otherwise….just a challenge to ‘fill spaces’.

This continued for about 4 years until, one day, I was standing outside my house, next to the adjacent general store, when a Spitfire came round the end of the store, banking to the left as it did. It was about 100’ above the store and its propeller was clearly visible as was the pilot. I was instantly impressed but, at the same time, I didn’t realise how it was to influence my future interests in philately.

I continued to collect, spasmodically, through schooling up to the age of 18 when I elected to do National Service, in the RAF. first, before going to college.

I started out at Cardington (being ‘kitted out’), followed by Square Bashing at West Kirby. During this period I went to Biggin Hill to be assessed for a Commission. I was A1 physically; had an IQ of 143 and was asked if I would sign on for a short term, (9 years), Commission. I refused as I had always wanted to be a Geography teacher, (my real interest). I was then sent for ‘trade’ assessment having chosen “Wireless Operator”. I got all the dots and dashes correct but I put the spaces in all the wrong places so, needless to say, I was sent to “Medical School” instead. This proved to be the best thing which could have happened to me. I was trained in “Radiation Sickness and Casualty Evacuation”, coming top of my cohort. I was posted to Christmas Island for the “H” bomb tests of Grapple X-Ray. I ended up as the longest serving person on the island, (some 20 months). I had opportunities to travel all over the South Pacific, from Hawaii to the North Island of New Zealand and from San Diego to Australia in my Cas. Evac. Role. This enabled me to travel in Hastings, Dakotas (DC3s), Whirlwinds and Shackletons. I continued to collect but all this air travel showed me that stamps did not have to be ‘definitive’ as I came across many ‘pictorial’ issues from these various countries, some of which portrayed aircraft. Others appealed to my Geographical interest. All because of that Spitfire!!!.

I am passionate about Thematic collecting with mine entitled “Flight”. It is a “pictorial” history of flight to the present day, (excluding Space). It has several sections, each one a study by itself. In the RAF section, particularly, the aircraft names are cross referenced with their flying namesakes in nature, eg. Hawk, Eagle and others. It has taken many years to organise this collection, made somewhat easier with the latest computer technology. It has also been helped by SG’s “Collect Birds on Stamps” and by trolling through SG’s “Complete World A to Z” for insects, eg. Mosquito., Moth, et al.. Although some aircraft are named after dominant physical phenomena, eg. Hurricanes, Typhoons, etc. these ‘feature’ cannot be found on stamps. It is an ongoing collection which gets more difficult as it expands, especially finding the elusive stamp, photograph, article or whatever.

Not every aircraft is portrayed on a stamp or in a photograph but I can always find some information on these elsewhere.

Ironically, in June, 2019, my “Adventure” came full circle. I was standing outside my garage when a formation of three MIG 29s flew over the North Sea, going East to West. They passed directly over my drive and neighbours’ house, approximately 100 metres to my left, travelling at near the speed of sound. They were at a similar height to that Spitfire years ago. I could clearly see their Red Stars and the white helmets of the pilots. It only took a few seconds and, as they must have been beneath our Radar, they would have also been too quick for any “Rapid Response” from Lossiemouth.

It is a challenge to try and complete this particular collection which has been ongoing for the last 63 years. (I have been collecting stamps for 76 years in total).

I wish all collectors, everywhere, good hunting.

See more about Subject Advisers on the u3a Subject Advice page.