Wednesday, 10 December 2014

1941 Cover to the HMS Prince of Wales.

Wow! This is postal history at its best.
          I found this cover while I was looking for examples for my third page on the 1931 Arms Fiscals. As I researched the last voyage of the HMS Prince of Wales I became more intrigued with the story. It quickly became clear that this cover never could have reached the ship in time, particularly if it went via London.
          When I showed Allan he suggested we give this item its own special post. So this post includes the cover and its story. Then I have shown a photograph of the mighty warship Prince of Wales and a description of the Japanese attack. Finally, as an extra bonus I have a Japanese postcard celebrating the "Sea Battle off Malaya 10 December 1941" which led to the loss of the two battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse.  

         At Heretaunga, on the 29th Nov, 1941, this cover was posted using 2 1935 Pictorial, 8d stamps. It was addressed to the British Naval Ship, HMS Prince of Wales, via London because being war time the whereabouts of warships was kept secret. The letter was redirected and up rated with a 10/- Arms stamp. After being opened, and checked by the military censor it was it was resealed and left New Zealand.
        Two days after the letter was posted, the HMS Prince of Wales joined Force Z in Singapore. Seven days later she left with the HMS Repulse to investigate reports of Japanese landing forces at Kuantan, a voyage she would never return from.
        Meanwhile our cover, unable to find the ship it was addressed to, was sent back to New Zealand, 'Returned to Sender.' An interesting, if not unique item.

          On 25 October 1941, Prince of Wales departed for Singapore to join Force Z, a British naval detachment. She docked there on 2 December with the rest of the force, and at 2:11 on 10 December Force Z was dispatched to investigate reports of Japanese landing forces at Kuantan. On arriving there they found the reports to be false. At 11:00 that morning Japanese bombers and torpedo aircraft began their assault on Force Z.
          In a second attack at 11:30 one torpedo struck Prince of Wales on the port side, wrecking the outer propeller shaft and causing the ship to take on a heavy list. A third torpedo attack developed against HMS Repulse, a Renown-class battlecruiser in Force Z, but she managed to avoid all torpedoes aimed at her.
          A fourth attack by torpedo-carrying Type 1 "Bettys" sank Repulse at 12:33. Six aircraft from this wave attacked Prince of Wales, with three of their torpedoes hitting the ship on the starboard side, causing flooding. Finally a 500 kg bomb hit the catapult deck, penetrated through to the main deck and exploded, tearing a gash in the port side of the hull. At 13:15 the order was given to abandon ship and at 13:20 Prince of Wales sank; Vice-Admiral Tom Phillips and Captain John Leach were among the 327 fatalities.

         Now an interesting addition to this story. The cover was sent to Surgeon Commander Francis Bernard Quinn who was on-board at the time of the Japanese attack. He was among the many crew members who survive the sinking and went on to serve on three other ships during the rest of the war. They were HMS VernonHMS Montclare; HMS Duke of York. I'd be interested to know if he ever received this letter.
(This information was given to us in one of the comments below. It was checked by Allan our blog owner and I've added it here.)

A Japanese postcard showing the destruction of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse.
The translation reads;
(bottom of card) "Sea Battle off Malaya 10 December 1941"
(left side) "Our Sea Eagles deliver a crushing blow to the main strength of the English Far Eastern Fleet, Prince of Wales and Repulse"

The (Osaka) postmark reads: "Great East Asia War 1st anniversary" Note what
appears to be the silhouettes of a battleship (complete with pagoda mast) and a tank on the postmark.

The small writing next to the picture reads: "Navy Ministry permit No. 2806", presumably some kind of censor's approval.  The aircraft depicted are Mitsubishi Type 96 attack bombers, ironically enough already obsolescent by late 1941.
                                       (Translation by Mark Wescott)
Cover from the Complete Stamp Company:-
Sinking of the HMS Prince of Wales:-
Japanese Postcard and translation:-
Posted by Mary with help from Allan. 


  1. Good post Mary. You have two very interesting items here.

  2. Do you have any idea on the exact route that this cover took?

  3. Thanks Joe & JJ
    Although I am not 100% sure on this, I believe that this letter was sent to London before being diverted to Singapore. It is likely to have been diverted at some point along the way as there is no indication that it ever reached London. Mail, even airmail took a lot longer back then, made even worse by war time conditions. I think the back of this cover would tell us a lot more but I have been unable to find a view of it. The only thing we can be sure about is that it arrived in Singapore after the 9th of December. The ship sailed in the early hours of the 10th. When it was realised the ship wasn't going to return, the cover was sent back to New Zealand.

  4. Some amazing postal history here. SA

  5. You might be interested to know that Surgeon Commander Francis Bernard Quinn. The addressee, survived and was medical officer on the following ships to wars end.

    15-01-41 to 02-41 Medical officer HMS Prince of Wales.
    07-05-42 to 06-44 " " " Vernon.
    15-12-44 to 07-45 " " " Montclare.
    01-02-46 to 04-06 " " " Duke of York.


    1. Thanks Anonymous
      A quick goggle search reveals that Surgeon Commander Francis Bernard Quinn did in fact survive the sinking. Thanks so much for that as it adds another part to the story of this letter. I hope you don't mind us adding it onto this page.