The British Forces Post Office (BFPO) has had responsibility for all aspects of military mail, including philatelic matters, since its formation in 1882. It is a unique organisation with an enviable depth of experience in getting mail to and from the Forces wherever they serving. This experience has been accumulated over many years and in many different theatres.
During the sixties and seventies, before the Internet and the coming of social media, philately as a hobby within the Armed Forces was reaching its peak. The use of first day and commemorative covers to mark military events and anniversaries had become popular. Many military bases and ships overseas had formed stamp or philatelic clubs as another encourage the pastime for their troops. To service this rise in popularity the BFPO set up the Forces Philatelic Bureau which was staffed by both civilian and military personnel from within the Postal and Courier Depot, Royal Engineers – the forerunner of today’s BFPO within the Royal Logistic Corps.
Fast forward to the early noughties. The Internet and social media had started to become a way of life for everyone and emails had become the cheapest and easiest way to send messages around the world. Personal telephones had become small and inexpensive enough to carry around in our pockets. The need to send letters by post became less and less. Subsequently, interest in philately began to wane.
With the end of the Cold War and the Options for Change defence review in the early 1990s, British Forces Germany as a whole was considerably reduced. Following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the permanent deployment in Germany ended in 2020. This was after British forces personnel were scaled down over several years, with 19,100 in April 2010 and 2,850 in April 2019. The many Forces stamp clubs from the bases disappeared and philately within the Armed Forces dwindled to an all-time low. Against this background, BFPO had found it increasingly challenging to fully operate the Forces Philatelic Bureau for a number of years due, in the main, to leaner manning in their new complex at Northolt following the move from Mill Hill in 2007. Waning philatelic interest added to this pressure. No longer could the Service justify employing military and civilian manpower on a task that was not in direct support of the MOD and operations. The Forces Philatelic Bureau was mothballed.
In 2012 the Bureau was outsourced and is now part of the British Forces Philatelic Service (BFPS), a registered Community Interest Company limited by guarantee (Registered No. 417647). This was set up by two retired Army officers, Graham Meacher and Denis Dillon, to maintain a military philatelic service whilst raising funds for Service charities. BFPS operates under licence from the MOD and with the authority of Head of BFPO who sits on the board of Directors as chairman. This enables the production of special handstamps and military insignia allowed under its MOD licence.
From its founding in 2012 BFPS has set out to commemorate military and state occasions. Over 90 Forces covers have been released, marking events such as Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, the 75th Anniversary of the Dambusters, Trooping The Colour and more recently, the 75th Anniversary of the British Forces in Germany. We have also produced several Royal Mail Smiler® stamps to use on the covers, with any excess sheets from batches sold off in our online shop. BFPS has subscribers and customers from around the world who regularly access our website and use our online shop.
The BFPS team now consists of Graham Meacher (managing and founding director) and Darrell Drury (marketing director) – both are Veterans and give their time freely. Graham is a retired military Postal and Courier Services officer who has an in-depth knowledge and experience of working within BFPO in general and Philately in particular. Darrell is a former Royal Engineer warrant officer who has a passion for philately.
Our aim is to provide a comprehensive philatelic service to organisations, units and charities who wish to mark special events, whilst raising money for Service charities. We do this by:
- Providing a free advisory service on British Forces related philately.
- Producing special first day and commemorative covers for sale at special events.
- Using our website to promote British Forces philately to as wide an audience as possible.
- Marketing BFPS covers past and present via our online shop.
- Issuing British Forces Postal Service serial numbers for special handstamps.
- Providing design/production of special handstamps, first day and commemorative covers.
BFPS offers collectors a small slice of military history. By buying a cover from us you are not only buying into the actual event but, more often than not, the historical moment itself. Where we can, we get the covers handled, flown, carried and signed by those people taking part in that piece of history. Our online shop bears witness to that.
We work closely with sponsors to produce covers to commemorate an event or anniversary. Over the past eight years we have seen a decline in the popularity of large-scale publishing of First Day and Commemorative Covers. In response to this we have refined our working methods and tend to publish short print runs of 100-200 First Day or Commemorative covers at a time. This not only makes our covers more exclusive but also makes production more manageable. We like to produce around six covers per year as this allows us to spend more of our allotted time on fewer covers.
What makes BFPS different? Being the only postal authority, apart from Royal Mail, to be able use special handstamps to cancel UK postage stamps. That not only makes us different but unique! This uniqueness is what attracts many collectors. Over the years BFPS special handstamps have become the standard ‘must have’ on military-related covers.