Improvising censorship in the Military Administration

Apologies for the unforgivably long time since my last post here.

I’m continually fascinated by the postal history of the 1945 Military Administration of Burma, which still has secrets to reveal, seven decades on. Amazing how much there is still to discover, even within the space of just six months of postal service.

Here’s an example. This cover was sent to the Regional Inspector of posts from Prome on 15 August 1945, the day that office re-opened following the reoccupation. It’s paid at over the actual letter rate, probably as a way of confirming what values of stamps had been supplied. But if the office was new to the business, so was the Prome censor. Since the cover contained no letter, the censor signed and enclosed a typewritten slip confirming this, a practice I haven’t encountered before. A piece of typewritten censor label covers the rear flap, and this was duly stamped with censor marks. An individual examiner’s mark, DG/110, was applied but the proper hand stamp for the Prome censor station – an octagon with crown and “PASSED”, numbered DGE/1 – seems not yet to have arrived.

As a makeshift the censor put to use an Airgraph censor mark with a Rangoon number, DGB/1, crossing through the word “AIRGRAPH”. This is a usage not previously recorded. Its scarcity is not just in this context; airgraph forms were generally stamped with military unit censor marks, but even when a civilian censor mark like this was used, the original form was destroyed after it had been photographed for transmission. Since very few original forms survive, few original censors survive either. And come to that, I’ve never seen an airgraph with a Burma “DG” censor mark, and I’m not sure if Burma airgraph censorship has ever been explored and documented.

Hopefully, someone can tell me. If you can, please send a message via the “Comment” option”!

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Interfering with the mails

A couple of days ago a big envelope came for me from Myanmar. It contained nothing more sinister than some photocopied pages from a philatelic book, but on arrival it proved to have been thoroughly perlustrated, as I believe the technical term to be. The sender’s sellotape along the flap had not been touched, but each edge of the envelope at the flap end had been slit open for about 8 cm, and a third, shorter, opening had been made near the corner above the flap. Sure, large envelopes often take knocks at the edges in transit, but this had been carefully opened for inspection. The contents had been sealed by the sender (in anticipation) in a cellophane wallet, so the culprit would have been none the wiser. It’s not the first time.

Official inspection of mail in and out of Myanmar was an open secret during the years of overt military dominance, in recent times as much for currency control as for censorship, but it generally left its mark – a “checked” hand stamp, inspectors’ initials on an envelope flap, or just a suspicious biro squiggle in a corner of a cover. But this may simply be an instance of unofficial interference somewhere in the mail system for purposes of thievery, pure and simple.

Myanmar’s postal service is far from alone in suffering from this sort of thing. But in a small way this does indicate something of the level of habitual corruption in public services that a new and reforming administration will have to deal with.

Meanwhile, the envelope goes into the subsection of my collection that deals with surveillance and fraud, alongside covers with stamps and registration labels removed in transit, postage paid by used stamps layered partly over each other to conceal previous postmarks, security marks on black and white registration labels to deter photocopying, and so on. It’s a growing theme.