I have just received a scan of a very interesting airmail postcard which was sent in by Derk van Groningen who acquired it during a trip to Zimbabwe. It is dated 5 March 1925 and there was an experimental airmail service between Durban and Cape Town at that time which is referred to here on the site.  I’m hoping readers can fill in some more of the details

Scan courtesy Derk van Groningen.
Scan courtesy Derk van Groningen.


From the message on the reverse of the card it would seem that it was carried in the first mail flight which would have been (as far as I know) the first airmail flight in South Africa. The message reads:

“Our first air mail leaves today 5.3.25 so I am sending you a post card. I hope you are well. Love to all. G.”

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8 Responses

  1. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Allan,
    Putting my Philatelic Hat on, that is an interesting postcard. I cannot make out the post mark on the left which looks like S.A. Air Mail / S.A. Lugpos Mar 2 1925. The Durban post mark however looks like 5 March 1925. Three days later? The postcard was posted in Durban to an address in England so was the postcard pre-stamped with the First Flight date stamp? I checked a catalogue for some details and the blue airmail stamp was issued on 25 February 1925. A set of four identical stamps were issued, a penny one in red, the three penny in blue, a six pence in mauve and a nine pence in green. The catalogue also states that sets on First Flight Covers exist and these are dated 2nd March 1925. Normally postmarks are applied the day of first flight which does not tie in with the postmarks on the three South African stamps. One would have to undertake further investigation as to the postcard being a true “First Flight Cover”.

  2. Mike
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald and Allan,
    To confuse the matter even further a few lines from the SAPO history (probably a bit unreliable to say the least!)…

    .In 1867, diamonds were discovered in South Africa, and in 1905, the largest diamond in the world, the Cullinan, was sent to London as a normal recorded postal article. Mail was transported by motor car for the first time in 1911, and SAPO experimented using camels to deliver mail, replacing them with an ox cart service in 1914. In December 1911, the first air mail delivery took place with a 7.5 min flight from Kenilworth in Cape Town to Muizenberg. The mail was carried in the same model of aircraft as that used two years earlier by Louis Bleriot to cross the England/France channel.

    By 1919, there was a regular motor car service, and a regular air-mail service was introduced the same year. The first overseas air-mail service was introduced in 1932, and the Springbok Air Service was introduced between the Union of South Africa and Britain in 1945. The first definitive stamp series of the Republic of South Africa was issued on 31 May 1961 after South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth because of its apartheid policies at the time.

  3. Allan Jackson
    | Reply

    This is a fascinating question. Derk sent me high resolution scans of the card and although the date on the lefthand post mark is very faint, it does look like it is for March 5 too. I had a book on early SA aviation and have been trying to track it down – probably in one of my boxes – because I seem to recall it covered the early airmail services.

  4. Richard Holmes
    | Reply

    The card was posted in Durban and was carried on one* of a series of flights between the 2 cities. These flights were known as the “Government Experimental Flights” and were judged a success. People eagerly participated in sending items by air simply in most cases to get the souvenir. In this case the card was intended to catch the Union Castle mailboat at Cape Town ( where the Airmail circular cachet on the left was applied )

    The first flight from CT to Durban took place on the 2 March 1925 with the first return flight leaving Durban on 5 March *on which this card was.The service concluded in June and the whole affair led to the forming of Union Airways ( later SAA ) The cards come up on the philatelic market from time to time and have a value – regrettably this is a poor example with severe corner creases and “rust” ( paper oxidisation) affecting at least one of the stamps

    As an aside the postage component of the fee was 1½d for the overseas service and the 3d airmail stamp paid the airmail fee for the Dbn – CT trip

  5. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Richard,
    Thanks for that clarification but I am a little confused. Are you saying: The postcard was posted in Durban on the 5th March and carried by air on a return flight to Cape Town to catch the Mail Boat to take it to England. When it gets to Cape Town it is additionally date stamped 2nd March 1925 with the SA Airmail strike. So in actual fact it is not a first flight cover but merely an item carried on one of the experimental flights of the time. I can live with that.

  6. Richard Holmes
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald

    I cannot see a 2 March strike – the card was posted in Durban on 5 March and arrived in CT on the same day where it received the arrival strike dated 5 March that you can see on the left

    It is not strictly a first flight cover – it is better than that as philatelically the term has become very devalued

    It was carried on the first ever official mail carrying flight from Durban to CT ( this flight being the return flight of the 2 March CT-Dbn flight ) and to that extent this card has historical interest -as I have said above they are not rare but perhaps uncommon

  7. Frank Beeton
    | Reply

    Sorry I am in the middle of moving house so don’t have access to my records but I can advise that those pioneering mail flights were flown by the SAAF in their DH9 biplanes that were part of the Imperial Gift from Great Britain to its major colonies after WWI. One of the DH9’s is displayed in the SA Museum of Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.

  8. Emlyn Brown
    | Reply

    Hello I need some assistance.

    With regard to the first airmail service in 1925 between Durban and Cape town, a pilot Lt D J Roos who flew over the Bashsee river noticed a shipwreck believing it was the ill-fated Waratah. I have all the relative details on this particular flying mission , however require his first name. Now I should imagine it would be on record someplace, but just where will require some advise .

    Hope to hear from someone soon.

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