Eighty years ago, on 27 April 1936, New Zealand issued its original ANZAC stamps, a set of two marking the 21st anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).
Since 1916, 25 April has been commemorated as ANZAC Day in both New Zealand and Australia. Each year, ANZAC Day becomes an increasingly meaningful observation in the history of these two Trans-Tasman neighbours. The high number of casualties in the Gallipoli battle brought home to New Zealanders and Australians the horrors of war. New Zealand’s 1936 ANZAC stamps are considered the country’s first strictly anniversary issue. They honour those brave young soldiers who fought in the disastrous World War I campaign that resulted in the deaths of 2779 New Zealanders. A surcharge was added to their postage to help relieve the hardship experienced by returned soldiers and their dependents in the Depression of the 1930s. Special legalisation was necessary to enable the sale of the stamps after the Auditor-General reported that The Finance Act 1929 allowed only health stamps to be issued where postage was less than the face value.
In 1936 ANZAC Day fell on a Saturday in an era where New Zealanders commemorated the day as a strictly observed public holiday, with no shops or cinemas open. Sunday trading did not exist as it does today, so the stamps were sold from the first working day after ANZAC Day, which was Monday 27 April.
Lord Galway, New Zealand’s Governor-General, called the ANZAC stamps ‘a most worthy object’ in his radio appeal, broadcast the night before they came on sale. He said: ‘It has now become a necessity to endeavour to supplement State forms of aid in a multitude of cases which cannot be covered by the terms of any statute. To this end, the New Zealand Post Office, at the request of the Returned Soldiers’ Association (RSA), is marking the 21st anniversary of the historic landing at ANZAC Cove by the issue of special commemorative ANZAC stamps which will be on sale tomorrow morning. The stamps are not only commemorative: they will give the people of New Zealand an opportunity of showing in a practical sense their continued recognition of the sacrifices made by their young men at a time of the Empire’s greatest need.’
A fitting tribute
The idea came after the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers Imperial League of the Australian 20th anniversary ANZAC commemorative stamps being issued in 1935. In November 1934 a proposal to the Postmaster-General from the RSA to issue an ANZAC stamp in April 1935 was declined because insufficient time existed for New Zealand to produce a stamp of such significance. He would eventually give approval for the issue of two stamps with different postal denominations.
Creating the design
The original plan was for the design to be from a member of the RSA, but none of the 51 designs received was deemed suitable. Several New Zealand artists were then asked for submissions, with one by Leonard C Mitchell of Wellington being chosen by representatives of the RSA and postal authorities.
Mr S Hall of the Post and Telegraph Department photographed a regular New Zealand soldier in the uniform worn at Gallipoli for inclusion in the design. The New Zealand Post Archive at Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) has two images in the collection that he shot for this purpose.
In the first, the soldier’s head is more full face, while the second shows the stance identical to the one Mr Mitchell depicted on the issued stamps.
The illusion of ANZAC Cove was achieved by the soldier standing on a sack of sugar cane for the photos. Mr Mitchell drew a frame with a Maori motif before adding the image of the soldier. Laurel leaves are depicted at the soldier’s left and right sides. When approving the design, the Postmaster-General agreed to the addition of the 1d. stamp, which had 1/2d. for postage and 1/2d. intended for the RSA’s fund. The same image and layout would be common to both stamps. The designs went to the Australian Note and Stamp Printer, Melbourne, in December 1935, with the die proofs received and approved in February 1936. As issued, the 1d. stamp was printed in green and the 2d. in red.
Day of issue
From 1 April 1936, first day covers had been available free of charge from all permanent post offices, for intending customers to take away and address prior to buying and affixing the stamps on the date of issue.
On the first day of sale, 27 April 1936, the supply of stamps nearly ran out at the chief post office in Christchurch, where stamps worth £205 (now NZ$22,727) were sold, and 6000 first day covers were posted by the day’s close of business. The Christchurch chief post office ran out of first day covers early in the morning and could not fill the requests for more covers and stamps from other post offices in the city. Those post offices had to wait until the next day for more stamps to arrive from Wellington.
Day one’s combined stamp sales at post offices in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, and through the General Post Office (GPO) at Wellington, totalled £1807. Overseas orders received by the GPO came from America, Canada, Austria, Sweden, South Africa, Britain and Australia.
The stamps were featured in philatelic publications, as well as in newspaper articles focussing on the Gallipoli exploit. Many former servicemen living abroad, who were associated with the ANZACs, bought sets of the stamps, and the RSA gifted King Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor) with first day covers through the British Empire Service League.
Efforts were made to promote the stamps. RSA branches nationwide launched successful campaigns to promote the sale of the stamps, which included writing letters to councils and power boards. Newspaper reports recorded the generosity of councils with their ANZAC stamp purchases of up to £10 ($20) for use on their mailings. The RSA also produced a flier in the form of a letter which was available free from post offices. It asked customers to buy six ANZAC stamps and include the letter in envelopes they posted to six friends. This aspect of the RSA’s promotion appears not to be as well remembered as some of the others.