03 December 2010
Brian Salter reminds us of the early days of commercial flying, with diecast connections and a seasonal flavour. ...
Speeding the Empire mails
At this festive time of year all the modern innovations in communication still tend to take second place to the good old-fashioned hand-delivered written word. How long this will last is anybody’s guess, and who is it that famously said “communication is civilisation”?
Some say that the Roman Empire grew to the maximum size that the limits of communication would allow (or perhaps the Scots just wisely refused to buy the stamps!) A couple of weeks later, so to speak, in the 1920s and 1930s, a young upstart with a natty line in moustaches viewed the largest Empire the world had known with considerable envy. Wrong move.
As aviation developed, carrying mail, whether official, military, commercial or personal, was always a feature. With the Empire scattered over parts of the whole globe, keeping in contact was paramount. Indeed, it is the writer’s precept that good communications, even if we got it wrong at times, ensured the life and death support of the people of many lands when the need was greatest.
As soon as aircraft were able to nip across the channel, the potential for speeding the mail was obvious. By mid-1928 Sir Alan Cobham had completed a circumnavigation of Africa by flying boat. This and other flights eastwards and onwards have become legendary in forming the basis of the Empire Air Routes of Imperial Airways.
Aircraft range was very much a limiting factor. Once away from ‘civilised’ Europe, airfields’ facilities were even more basic, or just non-existent. Flying boats had everything going for them, particularly the ease of setting up a base in distant lands wherever a suitable stretch of water existed.
Sir Alan’s surveys made great use of Short Singapore flying boats, a later type which, as an RAF machine, featured amongst the earlier models from Dinky Toys. On land, a relatively modern looking monoplane, the Armstrong Whitworth Atalanta regularly headed eastwards out of Croydon. This was also a Dinky model. Things were coming together, but slowly, it has to be said.
In an inspired move, on 20th December 1934, H M Government announced the Empire Air Mail programme, stating that “beginning in 1937 all letters dispatched from the United Kingdom for delivery along the Empire route would, so far as is practicable, be carried without surcharge”. A huge increase in capacity would be required, and for the most part flying boats would provide it.
*Diecast Collector is a monthly magazine which focuses on all types of diecast models from Dinky Toys to Oxford Diecast.