Before telling the story behind the fascinating cover illustrated in Figure 1, a description is necessary. The envelope has the Arms of the House of Representatives printed in blue on the flap. It is franked with a horizontal pair of the 9d. value of the Centennial of New Zealand postage stamps, over printed ‘Official’. The stamps are cancelled INVERCARGILL/N.Z./6 PM/22 JAN/1942 with the slogan POST EARLY/ IN THE DAY. It is addressed to Brigadier James Hargest DSO, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, British Prisoner, Croce Rossa Italiana, 6 Via Puglie, Rome Italy. On the flap, the sender is identified as Mrs Jas Hargest (wife), Southland in the same handwriting as that of the address. Similarly, in the same handwriting, there is the superscription ‘Service des Prisionnieres de Guerre’ on the front. The letter has been censored, the censor tape being tied to the envelope by the cachet PASSED BY CENSOR N.Z.115. A different hand in different ink has added the superscription ‘Prisoner Of War Post’, at the same time reinforcing the ‘Se’ of ‘Service’ where the original has been covered by the censor tape. In pencil, ‘Croce Rossa Italiana, 6 Via Puglie, Rome Italy’ has been crossed out and ‘Fronte d’Amore (Sulmona)’ added in pencil and underlined in red.
As Brigadier Hargest was a Member of Parliament at the time, it is probable that the House granted him leave of absence “for the duration” so some of the privileges, including the right to Official Stamps, would be retained. The 1940s were the days before Members of Parliament were given electorate assistance, but they were given a monthly voucher that could be exchanged at any post office for postage stamps. In his absence, Mrs Hargest probably did much of the electorate work, including using Parliamentary stationery, cashing the voucher and asking for a variety of official stamp values.
The two stamps paid the 1/6 airmail letter to Great Britain. Censorship was carried out in Dunedin. The route the cover took is revealed by the date of cancellation in Invercargill – January 1942. The date is after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour – when the American trans-Pacific civil airmails ceased – but before the collapse of the India – Australia BOAC/QANTAS airmail services on the Japanese capture of Singapore in February. Therefore the cover would have been flown from Auckland to Australia, on to India and via the Horseshoe Route to West Africa and from there by sea to London. It appears that onwards transmission charges were ignored and it is likely that the letter was sent by sea to Lisbon [Portugal], a neutral country, and from Lisbon to the International Red Cross committee in Switzerland, who would have sent it on, as addressed, to the Italian Red Cross in Rome. It was then forwarded to the Prisoner of War Camp in Italy, the name translating, somewhat inappropriately, as ‘Fountain of Love’.
So, the cover can be properly interpreted as to route and rate, but there is more to it than that. The sadness is in the background. Brigadier James Hargest wrote a book about his adventures as a Prisoner of War, entitled Farewell Camp 12, which was published by Michael Joseph in 1945(1). From the Introduction to the book, one reads:
“Brigadier James Hargest was born in Southland, New Zealand, in 1891. The son of a farmer, he bought a sheep farm on his own at Rakauhauka on his return from the 1914-1918 war. For fourteen years he was a member of the New Zealand Parliament and represented Awarua, the southernmost electorate in the world. Having held a Territorial Commission since 1911 he left with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1914 as a second-lieutenant serving in Egypt, Gallipoli and France and attaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the Second Otago Regiment at the age of twenty-six. Wounded at Suvla Bay he was invalided back to New Zealand but returned to action the following year. For those services he was awarded the M.C., D.S.O. and the Legion of Honour and was twice mentioned in despatches. From 1925-30 he was an honorary aid-de-damp to the Governor-General of New Zealand. In January 1940 he left New Zealand as commander of the Fifth Infantry Brigade, which included the Maori Battalion, going first to England and subsequently joining the Division in the Middle East. In Greece his brigade defended the Olympus Pass. Of the 4,000 troops he took to Crete to defend the Maleme aerodrome less than 900 returned to Egypt. In November 1941, during the second Libyan campaign, he was captured by the Germans at Siudi Aziz and taken before Rommel. Imprisoned in the British Generals’ Camp near Florence he escaped later and when he returned to England in November 1943, having travelled through Switzerland, France and Spain, he became the highest-ranking British officer to escape in either war. For his services he was awarded two Bars to his D.S.O., the C.B.E. and the Greek Military Cross. During his journey across France he made many contacts with the resistance movement, and in England broadcast a number of talks for the BBC on the strength and resilience of the French people. He went back to France on D-Day as New Zealand’s observer with the 5oth (Northumbrian) Division. On August 12, 1944, he was killed by a shellburst, and is buried in Normandy near the little church at Roncamps”.
There are certain inaccuracies in the foreword. While Brigadier James Hargest escaped through Switzerland before the Italian surrender, other senior officers also escaped after the surrender, one of whom was his good friend Lieutenant-General Richard O’Connor who also went on to serve in Normandy. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show that Brigadier James Hargest is now buried in Hottot-Les-Bagues War Cemetery, Calvados, France.
The dedication of the book reads: “To my son Geoffrey who died of wounds in Italy in March 1944”.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show that Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Robert Hargest died on 3oth March 1944 and is buried in Cassino War Cemetery, Italy. A Father and Son killed in the same year, the memorial to both being the story behind a cover in my collection, recently acquired at auction as it shows an interesting usage of one value of the 1940 Centennial set, overprinted ‘Official’.
1. Hargest Brig. J. “Farewell to Campo 12”. Pub. Michael Joseph Ltd. (1945).
Published by kind permission of the author. Allan P Berry is a highly respected New Zealand philatelist and we are very pleased to publish this article. For more information on New Zealand philately visit http://www.cs.stir.ac.uk/~rgc/nzsgb/
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It is with much sadness that we report the recent death of Allan Berry. We hope to publish an obituary in the near future.