With Cyril McColough

There are many stamps issued during World War I, which reflect the momentous events of those years. Occupying countries issued stamps to indicate their claims for the occupied territory, and if the occupied country still held some land, it would respond with its own stamps.
1915 Canadian War Tax stamps1915 Canadian War Tax stamps

Figure 1. Canadian War Tax stamps

For many countries, one effect was to increase the rates of postage. A War Tax was imposed, the purpose to raise revenue towards the massive cost of the war effort.

In Canada, the War Revenue Act of 1915 imposed a levy of once cent on all mail, and it was estimated that this would raise $8,000,000 for the war effort. Initially three stamps, the 5 cent blue, 20 cent olive-green and 50 cent sepia, were overprinted in black or red with the words “WAR / TAX” in a diagonal format. These were released on 12 February 1915. They had been intended for tax purposes, rather than postal, but there was ambiguity in the official circular, and for a time it was believed that they were valid for postal purposes.

Then, the 1 cent and 2 cents definitive stamps portraying King George V in an admiral’s uniform were re-engraved with the words “WAR TAX” superimposed. These were followed on New year’s Day 1916 by the 2 cents definitive design re-drawn to include the inscription 1T¢, thus combining 2 cents postage with the 1 cent tax, the stamp being sold for 3 cents. (Figure 1)

The colour of the stamp was changed from red to brown later in the year in order to prevent confusion with the ordinary, 2 cents red stamp which continued to be available. The use of the War Tax stamps was discontinued in July 1918, and stocks of the stamp were used for ordinary postage, as the letter rate was increased from 2 cents to 3 cents.

New Zealand imposed a tax of a halfpenny on all letters, parcels and packets in 1915. The current halfpenny stamp was overprinted ‘WAR STAMP” and placed on sale on 24 September 1915. The stamp could be used for postage purposes as well as for paying the tax surcharge.

A similar overprint was applied in 1916 to the halfpenny and penny stamps of Fiji. There were a number of reprintings of the overprint and so there are two shades of the ½d stamp and three of the 1d, including one released in 1919. The overprint appears double, inverted, and omitted (the overprint being so misplaced that all stamps of the last vertical row of the second pane escaped the overprint entirely.)

Beginning with Jamaica in April 1916 the West Indian colonies introduced a tax on postal matters and telegrams to assist the war effort. A tax of a halfpenny was added to the letter and postcard rates and three pence to parcels and telegrams. Stamps of these denominations were overprinted “WAR STAMP” and issued on 1st April. Later a 1½d denomination, combining the tax with the letter rate, was produced. Ordinary, un-overprinted stamps could also be used to pay the tax.

For Jamaica there are four different types of overprint found. Three were produced locally, initially in one row, then in two rows, and finally, in 1919, a final overprint, again in own row was proceed in London by Thomas De La Rue & Co. The locally produced overprints feature a number of varieties.

Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, British Honduras and the British Virgin Islands all issued war stamps in 1916; Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, St. Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago and Turks & Caicos followed suit in 1917; and Bahamas and Bermuda with British Guiana belatedly introduced war 1916 Antigua War Stamp

Figure 2. Antigua 1½d. War Stamp

Antigua issued its “WAR STAMP” overprint on the ½d in September 1916. The overprinting occurred in London, and was repeated, this time in red in 1917. Then in July 1918 a 1½d overprinted stamp was produced. The stamp, coloured orange, on the arms type, did not appear un-overprinted.

Bahamas’ first venture appeared on 18 May 1917 with an overprint in red of a cross and the date “1.1.17.” They were to have been issued on New Year’s Day but the stamps were not received until May. Half the proceeds from the sale of the stamps were donated to the British Red Cross. In 1918 the ½d, 1d, 3d and 1/- were overprinted locally with “WAR TAX”. The 1d used both the Queen’s Staircase and George V basic stamps. There followed Thomas de La Rue & Co overprints, then there was a change of colour of the 3d, a further “WAR CHARITY” 1d stamp issued on 1 January 1919 but bearing the date “3.6.18”, being the intended date of issue, and finally the four values with the overprint in two lines.

Barbados issued its 1d stamp overprinted “WAR TAX” on 10 October 1917. (Figure 3) The overprinting was carried out in London, and was repeated in early 1918 on a later printing of the basic stamp, printed on thicker bluish paper. Bermuda had two attempts with its effort, both with the words “WAR TAX”, the first, released on 4 May 1918 was overprinted locally. The basic stamp overprinted had appeared in at least two shades, and these were included in the stock sent to the printer. The second attempt, with smaller type, did not appear until 5 February 1920. On this occasion the basic stamp was a third shade, which had been released in December 1919.

Barbados War Tax overprint 1919

Figure 3. Usage of Barbados War Tax overprinted stamp on registered cover to New York 12 AUG 19

British Guiana issued just the one overprinted stamp, the words ‘War Tax” appearing in two lines, the overprinting being carried out by Thomas de la Rue & Co by typography. The positions of the words vary considerably in the sheet. The stamp appeared on 4 January 1918.

British Honduras had found its stamps affected by the war during 1915. Stamps of 1c, 2c and 5c were overprinted with a burelle pattern so that if they fell into enemy hands while in transhipment, they could be distinguished and rendered invalid. Then in 1916 the 1c was locally overprinted “WAR”. This was repeated in 1917 when the 3c was also overprinted. Finally in 1918 a third overprinting occurred, but on this occasion, the overprint was in an sanserif large type.

The Cayman Islands issues appear from 26 February 1917 through to March 1920. Initially the 2½d stamp was surcharged with “WAR STAMP. 1½d” in three lines. There are two differing font sizes. On 4th September the overprinting appeared in two lines with no stop after the words “War Stamp”. Again there are two differing font sizes. Then in 1919-20 there was an overprinting on the ½d with “WAR STAMP” only, and on the 2d and on a special printing of a 2½d orange there was an overprinting and surcharge to create a 1½ war tax stamp. The overprint on the 2d grey stamp did not appear until March 1920.

Dominica also had four attempts (figure 4). In 1916 the ½d stamp was overprinted with “WAR TAX ONE HALFPENNY” in two lines. On 18 March 1918 the basic stamp again appeared overprinted but with the line “ONE HALFPENNY” blanked out. The blanking out was not always successful, so that it always appears as an albino to a greater or lesser extent. Then in June the ½d and 3d appeared having been overprinted in London with the words “WAR TAX”. Finally in 1919 there was a special printing of the 2½d stamp overprinted “WAR TAX =1½d=” in two lines.
Dominica war tax overprints

Figure 4. Various overprints were used for Dominica

Grenada followed the practice of other Crown Colonies by using a local printer to overprint the 1d George V stamp with “WAR TAX”, followed by having Thomas De La Rue & Co in London also overprint the basic 1d stamp. There are a number of varieties in the local overprint, including differences in the nature of the type used.

Montserrat issued its ½d stamp overprinted “WAR STAMP” in October 1917, the overprint being in red. The colour of the overprint was changed to red the following year, and this was followed in 1919 with a special 1½d stamp, the words of the value and the “overprint” being inserted in the one operation in black.

St Kitts-Nevis followed the pattern of the other Leeward Islands colonies. In October 1916 the ½d stamp appeared overprinted “WAR TAX”. Then in August 1918 there was the issue of a special printing of a 1½d stamp, in orange, this time overprinted ‘WAR STAMP”.

St Lucia also used both local printers and Thomas De La Rue & Co in London. The local attempt appeared in June 1916 and used the available stock of 1d stamps. The overprint reads “WAR TAX” in two lines. The London overprint was in one line, and was ready for issue in September 1916.

St Vincent was also ready by June 1916 with its issue. The overprint, carried out locally, read “WAR STAMP” in two lines. There were a number of settings of the overprint, with variations in the distance between the two lines. Then in August 1916 new printings of the stamp were issued, the overprinting being carried out in London and reading also “WAR STAMP” in the one line. The last of these new printings was released in 1918.

Trinidad & Tobago provides the greatest variety in its issues. (Figure 5) In 1915 and again in 1916 it overprinted its 1d stamp with a cross in deep red or scarlet with the outline and date, 21.10.15 or 19.10.16, in black. Stamps overprinted “WAR TAX” did not appear until 2nd April 1917. The first issue saw “WAR TAX” in one line overprinted on the 1d. Then an overprint in two lines was applied to both the ½d and 1d, differing overprints appearing in May, on 21 June, 21 July, and 1 September. On 31 October 1917 and 7 January 1918 there were additional overprints on the 1d, again with new type. On 13 February 1918 a seventh format was applied to both the ½d and 1d. Finally on 14 September 1918 there was a new printing of the 1d stamp on thick bluish paper, the February overprint type again being used.

Trinidad war tax overprints

Figure 5. Trinidad had even more variations of their War Tax overprint – as well as two different Red Cross overprints

Turks & Caicos is another colony with an interesting array and range. January 1917 saw the 1d and 3d stamps overprinted “WAR TAX” at the bottom of the stamp. In October there was a second printing with the overprint at the top or in the middle. (Figure 6) In 1918 the 3d was overprinted in red. Then the two values had an overprint which was in two lines. Later the overprint on the 3d was in red. The 1d was overprinted locally in violet, the overprint reverting to the sanserif one line. In 1919 two values were again overprinted using a two line serif overprint close together. The final version was released on 17 December 1919 and on this occasion, there is a space between the two words of the overprint. (Figure 7)

Turks and Caicos Islands War Tax overprints

Figure 6. Local War Tax overprints for Turks and Caicos Islands show great variability—the position appears almost random and occurs double as well as inverted.

Sanity seem to have been the war cry in the British Virgin Islands, as there was only the one overprinting, with the words “WAR STAMP” in one line on the 1d and 3d values. There are three recorded shades for each value. For some reason, the 3d overprinted stamp is shown as on yellow, lemon and pale yellow papers. The unoverprinted stamp is only catalogued as on yellow paper.
More Turks and Caicos Islands War Tax overprints

Figure 7. Turks & Caicos Island War Tax overprints, more professionally done but very variable in style.

A few other colonies adopted war tax stamps, beginning with St Helena in 1916 and Malta in 1917. The Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, the Gold Coast and Gilbert & Ellice Islands issued them during 1918.

The Falkland Islands stamps were released between 1918 and 1920, and saw the words “WAR STAMP” overprinted on the ½d, 1d, and 1/-. At least four printings of each of the basic stamps were used for the purpose.

Gibraltar issued its “WAR TAX” local overprint on its ½d stamp on 15 April 1918. Two printings of the overprint were carried out, the second being in slightly heavier type.

The Gold Coast’s effort, using the words ‘WAR TAX ONE PENNY” in two lines appeared in May 1918. The basic stamp was the 1d red.

Malta overprinted stamps showing both Kings George V and Edward VII, the values being ½d and 3d. They were released in January and March respectively, the overprint reading ‘WAR TAX”.

St. Helena issued its first overprint in September 1916. The 1d stamp was overprinted in two lines “WAR TAX ONE PENNY”. It would appear that most of the basic stamp printing was used for the overprint. Then in 1919 there appeared a different overprint, this time reading “WAR TAX 1d.”

A week after the war ended, Ceylon adopted war stamps when all postal rates were increased to defray war expenditure. The 2c, 3c, and 5 c were all overprinted “WAR STAMP” in two lines, and the 5 cent was also overprinted with an additional “ONE CENT” with a line struck through the original value. There are a number of varieties in the overprints, such as double and inverted overprints.

Thus Cyprus, Gambia, Hong Kong, the Straits Settlements, Mauritius (and its dependency, the Seychelles), Nigeria, Sierra Leone did not participate. The Straits Settlements did overprint the 3 cent and 4 cent stamps in 1917 to assist the Red Cross by 2 cents, as also did Trengganu by overprinting its 3 cent, 4 cent and 8 cent stamps. Similar steps were taken in North Borneo. As the individual colonies making up the Leeward Islands issued their own stamps, there was no special issue from the Leeward Islands as a stamp issuing entity.

Protectorates did not participate in the issue of special War Stamps, and neither did Newfoundland. However the latter commemorated the war effort of its citizens by an issue on 2 January 1919 of 12 values celebrating the “Trail of the Caribou”, and inscribed with various actions involving Newfoundlanders.

In Rhodesia, it appears that there was a need in 1917 for ½d stamps and the 1d was so overprinted, this occurring in August and September, the type of overprints being different.

Australia did not utilise a special stamp or overprint, but increased its postal rates by adding a halfpenny surcharge.