Brief history of the 1918 Red Cross stamps


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This series of 14 stamps was issued by the Belgian Post on 15 January 1918, a few months before the end of World War I (11 November 1918). The stamps were the 1 cent to 10 Frank definitives of 1915 but with modified colors and an overstamped surcharge equal to the franking value. This surcharge was for the benefit of the Red Cross that it could continue its work of assistance to war victims. Thus, people who bought those stamps paid twice as much as the postage value, with the difference benefiting the Red Cross. The Belgian post office had previously issued three series of three stamps each for the benefit of the Red Cross, in the period 1914-1915. Excellent sites on this subject have been created by Morten Lintrup and Guido Damen. Both are highly recommended as complements to the present site. Another excellent philatelic site related to Belgian stamps and post during World War I is that by Stan Fairchild. [These three sites have English versions.]

The 1918 Red Cross stamps were issued in the following denominations and quantities:

 1c +  1c   (King Albert 1st)              320,000
 2c +  2c   (King Albert 1st)              400,000
 5c +  5C   (King Albert 1st)              260,000
10c + 10c   (King Albert 1st)              210,000
15c + 15c   (King Albert 1st)              140,000
20c + 20c   (King Albert 1st)              110,000
25c + 25c   (King Albert 1st)              135,000
35c + 35c   (Market Hall in Ieper)          53,000
40c + 40c   (Bridge in Dinant)              54,500
50c + 50c   (Library in Leuven)             52,000
 1F +  1F   (Schelde River in Antwerp)      22,722
 2F +  2F   (Anti-slavery propaganda)       18,923
 5F +  5F   (King Albert 1st in Veurne)     14,233
10F + 10F   (First three Belgian kings)     12,175

In the part of Belgium under German occupation, which was most of the country at the time, German stamps were in use. This situation severely restricted the use of Belgian stamps, including these, to a handful of post offices in the northwest corner of the country around the town of Ieper and in a French enclave around the towns of Le Havre and Sainte-Adresse, where the Belgian governement was in exile. The Belgian post office in France used a cancel with the mention "Ste Adresse • Postes Belges • Belgische Post", which was used until 22 November 1918, the last day of this provisional post office.

Another cancel used during this period was that of the postal service marching with the Belgian Army, with the mention "Postes Militaires Belgique - Belgie Legerposterij". Finally, it is worth noting that the enclave of Belgian territory inside The Netherlands, around the town of Baarle-Hertog (Baarle-Duc), used Belgian stamps despite the German occupation. For an example and a brief history of this enclave, see this card.

At the liberation in November 1918, the use of Belgian stamps officially resumed, but many post offices lacked adequate supplies of stamps, and mail was often sent with the mere mention "Payé" (Paid) or "Port Payé" (Postage Paid), instead of stamps. By the time the situation returned to normal, in July 1919, the need for Red Cross assistance to war victims had been drastically reduced, and a new popular stamp series depicting King Albert wearing a trench helmet was issued.

For these reasons, the Red Cross stamps of 1918 were never widely purchased for postage. The series was taken off circulation rather quickly, on 15 August 1920, a mere 31 months after issuance.


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