First Airmail Trial Flight via Saigon and Marseilles 1932

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 00:40

I have no record telling me how often or for how long this service ran, but according to Hong Kong Post's history web page, it was air-mail as far as Marseilles and then the post continued over land and sea to the UK.

Date picture taken
4 Nov 1932


The cover shown above was carried on the Air Orient (the forerunner of Air France) Saigon to Marseille air service. 


The Air Orient Saigon – Marseille service commenced in January 1931.  Initially, the service operated on a fortnightly basis, but it became a weekly service from 1 July 1931.  In relation to Hong Kong, the first ‘trial’ dispatch of air mail post using this service was on 7 June 1932 and the first regular dispatch commenced on 3 August 1932.  Mail from Hong Kong was usually conveyed by Messageries Maritimes ships which operated a fortnightly service between Hong Kong and Saigon.  From the 1932 Air Orient timetable, an aircraft carrying the mail left Saigon every Sunday and the mail arrived in Marseille the following Monday.  The route, using the names given in the timetable, was Saigon – Bangkok – Akyab – Calcutta – Allahabad – Jodhpour – Karachi – Djask – Bouchir – Bagdad.  At Bagdad, the mail was transferred to another plane and flown to Damas (Damascus), where it was transported by vehicle to Beyrouth (Beirut).  At Beyrouth, it was transferred to a seaplane which flew to Marseille via Castelrosso, Athens, Corfou and Naples.  Mail for ‘Great Britain & Irish Free State’ was forwarded via Paris to London on board an Imperial Airways aircraft.


This particular cover was dispatched on the Messageries Maritimes ship “MS Aramis” which left Hong Kong for Saigon on 7 December 1932.  (At the time, the Aramis was on the return leg of its maiden voyage from Marseille to Kobe; it first arrived in Hong Kong from Saigon on 22 November 1932 and departed the following day for Shanghai.)  


From the Post Office Notice published in the South China Morning Post on 6 December 1932, the mail was expected to arrive in London on 19 December 1932.  The cost of the air mail service was $1.35 for a ½ ounce letter to ‘Great Britain & Irish Free State (London)’, in addition to the standard surface mail charge of 12 cents per ounce to ‘Empire destinations’, i.e. a total of $1.47 for a ½ ounce letter.  The postage rate on the above cover is $1.52, i.e. for some unknown reason, 5 cents above the expected rate.  The other point to note is that a red cancel has been used.  Red ink was used during the period from October to December 1932 under the instructions of the Hong Kong Postmaster General in order to distinguish mail intended for airmail carriage.  Subsequently, a new, but short lived, ‘Air Mail’ cancel using black ink was introduced.


The Saigon - Marseilles service (Air Orient was renamed Air France in October 1933), operated until June 1940 when France fell to the Germans.  However, from June 1933, it suffered from competition when the Hong Kong Post Office began to make use of the KLM service from Batavia to Amsterdam and subsequently from Imperial Airways when it extended its ‘India and Eastern’ service to Singapore in December 1933.  For both services, mail from Hong Kong was initially sent by ship to Singapore.  The Air Orient/Air France and KLM mail services suffered further when Imperial Airways introduced a feeder service from Hong Kong to Penang in March 1936.  The first dispatch of mail from Hong Kong using this service was on 27 March 1936.  The aircraft was a de Havilland DH.86, constructed from plywood and canvas, named Dorado.

I can only express my disdain at the tardiness of modern air mail that takes about a month or twice the length of time reported here. Ever since the Covid 19 pandemic struck this year my letters to Hong Kong from Winnipeg, Canada, have taken a month to arrive via Air Mail.


You are lucky that your mail has even reached its destination during Covid! Most mail which I have posted to the U.K. since the outbreak, and most mail which has been posted to me in Hong Kong from the U.K., has failed to arrive.

Each postal service blames the other.