Japanese occupation of Malaya - Lin Yangchen
  • Japanese occupation of Malaya

©Lin Yangchen

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The effects of World War II on the coconut definitive were felt before the war came to Malaya's shores. After Italy entered the war in 1940 interrupting communications via the Mediterranean, supplies of the $5 ran low as people opted to send airmail to Britain via the faster but more expensive Pacific route (Proud 2000). Some coconut denominations were also distributed in the Federated Malay States in 1941 (Proud 2000 pp. 80–83) to compensate for shortfalls resulting from the destruction of De La Rue's premises in London in a German blitz on the night of either 11 September or 29 December 1940. After the bombing of De La Rue, various other firms helped with printing (Holley 1995). Also see Stanway & Peters (1990) for military mail bearing coconut definitives.

Field post offices were temporary facilities set up in wartime for use by military forces. See Golden (1962) and Fryer (1963) for surveys of locations and dates of field post offices in Malaya.

The art of positioning a circular date stamp is no more gloriously expounded than when all essential information is encompassed under the quadrilateral authority of the duty plate. The Singapore Naval base was a massive installation completed in 1939 to counter Japanese military expansion in the Far East, but did not have enough ships to fulfil its mission. Today it has been reborn as Sembawang Shipyard, home of Singapore's Naval Diving Unit as well as an outpost for foreign armed forces like the Royal Navy, US Navy and US Air Force.

Ships were essential for transporting supplies and troops, but were vulnerable to attack.
From a letter postmarked May 1941.

Bachok beach in Kota Bahru (July 1941), one of the possible Japanese landing sites that saw the start of the first major offensive of the Pacific war. Growing in abundance are the blissful coconut palms immortalized in the coconut definitive.

The surrender of British forces to Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita at the Ford Factory in Bukit Timah, Singapore, on 15 February 1942. Source: Imperial War Museum.

When the 25th Army under the command of General Yamashita blitzed down the Malay peninsula like a tsunami in December 1941 and British forces beat a hasty retreat, postage stamps were probably the last things on their minds. Stamps were abandoned en masse by the vanquished and inherited by the conquerors who now faced a problem: they could not let those stamps be used without some marking proclaiming that Malaya now belonged to the Japanese Empire. The large stock of stamps would breed a profusion of overprints constituting a typographical gold mine.

The 25 cents is thought to have escaped the occupation altogether, as it had apparently run out before the arrival of the Japanese due to heavy usage in British military airmail (Carpenter 1990). Tan (1999), however, lists it as having been overprinted but not issued.

The earliest overprint, dating from the resumption of postal services in Singapore on 16 March 1942, was known as the Gunsei-bu double-frame overprint, containing the expression 'Malaya Military Government Division Postal Services Bureau Seal' in Kanji characters (read from top to bottom, right to left) enclosed within a double rectangular frame. It was applied by hand using three hastily hand-carved wooden, probably bamboo, chops (Dewey 1959a, Coulter 1965). One sheet of the 15 cents with sideways overprint was reported to have been sold at Nee Soon Postal Agency. See Gallatly (1962a) and Coulter (1965) for chop identification keys and forgeries, and Dewey (1959b, 1961) for errors and postmarks.

Seals, the traditional east Asian signature, were recorded in Japan as early as AD 57. In ancient times, red ink was exclusive to the samurai. The ink used here was either a mixture of ground red lead (lead tetroxide, Pb3O4) and wood oil, or foreign inking pads which were much more common (Adgey-Edgar 1946). Red lead is a toxic pigment used since Roman times and found more recently in some outdoor paints and lead-acid batteries.


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