Two Late-1941 Trans-Pacific Covers

Trans-Pacific postal history for the year 1941 is fascinating. I have a collection of covers to and from Canada sent during this critical year. Most of the mail late in 1941 is inbound because much outbound mail was not being sent, the Post Office Department having suspended delivery to many trans-Pacific countries.

After December 7th, almost all trans-Pacific air mail was stopped as was surface mail from many countries. Letters addressed to Canada that were en route in early December are particularly interesting. Here are two examples — both out of the ordinary.

The first cover (above) is a Military Concession Rate air mail letter from Springsure, Queensland, Australia addressed to an Australian serviceman in Aylmer, Ontario. It was mailed on November 26, 1941 and censored in Brisbane (the resealing tape is numbered 1). There is an OTTAWA MPO 304 backstamp dated PM / JAN 2 / 1942. Bob Toombs and I published an article on the routes of mail from Australasia to Canada in late 1941-42 [R. Toombs and G. Scrimgeour, PHSC Journal, No. 164 (Winter 2015-2016) pp. 24- 28]. This table (next page, found in the Archives) summarizes the means used for mail delivery to Canada from Australasia (Column 4) during this unsettled time. The cover above is on data line 4 (bold).

FromMailing Dates in 1941Received In OttawaVia
SydneyOct 13-27Dec 15S.S. Monterey to San Francisco
SydneyNov 7-20Dec 4Last Pan Am Clipper
AucklandNov 11-24Dec 4Last Pan Am Clipper
SydneyNov. 29-Dec 11Jan 2, 1942S.S. Mariposa then air
SydneyNov 18-Dec 10Jan 5, 1942S.S. Mariposa to San Francisco
AucklandNov 18-Dec 15Jan 5, 1942S.S. Mariposa to San Francisco
AucklandDec 11-19Jan 12, 1942Steamer to Canal Zone
SydneyAfter Dec. 13Feb. 1942Unknown freighter(s)

The Matson’s S.S. Mariposa departed from Sydney on December 13th and arrived in San Francisco on December 30th. My cover, carried in the Mariposa, reached Ottawa on January 2, 1942 after air mail across the continent. Mariposa mail by train from San Francisco reached Ottawa on January 5th (data lines 5 and 6). My cover missed the last trans-Pacific air mail by only a few days, which delayed its arrival in eastern Canada by almost a month.

The second trans-Pacific cover (below) was mailed to Massachusetts at Shanghai, China on October 22, 1941. Its route cannot be decided fully because very little shipping data between Asia and North America are available for late 1941. The only steamships operating between China and North America in late 1941 were those of the American President Line to San Francisco and several American Mail Line freighters running between Asia and Vancouver and Seattle.

The one clue to the route of this cover is the fact that its letter was censored in Vancouver. See the PASSED BY CENSOR DB/193 mark. The only other postmark was applied at Easthampton, Mass. on April 23, 1942. This probably was the date when the cover was redirected to New York City. Why was this letter censored in Canada and not in the US?

Some officers from the US Censorship Branch were sent to Vancouver to acquire technical information and report on procedures. They were to (a) assist in the censorship of mail brought to the US by American ships at sea in early December and sent to Vancouver for censoring, and (b) to gain experience in censorship. US letter mail was examined in Vancouver from December 26, 1941 to February 11, 1942 [G. Scrimgeour, BC Postal History Newsletter #112, page 1170]. If this cover from Shanghai was examined under this procedure, why did it take so long to get to its destination? A letter could easily be temporarily lost in the Vancouver Post Office (I know from personal experience working there in the Bag Room, opening supposedly empty mail bags). Five months is a long travel time for this mail, but at least it arrived at its destination.

By Gray Scrimgeour

Scroll to Top