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Overland Mail Baghdad-Haifa Pages

The Start of the Overland Mail Baghdad-Haifa


The first philatelic proof of the start of the Overland Mai! service is a cover from Iraq, inscribed 'BY SPECIAL OVERLAND MAIL / BAGHDAD TO HAIFA' and inside the envelopes there was a cutting from the Baghdad Times of a postal notice, published sometime in August 1923 (date of issue not known).  That cover was posted at Hinaidi on the 23rd August 1923 and has a Baghdad H.Q. transit mark dated 26th August 1923. Till today two covers are known. (Collection late Zvi Alexander, Postal Museum, Israel)



    It is notified for information that a special despatch of mails for the United Kingdom, Palestine, Egypt and other countries will be made from Baghdad on Thursday the 30th instant for trans-mission overland via Haifa-Port Said.
   The period of transit for a letter from Baghdad to London is expected to be 10 days.

    Unregistered and registered corres-pondence for despatch to United Kingdom or other countries  by the Overland Service will be accepted at the Baghdad Head Post Office. Latest hour  for posting registered articles will be 11 a.m. and unregistered articles 12 noon.  Thursday the 30th instant.
    All articles for despatch by this service must be superscribed in bold letters "OVERLAND MAIL BAGHDAD-HAIFA".
    A fee of three annas for every 20 grammes or fraction thereof in addition to the ordinary postage and registration fee must be prepaid by means of postage stamps affixed to the article or articles to be transmitted by this route.

               Deputy Inspector General
             of Posts


A newspaper clipping from a unknown newspaper, dated 30 August 1930, informing about the departure of the trial trip on 30 August 1923 and already informing about the postal rate and surcharge for the use of the Overland Mail.

A newspaper clipping

It  was assumed that that trip and subsequent trips up to October 1923 were proving trips since the contract to carry mail thru the Syro-Iraqi Desert was believed not given to Nairn Brothers until October 1923. Professor John Munro in his book 'THE NAIRN WAY' records that the contract as far as Syria was concerned was signed on the 18th October 1923. However, the newspaper clipping from the Near East Newspaper, dated 6 September 1923 (see clipping below), states that the contract in fact has been signed in Baghdad already "the week before", which means by end of August 1923.


Cover transported by the first Overland Mail on 30 August 1923.
Click to view large image



A Letter Bill from the Iraq Postal Administration in the G.P.O. Archive, London, confirms that the first Overland Mail, aside for the letters carried on proving trips, has left Baghdad on 30 August 1923, marking the official start of the Overland Mail Baghdad-Haifa for the public. furthermore, a letter from the Controller's Office to the Secretary of the Post Office dated 12 September 1923 confirms the arrival of the first Overland Mail in London on 10 September 1923.

The Secretary,
I beg to report the receipt via Port Said and Marseilles on the 21th instant ex S.S. "KHIVA" of mails from Baghdad for London and London Provinces, dates the 30th August 1923, and bearing serial numbers "1" and "1" respectively.
This is the first arrival of mails London and London Provinces by the Overland Mail, and no intimidation of the establishment of the service appears to have reached office.
The London
Letter Bill, which is marked "Overland Mail", is 214526



British Post apparently has been taken by surprise about the opening of the Overland Mail route as I found an Inter-Office Memo in the Archive of the British Postal Museum (Philatelic Heritage), containing a newspaper clipping, apparently from Lloyds List of the 3rd September 1923 attached to.


     The first overland mail to England from Baghdad via Damascus and Port Said, where it connects with the P. & O. steamer, left on Thursday (says Reuter), carrying 3000 letters which will arrive in London in eight days.

The transcript of the Inter-office Memo reads:


Capt Foakes

Lloyds List 3rd Sept 23

Mr Gordon


Captain Foakes,

Apparently this is the Nairn Service which has started. We are still waiting for notification from the Iraq P.O.

K 3.9.23

Dear Francis,

This is the Desert Motor Service, under the Irak Post Contract, about which we recently wrote to the Air Ministry. It competes successfully as regards time with the R.A.F. service

JHW- 8/9/23

CL ??




In my collection i found inside a cover which, after closer inspection, to my surprise, was dated 12 September 1923 with a transit postmark on reverse from Port Said dated 15 September 1923, a newspaper clipping from Baghdad Times, 10. September 1923, shown below: This trip was an previously unreported and unrecorded Survey Trip prior of the official start of the Overland Mail.



Monday September 10th, 1923





The next Overland Mail Baghdad-Haifa will be closed at the Baghdad Head Post Office on Wednesday the 12th instant at 12 noon. Registered articles will be accepted up to 11 a.m.

Registered and unregistered articles of all classes except parcels are accepted at the usual postage and registration fees plus an Overland fee of annas three for every 20 grammes or fraction thereof.

All articles to be superscribed "Overland Mail Baghdad-Haifa" in bold characters on the top left hand corner.




In "Reports on Iraq Administration" for 1923-24 published by His Majesty's Stationery Office which will be referred to as H.M.S.O. from this point onwards is stated that Overland Mail has been operating since October 1923. The report for 1928 states that the Nairn's contract ceased in October 1928, proving that the route became fully functional from October 1923 and that the Nairn's had a five year contract as from October 1923.

Interesting that this cover already shows a Overland Mail Route Instruction Handstamp.


Again in the Archive of the British Postal Museum (Philatelic Heritage) I found a newspaper clipping, apparently from the Near East Newspaper, issued 6 September 1923.  

The Irak Mail Route.
A telegram from Baghdad states that the first dispatch of mail matter by the new motor service between Irak and Palestine left Baghdad last Thursday. I shall be surprised to hear that this marks the inauguration of a regular weekly service, as I was under the impression that the Nairn Transport Company, who have the mail contract, proposed to start on October 1, when their fleet of new cars specially bought for the the service would have reached Palestine. Possibly the reference is to a trial trip undertaken to celebrate the formal signing of the contract last week in Baghdad. Mails by this route will be subject to a surcharge of three pence instead of the sixpence charged for the air mail between Cairo and Baghdad. When the Haifa-Baghdad motor service is in regular running order the mails by that route should not take much, if any, longer than the air mail, which is more liable to delay from weather conditions. It is not intended however, that there should be competition between the two routes. There are good reasons why the Royal Air Force should wish to keep up the fortnightly connection between Cairo and Baghdad; but it may by supposed that it does not set much store on acting as mail carriers The motor car service via Damascus represents a bold, but i think sound, experiment and there will be a natural tendency on the part of the Air Force, and, no doubt, of the British Post Office to stand to see how the scheme works. When it is fully established the saving of three pence on each letter will quickly deflect the mails to that route. The Irak Post Office is to congratulated on its enterprise, for the substitution of a weekly postal service over the fortnightly means much to the business world, to say nothing of the saving of time to those who have to travel to and from Irak.

Based on the text i have the strong believe (suspicion) that this "telegram" was actually written by someone with close (business) relation to the Nairn Transport Company, if not Norman Nairn by him self, as it is more written as an advertising instead of a newspaper article.