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Overland Mail Baghdad-Haifa Pages



Much has been written about the Overland Mail Baghdad-Haifa in both philatelic books and many contemporary publications. Nevertheless, this private postal transport company is unknown to many philatelists despite the famous publication The Overland Mail via the Syro-Iraqi Great Desert by Norman J. Collins with Zvi Alexander and Norman Gladstone (BAPIP Monograph, 1990). Since that book was published, much new information has arisen. However, since this area is not widely popular among collectors, a revision and re-publication of the book is unlikely at present. To make the new findings public, they will be published as they arise here on the web site.


Short Historical Introduction

The Nairn Transport Company was formed, as the name indicates, by Norman Nairn and driver / mechanic Gerald Nairn, young New Zealander brothers who served at the Royal British Army in the Middle East during World War I. After the war, the two brothers remained in the Middle East and noted the possibilities a transport company through the Syro-Iraq desert could offer. 


After intensive planning, and with the support of the trader family Nasser, a transport company was opened on October 18, 1923 in Haifa and Beirut.


Map (extract) from an old advertising pamphlet of the Nairn Transport Company showing the transport route.


Since the route through the desert was found feasible and reliable, the Iraqi Government contracted Nairn for the transportation of mail from Baghdad to Damascus / Haifa and vice versa. To cover the costs for this service, the Nairn Transport Company entered into a contract with the Iraqi Postal Administration (and later on also Postal Administrations of other Arab countries) and were remunerated based on the weight of the mail transported. Iraqi and other postal administration in return introduced surcharges for each postal article to be transported by this fast route..


Nairn Transport Company only transported the mail across the desert; it did not deliver the mail to the receiver. Nairn received the mail accumulated by the Iraqi, Syrian or Palestinian Exchange Post offices and forwarded it. By using this route, the transport time for mail to/from Europe was reduced to approximately 10 days compared to the 30 days required on the usual route by ship from Port Said, through the Suez Canal, around the Arab Peninsula to the Iraq port city of Basrah and by rail to Baghdad.


To make the public aware of the services of the Nairn Transport Company, several advertising and travel pamphlets such as the one shown above were issued. This pamphlet is an early type showing a typical desert panorama with palm trees and a mosque as well as two cars, most likely a Cadillac (left) and a Buick (right). The first commercial cruises through the desert were performed from 1923 onwards with such cars.