After the Germans occcupied the area around Dunkirk (Dunkerque, Duenkirchen) in 1940, various currently available definitives and commemorative stamps were overprinted Besetztes / Gebiet / Nordfrankreich in a frame (Occupied Zone Northern France) by order of the German authorities. There were two different types of handstamp applied, one with rounded upper corners to the frame (used at Dunkirk, designated Type I), the other with right-angled top corners (used at Coudekerque, Type II).
None of the stamps in post office stocks in the area at that time were railway thematics. However, the public were permitted to apply normal French stamps to their mail (postcards and unsealed letters only) and these were handstamped by the postal authorities on the covers. Mint copies exist of some of these privately-held values, presumably done by favour. All of the stamps presented by the public were handstamped with the Type I format.
The cover above is backstamped GHYVELDE 2 - 7 - 40
The handstamps on the stamps held in post office stocks were usually applied across a pair of stamps, horizontally or vertically, according to the design. Stamps affixed to letters / postcards by members of the public appear to have been handstamped across two stamps, where two stamps were affixed, otherwise across a single stamp.
The period of use of these handstamps was. officially, 1.7.1940 - 9.8.1940, although some later covers are known. I very much doubt that many of these covers were truly commercial, especially those carrying stamps supplied by the public. However, they were authorised and correctly used, even if predominantly for philatelic purposes and, therefore, they are mainstream, rather than Cinderella, items.
It appears that, with remarkable efficiency in wartime by an occupying force, a full record of the stamps presented by the public was kept by the authorities. The following French stamps of railway interest are listed by Michel in their Germany Specialized catalogue under Deutsche Besetzungsausgaben 1939/45:
** 1936 Airs: 85c, 3 Fr., 3 Fr.50 The 3 Fr.50 is illustrated below.
** 1937 Railway Congress: 30c, 1 Fr.50 The 30c is illustrated above.
** 1939 Miner and Train (70c + 50c)
** Also, for those of you who include Clement Ader in your railway collection, the 1938 50Fr Blue
I believe the standard letter rate at the time to have been One Franc, postcards presumably less.
The cover above is backstamped ARNEKE 3 - 7 - 40
There are, to my knowledge, only three Liberation overprints on Railway Thematics, shown below:
Savoie (Chambéry): Surcharged in Black F.F.I / SAVOIE / 25-8-1944 / 20F. This issue is 100% authentic (recognized by the Ministry of Posts) and is listed by Yvert (Yv.12) and by Michel (Mi. 13). Illustrated at left above.
Montreuil-Bellay (in the Département of Maine-et-Loire). Overprinted in Blue : (Croix de Lorraine) MAQUIS / MONTREUIL / BELLAY Illustrated at right above. The status of this stamp is problematical. It is not accorded full listing by Yvert, which simply mentions, at the end of its Liberation Issues' section, the names of eighteen further locations which have liberation overprints not recognized by the French central postal authorities. Montreuil-Bellay is shown by Yvert as having 14 values. Ceres, however, do list the issues of this town, but, although they list 34 stamps, the design shown above is not included. Michel only mentions a single stamp from this location,a Pétain 1 Fr. 50, which it declares to be unofficial, so, overall, this stamp is of quite a dubious status.
The stamp of France's first T.P.O., shown above, was overprinted in the town of Gex and has a status somewhere between the Chambéry and the Montreuil-Bellay issues. It is not catalogued by Yvert but it is listed and numbered by Ceres in their catalogue (Ceres Gex 16), as a genuine local issue, although the stamp was not officially recognized by the PTT (French Post Office). I do not know what criteria were applied by the P.T.T. in evaluating these issues, but I would generally consider any stamp with a Ceres number to be of satisfactory status. Finding one, however, especially a single value from a set of eighteen stamps, may prove to be something of a challenge. Good hunting!
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