Sir Ronald Storrs was one of six pallbearers at the funeral of T.E. Lawrence in 1935, both men sharing a mutual respect and admiration that had begun decades earlier in Egypt. Storrs held numerous positions within the British Foreign and Colonial Office. Beginning in 1926, he was governor and commander-in-chief of Cyprus, a then-British crown colony. But Storrs’ plum assignment took a turn for the worse in 1931 with an attempted revolt that resulted in an increased British military presence and the institution of civil censorship in several areas of the island. The postal history record of that unrest offers a unique lens on those troubled Cypriot times.
Postal censorship is generally thought of as falling into two categories: military and civil. Both are often studied within the context of wars. In this article, we will briefly examine a different flavor of censorship, that which takes place during times of civil unrest. Some censored covers from Cyprus in 1935-36 provide an example of how governments employ this tool of communication control to limit the transmission of undesired ideas.
Military postal censorship is primarily focused on the examination of letters from and to soldiers and other military personnel directly by military authorities. While most frequently occurring during times of war, this is not exclusively the case. Similarly, civil postal censorship is primarily a wartime practice. In this issue of The American Philatelist, Dann Mayo addresses the subject of civil censorship during times of war.
However, there are instances in which civil censorship is imposed and hostilities between nations or civil wars are not raging. The mechanisms of such censorship tend to differ in terms of both scope and policy. The most obvious difference is that here, only some civilian mail is censored. The entire local populous is not ensnared by the censors’ examinations. Generally, the mail of certain groups of senders and recipients are intercepted and read.
Cyprus civil unrest in the 1930s
Lying in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus is an island populated by peoples of Turkish and Greek descent. It has been a contested territory for centuries. Beginning in the late 1800s, Great Britain assumed control of the island, but there continued to be nationalistic desires for unification with either the Ottoman Empire or Greece. In the depths of the Depression in 1931, events boiled over after (what else?) a dispute over taxation of the island by British authorities. On October 21, in the ensuing violence, Government House, Storr’s residence, was burned to the ground.
The violence was quickly put down, but the British took severe and long-lasting actions to preclude a further uprising. With evidence that both members of the Communist Party and the Greek Orthodox church were involved, both institutions were suppressed. Broad censorship was imposed, especially on local newspapers. And civil postal censorship was enacted.
According to Stelios Theofilou,1
The “Defense of Cyprus Regulations” (1931) imposed postal censorship, which lasted until 1936. Examiners particularly looked for (a) expressions of sympathy from abroad, (b) exaggerations & false information (c) news in Greece about the disturbances (d) letters from Deportees writing back home and (e) letters to known Communists.
Censorship of the mail was carried out on both outbound and inbound mail.
The speed with which the rebellion was quashed notwithstanding, civil postal censorship remained in effect – to varying degrees – until World War II, at which point wartime censorship was imposed.
Figure 1. The front and reverse of a civil censorship cover from Nicosia, Cyprus, to Athens, from the author’s collection. The reverse shows an arrival marking.
The civil unrest and resulting postal censorship are well illustrated in three covers addressed to the same individual in the 1935-36 period. The cover seen in Figure 1 traveled from Nicosia, Cyprus, to Athens, Greece. It is franked with two 2½ pi stamps from the King George V Silver Jubilee omnibus issue of 1935. The Nicosia cancellation states: “REGISTERED / 11:45AM / 22 NOV 35 / NICOSIA, CYPRUS” (Proud R2). The censor mark is a 35mm circular type inscribed in small letters “Postal Censor Cyprus” with a small “G. [Crown] R.” in the center. According to Castle2, this mark was applied in red in early 1936.
This 1935 cover is the earliest reported use. The receiving mark on the reverse states: “ΑΘΗΝΑ ΥΣΤΗΜΕΝΑ / 26.XI.35.18 / ΑΦΙΞΙΣ” (Athens urgent arrival). The cover is resealed by an “OPENED BY CENSOR” censor tape with a heraldic image. The 5pi franking paid the 2½ piastre registry fee plus the 2½ pi international letter rate for the first ounce.
The handstamps applied during this period were manufactured locally in Cyprus, as the imposition of censorship was promulgated by the Defense of Cyprus Regulations and was not a Crown postal matter.
The addressee was an official in the Greek Orthodox Church and a rather public advocate for Cypriot independence (and only slightly less public in his advocacy for subsuming Cyprus as a part of Greece itself). This is one of three letters identically addressed to him that are known censored.
Figure 2. A Cyprus censored cover featuring a King Edward VIII stamp. Courtesy of the Cyprus Study Circle.
A second cover appears in the Castle book (Figure 2) and was mailed on May 29, 1936. This particular cover extends the rarity factor of this grouping by also reflecting a King Edward VIII franking, Cyprus being one of the few such colonies to have acknowledged his short-lived monarchy.
Figure 3. An express Κατεπείγον cover, courtesy of Philokypros.net.
The third cover (Figure 3), also from 1936, is found in the Theofilou exhibit. I speculate that the survival of all three may be the result of the addressee being located in a seminary associated with the Kykko Monastery in Cyprus.
These covers illustrate that an act of civil unrest begun five years earlier had lasting impact on postal operations. Even though the Defense of Cyprus Regulations officially expired at the end of 1936, sporadic mail examination persisted until WWII. This example of postal censorship induced by civil unrest only ceased when it was replaced by the broader and far more intrusive censorship of the Second World War.
1 Theofilou, Stelios, “Postal History Collection of Mr. Stelios Theofilou from Limassol, Cyprus,” published on the website Philokypros.net. Accessed December 3, 2021.
2 Castle, Wilfred F., Cyprus 1353-1986 (London: Christie’s-Robson Lowe, 1987). Pg. 280.