Military Post Offices
To deliver and accept mail from troops on active service, especially those in uninhabited desert regions, a special service, the Field Postal Office, came into being. Official mail and mail from soldiers up to the rank of sergeant was accepted post free for destinations within the Ottoman Empire. Higher ranks, however, had to pay the regular postage. The Field Post was also available to civilians, but they had to pay the regular postage rates.
The General Field Post Administration in Istanbul was in charge of the Field Post Offices. It arranged to collect the necessary stamps from the HQ of the Civil Post Office, and sent them to the Field Post Offices. For various reasons (fighting and bad weather conditions), a regular supply of stamps could not be guaranteed. At times, none could be supplied. In such instances, stamps were simply commandeered from the nearest civilian post office.
The FPO’s were supplied with their own postmarks (negative seal type and circular date stamps). They were attached to divisions, army corps, armies, army groups, expeditionary corps, fortress- and base-units. Their offices were at the Staff Headquarters of these units. Authorized agents carried out postal deliveries and collections for battalions and companies. These ‘Postal Couriers’ carried neither a stock of stamps nor cancellers; they collected the money, or items which had to be paid for. They later franked these items at the nearest post office, which then cancelled them. For security reasons, cancellers were exchanged between FPO’s. It is easy to see that this led to hopeless confusion, which led to items being missent or often lost completely.
A reliable assertion about the origin of any item cannot be made solely from the FPO number*, either because the offices changed their station according to the military situation, because a new distribution of cancellers could occur, or because new numbers were issued to new military formations. The definite proof as to whether an item comes from a specific area can only be determined without doubt when not only the dispatch postmark but also the sender’s address can be proved. Only then can we know whether the unit in question operated in Palestine at that particular time*.
It is, therefore, essential to know the troop movements of the Ottoman Army up to 1918 (Editor: and, therefore, ALL OTHER “Central” and “Allies” militaries), in order to prove the origin of any item*.
When the FPO was organized before the First World War, the following concept was introduced for the allocation of FPO numbers to the various units (according to Ismail Hakki Tevfik, captain at the General Staff): “Each Infantry Division consists of three infantry regiments and six field batteries. The regiments stationed in the Arabian area have three battalions each – each has a FPO with the same marking (FPO number) as itself. For instance, the 10th Infantry Division receives FPO 10. Each Army Corps has a Field Post Office; the numbers start at 25. Each Army has an office; here, the numbers begin at 38.”
The clear-cut division of FPO numbers soon broke down. New divisions were formed, which were given FPO numbers of destroyed or disbanded divisions. New army corps were also formed or re-organized.
*(All red font is Editor’s choice)