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British Occupation of Former Italian Colonies

When the British forces occupied Addis Ababa in April 1941, among the many tasks to be undertaken was that of administering the postal system. During the period up to March 1942, unoverprinted British stamps were used, after which Ethiopian stamps were available. All values (the ½d to 3d in both light and dark colours) to 1/- can theoretically be found with Addis Ababa CDSs. As the British forces advanced, they had more postal services to administer, and issued stamps overprinted 'M.E.F.' (for use in Eritrea), 'ERITREA', 'E.A.F.' (East African Forces, for use in Somalia), 'SOMALIA' and 'TRIPOLITANIA'.


Round Stops 
Round Stops

Square Stops 
Square Stops


The original 14mm MEF overprints were carried out by the Army Printing Services in Cairo. Once issued, it became apparent that there would be inadequate supplies, so a further overprinting by Harrisons in London was ordered and at the same time a 'local' overprint was carried out. Long believed to have emanated from Cairo itself, it has now been ascertained that what has always been regarded as the local overprint (showing the round and square stops) was done at GHQ Middle East Land Forces in Nairobi. These overprints are easily distinguishable, by virtue of their relative crudity.

The late Theo Matthews (in a supplement to Geosix, March 1969) suggested that about one in fifty of the overprints on the low values came from the round/square stops printing. I would suggest that this figure is for used, mint being so much scarcer. It seems that mint stamps may mostly have come from unsold remainders returned to London and subsequently sold to dealers. The overprints measure 13.5mm and the letters are not clean-cut. Three rows in each pane (2, 3 and 7) had the square stops, and the issue is best collected in se-tenant pairs, which are scarce and expensive. Nonetheless, there are some impressive multiples around.

The Cairo overprint measures 14mm with the letters clean-cut and straight. There are varieties of this overprint to be found, the best being the cut-away left leg of the 'M' on R6/10. Fortunately the only value we have to worry about when it comes to differentiating the Cairo/Harrison overprints is the 5d (the other low values printed by Harrison were on the new 'light' colours). The Harrison measures 13.5mm, and the surface of the ink used is glossy and blue-black, as opposed to the matt black of the Cairo. The 3d Cairo exists with a double overprint. Unfortunately light, close double impressions often raise collectors' hopes unjustifiably - such stamps have 'bounced' double impressions, caused by the sheet flapping in the press. The Harrison overprints are relatively plentiful, but there are a few varieties to look out for. The 1/- is known with the 'broken barb' on R7/12 and the 'broken cross' on R18/2, and the 5/- may be found with a 'T' guide mark in the hair. At this point it is appropriate to pay tribute to the late Gerry Bater, well known as a philatelic photographer as well as a philatelist. Gerry wrote a series of superficially impenetrable articles in Gibbons Stamp Monthly, which were full of new observations on the British 'square' high values of 1939-48. Gerry was responsible for taking earlier research into the issue much further forward, and was also responsible for getting me to understand how 'T' guide marks actually came into being. I quote and paraphrase him, from his book "Waterlow Procedures; King George VI 'Arms to Festival' High Values; Design to Press".

'For most of the Arms high values, two 'T' guide marks were impressed in the original die, one each some 5-6mm ABOVE and BELOW the stamp design.' (These could) 'sometimes be transferred to the printing plate… The 'T' guide ABOVE would become the lower 'T' of the stamp above.' Few actually appeared on the plate; most were carefully burnished off and the position re-engraved when necessary. Sometimes partial marks remained. Doubled marks, marks on the neck (from a plate differently set up), marks at the base and even one where there is a clear 'T' in the hair as well as another, diagonally placed across the hairline all exist. '… the assumption by philatelists that' ('T' guide marks) 'must always appear in the King's hair on Great Britain high value stamp issues is now proven to be unfounded.'

CW 36a R2-4 'T' Guide

The 1950 sets issued by Cyrenaica are included under the heading of 'British Occupation of Former Italian Colonies' by virtue of the fact that the Amir was recognised by Britain in 1949, prior to unifying with several other territories to form Libya in 1951. The attractive definitive design showing a mounted warrior is popular, and the Postage Due set rather scarce.

Eritrea issued three sets between 1948 and 1952, as well as two sets of Postage Dues. The first set was overprinted 'B.M.A. Eritrea' (British Military Administration), and the second 'B.A. Eritrea' (British Administration); the third was also 'B.A.', but on the 1951 changed colours/designs. Used are generally scarcer than mint, and it should be borne in mind that the use of these overprinted issues was permitted in the U.K. from 1950; examples with U.K. postmarks are worth less than those used in the territory. 

CW 11a R4/7

On the B.M.A. set, 'T' guide marks are known on the 2/6d and 5/-, and on R4/7 of the 2/6d the stop after 'SH' is set to the right of its normal position, in front of the '50'. The B.A. set gives us a major re-entry on the 2/6d and a 'T' guide mark (inverted) on the 5/-. All the definitives may be found with a pen line drawn horizontally through the design - I have always thought that this was an anti-pilferage device, whereas Gibbons state that such stamps were for use on concession rate mail. There are many 'missing stop' errors on the Postage Dues - both Commonwealth and Gibbons give adequate listings.


The 10ct B.A. had the 'C' of 'CENTS' omitted at R7/17 on the first releases. When spotted, the error was quickly corrected, but there is also a variety known with the 'C' omitted and a printer's 'quad' (an upright oblong of type) in place of the 'E', which may well have represented a second stage of damage on the same position. The 30ct in the same set may be found with watermark sideways-inverted.

The first issue for Somalia was overprinted 'E.A.F.' and went only to the 2/6d value. The 2/6d has two varieties listed by Commonwealth, the R1/7 re-entry showing as doubling of the left frame and an additional vertical line between the upper quarters of the shield, and a 'T' in the hair (with double stem and the right bar missing) on R4/7. The B.M.A. set has the 'broken barb' on the 1/-, the misplaced stop on the 2/6d at R4/7, and 'T' guide marks on the 2/6d and 5/-. The B.A. set has the re-entry at R1/7 on the 2/6d and an inverted 'T' on the 5/- from R2/3.

Forgeries of EAF overprints are known.

EAF forgeries

Tripolitania's B.M.A. set had the broken barb on the 1/- and 'T' guide marks on the 5/-. The B.A. set had two re-entries on the 2/6d and 'T' guide marks on the 5/-. Both the 1948 and 1950 sets have varieties of misplaced figures in the overprint, the '3' being to the right on the 3l and 4l at R8/8 and 18/8. The Postage Dues had numerous missing stops after letters in the overprint, the B.A. 3d may be found with watermark sideways-inverted. Postmarks are a problem on Tripolitania, especially with the Postage Dues. A reputable source is advisable.

Lots of publications and people have been responsible for educating me on the subject of overprints on KG VI Great Britain. They include -

The Commonwealth KG VI catalogue, 18th edition, Murray Payne Ltd.

Commonwealth & British Empire Stamps 1840-1952, Stanley Gibbons Ltd.

The G.B. Overprints Society John Firebrace, Gerry Bater, David Brandon, Alan Tregurtha, Dr Peter Dawson

Published in Sixth Sense No.66