The First Airplane-Crash Covers?

It is well known to collectors of 1911 Coronation Airmail flight covers that Charles L A Hubert took off from Hendon Airport in a 50 HP Farman 'Gnome' Biplane soon after 7 am on Monday 11 September 1911 carrying eight bags of the mail on his way to Windsor. Soon after take-off the plane crashed from a height of about forty feet resulting in Hubert breaking both his legs. Covers from this flight may therefore be the first ever airplane crash covers. Unfortunately no cachets were used to indicate that mail had been carried on this flight and it is almost impossible to 'prove' a cover from this flight.

Over the years I have seen a number of covers which it was claimed were from this flight. The usual 'reasons' being that the cover was dated 11 September and 'must' therefore have been flown on that day. Later research shows that ALL the public mail flown on 11 September had been date-stamped and made up on Saturday 9 September, so any mail dated 11 September was definitely NOT flown by Hubert.

There were two cards in the 'Edwards' collection which it was thought may have been on this flight but in my opinion neither were flown by Hubert.

The first is one autographed by him on 9 September and bears a die 5 postmark showing that it had been posted at Hendon. Postmark dies 5 and 6 indicate mail posted at Hendon or collected on the way to Hendon after leaving London. Mail bags made up at Hendon have a 'A' suffix, ie bag 1A. The only Hendon posted mail flown on 11 September was contained in bags 1A and 2A both made up on 9 September, which were part of the mail flown by E F Driver, who left Hendon, carrying four bags in all, in another Farman biplane at 6.25am, arriving in Windsor at 7.05am. This card would therefore have been carried by Driver and arrived in Windsor at about the same time as Hubert was taking off from Hendon and although flown on the 11th is not a 'crash cover'.

The second card has a die 6 handstamp of 11 September and on the reverse is written 'Got Hubert to sign this before he went up to take this card to you'. Whilst the writer may have naively believed what he wrote, the facts are that the card would have had to have been posted in the special box, taken to the Post Office, date-stamped and made up in a mail bag, all before 7am! Later research shows that mail posted at Hendon on 11 September was flown in bag 3A on 14 September.

In fact 'crash mail' from this flight would be very common, if only flight could be proved. In all some 20 bags of mail were made up with mail date-stamped 9 September. If eight of these bags were carried by Hubert than two in every covers/cards dated 9 September is a 'crash cover', if only these could be identified.

Unfortunately there are no records found showing which bags may have been carried by Hubert. The first flight on 11 September was made by Clement Greswell in a 50 HP Bleriot Monoplane carrying bags 4 and 5, immediately followed by Driver with bags 1A, 2A, 2 and 3. The Post Office seem to have dealt with bags in order so it is probably reasonable to assume that the eight bags carried by Hubert would have been 6, 7, 8, 9 10, 11, 12 and 13. Of these bags 6 and 7 were late flown by G W Hamel who left Hendon at 6.15pm on the 11th which would have given sufficient time for the bags to be brought back to Hendon from the crash scene. The remaining bags, 8 to 13, were flown early on 12 September.

It will be noticed that Hubert was carrying eight bags each weighting 26- 1/2 lbs, a total of 212 lbs or over 15 stones. The general theory for the crash was that the plane was caught by a sudden gust of wind and with this weight of mail at a low height a crash was probably inevitable. No other flight carried more than four bags at any one time, sometimes less.

I have quite a number of cards and covers dated 9 September - some of these must be crash covers. If only I knew which ones!