Baghdad - Cairo Air Mail

In 1921, the RAF began the fortnightly Desert Airmail Service between Cairo and Baghdad. From October 1921, it carried private as well as official mail. According to Newall [1], mail from Australia and New Zealand was accepted from 9 November.

This can be regarded as the first step in the development of the regular airmail service between the UK and New Zealand via Cairo, Baghdad, Karachi, Singapore and Sydney, although it was 1940 before the complete service was established.

Baghdad to Cairo

Baghdad 22

Many of the covers flown from Baghdad to Cairo were addressed to the UK and were carried from Egypt by surface mail.

The first cover is such an example. It was carried by air mail from Baghdad to Cairo (the postmark is indistinct but appears to be February 1922) and then on to the UK by surface mail.


The stamp is Turkish and is overprinted IRAQ IN BRITISH OCCUPATION. The envelope carries the crest of the British Regiment The Buffs on the reverse.

The 840 mile long route was Baghdad (Hinaidi) to Cairo (Heliopolis) via Ramadi and Ziza in Transjordan and took 12½ hours flying time. This was usually split over two days although three was not uncommon. For security and safety reasons, the planes flew in pairs.

As the route between Ramadi and Ziza was largely over featureless desert, a 400 mile long track was laid out as a navigation aid. (In places, a tractor and plough were used to make a furrow! This did not blow away as the ground was stoney rather than sand.)

Baghdad 23

A new set of Iraq stamps was issued in 1923 and two are shown on the next cover which again was flown from Baghdad to Cairo and then carried on to the UK by surface mail. It is postmarked in Basrah on 2 July, 1923. The airmail that left Baghdad on 6 July arrived in London on 18 July [2].

A first-hand account of The Baghdad Air Mail is given by Hill [3]. The planes used were the DH 10 and the Vickers Vimy and the Vickers Vernon.

The RAF service was taken over by Imperial Airways in 1927 and the route was extended to Basra on the Persian Gulf. It then became an important stage in the UK - Karachi service that was set up in 1929.

Cairo - Baghdad

to Baghdad 22

This cover is postmarked 20 July 1922 in Plymouth.

to Baghdad 22 back

It left London on 27 July and was flown from Cairo to Baghdad on 5 - 8 August [2]. It has a rather indistinct Baghdad backstamp on 8 August.

The reason why the flight took three rather than the normal two days is that the plane had to make a forced landing and the mail was then collected by an Iraqi aircraft [2].

Up until December 1921, the airmail fee was 1/- per oz, but it was then reduced to 6d. The surface rate was 3d for the first oz and so the cover has the correct franking of 9d.

In November 1923 the airmail fee was further reduced to 3d [2].

An alternative: The Overland Route


The ordinary postal route from Basra to Cairo was by sea via the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Suez Canal.

However, in October 1923, the Nairn Transport Company set up the Overland Desert Mail Service which carried mail by car / bus between Baghdad and Haifa via Beirut and Damascus. The company was founded by two New Zealand brothers who had remained in the area after the First World War. They continued to run the service for thirty years!


The shown cover was sent from Iran in 1925. It has the routing instructions Overland Mail via Baghdad and so was carried by Nairn Transport from Baghdad to Haifa. It was then presumeably carried by rail from Haifa to Port Said and from there by sea to the UK.

The stamps are on the back. This was to help seal the envelope in humid conditions.

Full details of the Overland Mail are given by Collins [4].

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All scans were made by the author.
[1] British External Airmails until 1934, second edition, A S Newall, 1996.
[2] The Postal History of British Air Mails, E B Proud, 1991.
[3] The Baghdad Air Mail, Wing Commander R Hill, first published 1929, republished by Nonsuch Publishing, 2005.
[4] Overland Mail via the Syro - Iraqi Great Desert, N Collins with Z Alexander and N Gladstone, BAPIP Monograph 1990, The Holyland Philatelic Society.