A Small Rock Add Two Letters
A Small Rock Add Two Letters – Goudier Island, off the northwest coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. it houses what a stamp collector from England described in 1946 as “the loneliest post office in the world”. JoeFoxBerlin / Radharc Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Goudier Island is a dark, windswept hunk of rock located off the northwest coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Two prefab wooden buildings and a metal Nissen hut, all painted black with red trim, stand by the waters of Port Lockroy. A Union Jack grips a flagpole and casts a shadow over dozens of gentoo penguins huddled around the hut.
A Small Rock Add Two Letters
In addition to the penguins, Port Lockroy, as the tiny settlement on Goudier Island is known, is home to the world’s southernmost post office. In pre-pandemic times, around 18,000 tourists visited the remote location annually. But for some, a brief tour of the world’s most isolated mail drop isn’t enough. Every year, hundreds compete for four jobs at the post office, for the chance to live on an island the size of a football field for five months at a time, without internet, cell phone service or even running water.
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The gentoo penguins on Goudier Island have been an integral part of Port Lockroy throughout its nearly 80-year history. Neil McAllister / Alamy Stock Photo
The island has always had this mysterious draw; in the 1940s and 1950s, small bands of British men formed the first generation of Port Lockroy mailmen. “Four things I remember when I finally arrived at ‘A’ Base at Port Lockroy,” Allan Carroll said of his arrival in 1954. door and rather strange attitude shown by the people we had come to relieve.” “It wasn’t quite the reception I was expecting,” he told an oral history interviewer. Several men who worked in Port Lockroy shared their experiences of life’s triumphs and tribulations while working at the edge of the world in oral history interviews conducted by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and the British Antarctic Survey Club. Almost to a man, they said their time in Antarctica was the best of their lives.
Men like Carroll, who had served in the Royal Air Force, often found their way to Antarctica because they grew up reading about Robert Scott’s journey to the South Pole in the early 1900s and saw service in Antarctica as a gateway to adventure. Jim Fellows, who worked at the bases in the 1950s, said he applied for the job to escape a routine 9-to-5 life. After serving in Asia with the British Army for five years, Fellows found a good government job but did not find it fulfilling. He told an oral history interviewer, “I thought there must be something different about it.”
As it is today, the staff at Port Lockroy was small in the 1940s and 1950s, just four or five men. All the men were typically in their twenties, veterans of conscription from every economic class, and all had volunteered to work two-year tours with the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey (FIDS), the British government organization occupying Antarctica. They dressed in an assortment of military gear, army pants, submariner sweaters, flannel shirts and large army boots. Many of them have grown beards and others have tried with varying levels of success. They were as far from home and from any vestige of formal discipline as they had experienced in civilian life or in the military.
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The men of Base A, as Port Lockroy was known, in 1944, the year the Antarctic outpost was established. Photographer: J. Farrington, 1944. Reproduced courtesy of the British Antarctic Survey. Archives ref. AD6/19/1/A210/8.
In 1946, G.F.M. Hardy was the base leader at Port Lockroy, one of five bases the United Kingdom operated in Antarctica at the time. The bases were built as part of Operation Tabarin, the British government’s attempt to strengthen sovereign claims over territory coveted by Argentina and Chile. Hardy and the other base leaders served as bureaucratic Swiss army knives: magistrate, coroner, customs, receiver of wrecks and postmaster.
Postmaster was one of the most important jobs a base leader would hold during their time on the continent. Carroll, who eventually worked as a grassroots leader at Port Lockroy, described postal duties as “just another aspect of the political scene” and Fellows recalled postmasters as an important part of putting enforcement of “almost fictitious” territorial claims on the peninsula. The post office was also a lifeline for the men on the island. A supply ship would bring new men, fresh food and letters home; it could be up to a year before the next delivery arrives.
When the mail arrived, the men enjoyed the letters, but in addition to any personal mail he received, Hardy had to send through official mail bags. Here’s the boring part about running what a stamp collector in England described in 1946 as “the loneliest post office in the world.”
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Gwion Davies, a Cambridge-educated whaler who helped build Port Lockroy in 1944, didn’t know exactly why there was a post office on the remote island. “Whether to publicize the British occupation or what it was, I never figured out,” he later said. Photographer: E. Mackenzie (I.M. Lamb), 1944. Reproduction courtesy of the British Antarctic Survey. Archives ref. AD6/19/1/A57.
Amateur collectors wrote from all over the globe. A letter traveled as far as Bombay. Others came from Brazil, Czechoslovakia and West Germany. They were sent from big cities and small towns and all asked for a one square centimeter stamp bearing the profile of King George VI and a map of the British Antarctic Territory printed in green ink. Although these collectibles were produced in England, they were distributed only to FIDS base commanders, and Hardy and his far-flung colleagues (post offices were operated at at least two other bases, including Hope Bay) were the keepers.
Today, some of these letters survive and are kept in the British Antarctic Survey Archive in Cambridge. Reading over them, one is deeply moved by those who sought not just a stamp, but also a connection with the person reading the letter, whoever that may be.
The most moving letters were written by people facing hardships. In February 1947, Glenn W. Anderson of Tacoma, Washington, wrote to Port Lockroy. He was a disabled veteran of World War II and could not work, so he took up his old hobby of collecting stamps to pass the time. In May of that year, 63-year-old widower Paul Buneman from Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany, wrote asking for “interesting correspondence … with either gentlemen or ladies anywhere in Antarctica.”
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The mail sorters had mixed reactions to their task, although they were vaguely aware of its political value. Fellows expressed some annoyance at the specifics of the collector’s requests; how many stamps they wanted, whether the stamps should be franked or cancelled, and how to process their money orders.
Today, there is once again a post office on Goudier Island. Every year, hundreds compete for one of four jobs there and the chance to live on an island the size of a football field for five months at a time, without internet, cell phone service or even running water . Michael S. Nolan / Alamy Stock Photo
Eventually, the postmasters wrote a general reply, telling collectors that they would no longer be able to fulfill stamp-only requests. They didn’t have the time or resources to send every collector a stamp, let alone multiple stamps in mint condition. All the letter writers would get was the stamp affixed to the return envelope, probably in poor condition after the long journey and not ideal for a collection. However, the letters continued to arrive.
Individual sovereign claims to Antarctica were effectively suspended by the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, and Port Lockroy closed in 1962, its post office now redundant. The wooden buildings were left to the elements. Around the world, a few lucky philatelists have displayed stamps from a remote, deserted island with no postal service.
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The base was eventually renovated and reopened by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust in 1996. Buildings, weather conditions and isolation are constants in Port Lockroy, as are the penguins. The political role of the post office also continues; The British Antarctic Territory is today the largest of the British overseas territories. Port Lockroy’s most enduring legacy, however, is the willingness of some to seek out the loneliest corner of the earth – and the world’s unceasing curiosity about those who choose to do so.
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Politics Podcast: The Loneliest Post Office Join us for a daily celebration of the world’s most wonderful, unexpected and even weird places. Podcast Team September 6, 2022
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