With stamp collecting, every new day brings a surprise along with it. After decades of collecting stamps of the British Empire and Commonwealth, I have just discovered a territory which was once part of the British Empire but which I never knew to have existed up till now. It's name? - Kamaran.
How did I come across this evidence of my ignorance? Yemen is said to be one of the countries which has applied for membership of The Commonwealth but the political situation there has deteriorated in recent months so that the country's president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, was forced to resign on 22 January 2015. The country's capital, Sana'a, had fallen to rebel Houthis in September 2014 leading to their takeover of the presidential palace which proved to be the event which precipitated the president's downfall.
For a few days the country was without a president but the Houthis have now established a five man council which will rule in place of a president. This takeover of power in Sana'a may encourage the South Yemenis to split from the north and reestablish a republic in South Yemen which existed from 1967 until 1990 when the two Yemens formed a single state. Prior to its independence South Yemen was made up of a number of territories under British protection including the British colony of Aden. The area has a fascinating philatelic history.
My reading about these current events made me think that I should include a set of the first issue of South Yemen in my collection of South Arabia just to provide a tidy ending to my collection since several philatelic entities - The Federation of South Arabia, Kathiri State of Seiyun, Qu'aiti State of Shihr and Mukalla and The Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra all ceased to exist at the same time (more or less) and were joined together in the new South Yemen. The first set of the People's Republic of Southern Yemen took the form of the former definitive series of The Federation of South Arabia with overprints applied in Arabic and English. The complete set was made up from 10 low values depicting the arms of the Federation and 4 values depicting the Federation flag in which the old colonial emblems were partially defaced by horizontal lines applied to the stamps:-
While reading about these post-independence stamps I came across the name of the island of Kamaran which is 22 square miles in area and is part of a group of 10 small islands situated off the coast of Yemen and I was interested to read about its rather ambiguous status in the British Empire. Until 1915 Kamaran and its neighbouring islands were part of the Ottoman Empire until occupied during the First World War by British troops from Aden.
In the 19th century, both the British and French had shown an interest in the island as a place from which to control the southern Red Sea but this eventually amounted to nothing more than the establishment of a telegraph station by the British on the island in 1860. The Ottomans established a quarantine station for Muslim pilgrims on their way to hajj in Mecca in 1882. As many as 40000 pilgrims passed through the island in a single season. Fighting took place on the island during the Turco-Italian War of 1911 to 1912.
As written above, the British occupied Kamaran in 1915. It is said that the British seized the island less because it was an Ottoman possession but more to forestall any move there by the Italians, Britain's wartime allies. The RAF marked out a landing ground on the island in 1919. The Turks renounced all claims to Kamaran in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 but the future sovereignty of the island was not settled by the treaty. A planned international convention on Kamaran and the other Red Sea islands was never convened and so Britain, continuing its occupation, administered the quarantine station on behalf of the governments whose citizens used it.
Kamaran whose status at this time must have been that of a territory (which belonged to no-one after 1923) under British occupation was administered for the government of British India by the Resident of Aden who appointed a resident civil administrator for Kamaran. The island's status and the wish to allay Italian suspicions of British militarisation in the area meant that only police from Aden and the South Arabian Protectorate could be used on the island.
In the early stages of World War 2 Kamaran served as a re-fuelling base for the Italian East Africa campaign. The war interrupted the hajj until 1944 when the quarantine station reopened and was used until 1952. As a result of India's achievement of independence, responsibility for the administration of Kamaran was moved from The Government of India to the Colonial Office in 1949. The title of the Civil Administrator was changed to Commissioner and he continued to be appointed by the Governor of Aden even though the island was not part of the Aden colony nor of the protectorate. The Order in Council defined the islands at that time by stating that the British Crown had "power and jurisdiction" over the islands.
By the order in council of 1 January 1954, while the islands were not formally annexed, the island's citizens were given the status of that of British Protected Persons so that Kamaran became an informal protectorate. This status applied to its sister islands of Kadaman Kabir, Shab Bodinjan, Okban, Al Bodhi, Okban Saghir, Jureb, Risha and Arab Shoal.
Yemen made claims to the sovereignty of Kamaran but British control of the island continued with a report of 1961 stating that the local population amounted to 1200 people who were impoverished. In November 1967 Kamaran was handed over to the new People's Republic of Southern Yemen but was captured and occupied by troops of the Yemen Arab Republic in October 1972 in a war between the 2 Yemens.
An article on the Philatelic Experts website by G. Kock (2011) points out that the Turks provided a post office service on Kamaran for many years prior to the British occupation for the Hajj pilgrims even though the local population amounted to just about 100 people at the time.
It is stated that an Indian Army Field Post Office operated in Kamaran from 1915 (the occupation took place around June 1915).
There are a number of posts in Stampboards.com dating back to January 2009 by the author GJ50 which deal with the smaller post offices related to Aden including Kamaran. Two covers are depicted there which show the use of Indian stamps on Kamaran dated from 1925 and the author notes that a civilian post office was opened on the island in 1921. The illustrations show circular date stamps used between 1921 and 1937 when the Aden Post Office took over services on Kamaran (from which date the stamps of Aden were used on the island). Wikipedia states that Kamaran had a sub-post office of Aden from 1924.
A piece titled Perim The Last Colonial Outpost by Peter Pickering and Ingleby Jefferson (2014) points out that the RAF made regular training flights to Perim and Kamaran from 1928 and to supplement an infrequent and irregular steamer service and the calls of the government vessel on the Aden Station, the RAF agreed to carry mail to the territory at ordinary postal rates. A weekly airmail service was established which was reduced to twice monthly after a couple of months and then continued, alternating with a sea-borne service from the Perim Coal Company until 1939 although the Perim sub-post office was closed on 1 October 1936. It seems that the mail aircraft flew out to Kamaran via Perim on one day and then returned to Aden, again via Perim, on the following day.
I have just bought on an auction website an interesting cover which dates to 1968 and provides me with an early cover from The People's Republic of Southern Yemen and so provides me with a satisfying last page to my South Arabia collection (as I stated I should like to do in the 3rd paragraph of this piece) but, as it is cancelled Kamaran, also gives me an item related to a separate part of the British Empire which has been previously unrepresented in my collection. My cover has 2 South Yemen stamps of 1968 on it tied by a small KAMARAN circular date stamp "26 JU 68".
Kamaran is one of those few politically separate territories which never had stamps produced for its specific use - in that respect it reminds me of Wei-Hai-Wei (see Blog of 28 December 2011), Akrotiri and Dhekelia (Blog 210) and the Protectorate of Witu. Most interesting though is the fact that this was a part of the British Empire which was in a sort of political limbo from 1923 when the Turks gave up any claim to sovereignty over it until 1954 when it became an informal British protectorate and even then its status was not fully clear until it was incorporated in Southern Yemen on 30 November 1967. It was rather as though it was a territory that the Colonial Office forgot that it had got.
With stamp collecting, every day brings a new surprise along with it.