Ernest Shackleton's polar voyage to feature on Royal Mail stamps

Explorer’s Antarctic exploits, the Queen’s 90th birthday, Shakespeare and Agatha Christie to be commemorated in 2016

The heroic exploits of the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton are among the historic figures and events that will be honoured by Royal Mail’s special stamp programme next year.

Although now privatised, the company will continue its tradition of highlighting British national symbols on stamps, with January’s set a memorial to Shackleton’s epic Antarctic voyage 100 years ago to get help for his stranded crew.

Other themes will include the Great Fire of London, William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, the Queen’s 90th birthday and the first world war.

William Shakespeare stamp
The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death will be marked by a set of stamps in April. Photograph: Royal Mail/PA

The special stamp programme has commemorated and celebrated events and anniversaries of significance to UK heritage and life for 50 years. The Queen approves every issue before it is printed.

Royal Mail estimates there are 2.5 million stamp collectors and gifters in the UK and millions more worldwide.

Shackleton has become a model for British leadership largely because of his achievement in keeping his team together during a near two-year ordeal in the Antarctic after their mission to traverse the continent went awry.

The expedition began in August 1914, but by January 1915 their ship, Endurance, had become stuck in sea ice and eventually sank, leaving the crew stranded for months until they were able to reach the uninhabited Elephant Island.

Along with six companions, Shackleton then braved a voyage of 720 nautical miles in an open boat to the whaling stations of South Georgia to get help for his crew. They were finally rescued in August 1916.

One of the first world war stamps
One of a set of stamps commemorating the first world war, which is the third issue in a five-year series. Photograph: Royal Mail/PA

In March, Royal Mail will return to honouring those who have devoted their energy to helping and protecting others with a British humanitarians issue. One of the stamps will commemorate Sir Nicholas Winton, who died in July aged 106. He organised the rescue of 669 children from what was then Czechoslovakia on the eve of the second world war.

Other sets planned for 2016 include the Queen’s 90th birthday in April, the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth in September and the 500th anniversary of the founding of Royal Mail itself in February.

Henry VIII established a master of the posts in 1516, but the service remained for the crown’s exclusive use until 1635, when Charles I made it available to the public. It was run as a private monopoly by royal favourites until 1655, when Oliver Cromwell put it under government control.

Royal Mail returned entirely into private hands last year, when the government sold its last 30% stake to comply with an EU directive that postal services be liberalised.


Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

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