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TPOs of Southern Africa
Boer War TPOs 1901-02

By Alan Drysdall

Imperial Military Railways - the TPOs

The British military recognised from the outbreak of the Boer War (1899-1902) that the railways, because of the immense distances involved, would play a vital role. Imperial Military Railways (IMR), with overall responsibility for the railways, was created on the 17th March, 1900. Major E.P.C. Girouard, DSO, RE (later Lt.-Col. Sir E.P.C. Girouard, KCMG), Director of Railways, assumed the additional responsibility of working the lines of the Boer republics as they were taken over. Working in Cape Colony and Natal remained with Cape and Natal Government Railways (CGR and NGR).

IMR's TPOs played an important role in the Transvaal, operating daily selling stationery, stamps, postal orders, etc, as well as receiving and distributing mail, particularly during the later guerrilla stage of the war. The TPOs and the datestamps used on them are listed below; the routes and the links with CGR and NGR TPOs are shown on the diagram.

Rail Line Datestamps
Eastern Line  
  Pretoria - Waterval Onder TPO A18, A40, A52, B10, B84, F93
and Eastern TPO (coded 'A' to 'D')
  Waterval Onder - Komatiport TPO C1, TPO East No. 1 and TPO East No. 2
Northern Line  
  Pretoria - Pietersburg TPO Northern TPO (coded 'A' to 'C')
Western Line  
  Elandsfontein - Klerksdorp TPO A45, A55, C5, D46, and Western TPO
'Main' Line  
  Bloemfontein and Elandsfontein
  (Johannesburg) TPO
A6, A37, A42, F93,
and Midland TPO (coded 'A' to 'D')
Natal Line  
  Elandsfontein (Braamfontein) - Charleston TPO   no datestamps identified

Responsibility for the railways of Transvaal and Orange River Colony was transferred to Central South African Railways (CSAR) on the 1st July, 1902, but late use of some datestamps suggests that some IMR TPOs continued to operate for a few weeks.

Map and cancels of the British Army Imperial Military Railway TPO in S Africa 1899-1902

The cover below provides convincing evidence that the single-circle Type C datestamp coded '5' was in use on Western TPO prior to the introduction of the datestamp inscribed Western TPO. It was posted on 'NO 8 / 01', and is addressed to Lt. Shepley, Volunteer Company, 1st Border Regiment at Welverdiend. Western TPO ran between Braamfontein and Klerksdorp via Krugersdorp, Welverdiend and Potchefstroom at the time this datestamp was in use. It later operated out of Elandsfontein rather than Braamfontein.


GB registered postal stationery envelope posted on '23 OC 01' - the earliest known cover bearing a strike of the Northern TPO datestamp coded 'B'. The only backstamp records its receipt in Worcester on 'OC 30 / 1'. There is no annotation recording either the name or the whereabouts of the sender.


GB 1d postal stationery envelope posted on 'JA 29 02' by Sapper A.R. Fuller, Telegraph Branch, Royal Engineers, then at Elandshoek. (Elandshoek lies east of Waterval Onder, Nooigedacht and Godwanrivier.) The backstamps are a strike of an Army Telegraph datestamp coded and dated 'E - 29. I. 02. L', proving the use of the 'E L' code at Elandshoek, and a London receiving mark dated 'FE 22 / 02'. This cover was therefore carried aboard the Dunvegan Castle, which sailed from Cape Town on the 5th February, 1902, and, after calling at Madeira on the 18th reached Southampton on the 22nd.


GB registered postal stationery envelope on which the franking is cancelled with the Midland TPO datestamp coded 'C' set at '12 JA 02'. The sender recorded his name on the reverse as Colour Sergeant Malley, 3rd Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment. Other covers posted on Midland TPO suggest that there was a detachment of the East Lancs near Virginia, a township on the railway south of Kroonstad. There are no transit or arrival datestamps; the censor mark was probably struck in Worcester.

ARMY POST OFFICE MIDLAND T.P.O Address endorsement on back of above cover


Griffiths, K., and Drysdall, A.R., 1997, The Travelling Post Offices of Imperial Military Railways: Publication No. 6, Anglo-Boer War Philatelic Society.

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