Brunei RAF Survey Flights 1930-31 - The Stamps Journal

Brunei RAF Survey Flights 1930-31

Brunei RAF Survey Flights 1930

The first ever flight in Brunei (long before the conception of Royal Brunei Airlines) took place on the 31st of May 1930 when two RAF Southampton seaplanes of S1419 and S1149 visited Kuala Belait from Miri. This was part of a larger “Borneo tour” expedition from RAF base in Seletar, Singapore for a reconnaissance and survey activity of the northern coastline of Borneo to locate suitable sites and seaplanes bases for later use. The Brunei RAF survey flights were important to investigate whether Brunei was suitable as a seaplane base for later use.

The crews of the S1419 aircraft were Squadron Leader, G.E. Livock, F/O Grierson and LAC Baker; while the crews for the S1149 aircraft were F/O Nicholettes, Sgt Tansley and LAC Buckingham [1].

Southampton 1149
Southampton seaplane S1149 which carried mails from Brunei and British Borneo in 1930s

These flights are very important not only in Brunei aviation history in general but has also graced the philatelic world with some of the most amazing airmail collections from Brunei. These mails also provide some of the most fascinating area of specialisation and research and continue to attract collectors in this area.

Outward flight

On May 31st 1930, the S1149 left Miri for Kuala Belait although the S1419 remained until the following day.

On June 1st 1930, both planes flew to Brunei town and thence to Labuan and Jesselton on the 2nd of June 1930. There has been no records of letters sent to North Borneo or Labuan on this outward flight.

Return flight

The two planes flew to Brunei on the 26th June1930 and after two reconnaissance flights, both planes left for Miri and Bintulu on the 1st of July 1930.

Covers carried on this flight to Sarawak are usually found bearing a special cachet inscribed AIR MAIL BRUNEI. Some covers also bear the ordinary Brunei circular datestamp but all correspondence appears to be affixed with either brown or blue airmail etiquette (or label).

The mails carried on these planes are some of the rarest airmail from this area. It is believed that only 28 of such letters were carried from Brunei [2].

Brunei RAF Flights 1931
Brunei RAF survey flight 1931
Example of cover carried in the first phase of the RAF flight in 1931.

In March 1931, the RAF in conjunction with the Royal Navy undertook a survey of the coral reefs in the South China Sea, north-west of North Borneo. These series of flights involved three RAF Southampton aircrafts of S1162, S1161 and S1128.

The crews for the S1162 were Sqn Ldr GE Livock and F/O Grierson both of which involved in both phases of the expedition. The crews for S1161 were Fleet Lieutenant Wigglesworth and F/O Hughes-Hallet; while those in S1128 were Fl/Lt Hopps and Fl/Lt Harcourt-Smith. The latter two teams were involved only in the second phase of the flights.

First Phase

Upon learning that GE Livock and Grierson intended to fly back to Singapore, the postal authorities in Brunei invited them to carry a bag of mail. Covers received a special boxed “AIR MAIL BRUNEI” cancellation in addition to the ordinary Brunei circular datestamps.

Although the plan was to leave on April 7th, Livock only left on the 8th April due to bad weather. After a stop in Kuching, the S1162 arrived in Singapore on the 9th of April 1930. Covers from Brunei are datestamped 6th April 1931. The covers from this journey are particularly rare as only about 10 mails were carried [2].

Brunei RAF survey flights 1931
Example of cover carried in the second phase of the RAF flight in 1931.

Second Phase

Three planes (S1162, S1161 and S1128) left Singapore on April 13th for a more extensive survey work. No mail was carried on the outward journey  however, on the return flight, mail was taken from Brunei on May 31st. From Brunei the planes coursed to Kuala Belait and reached there on June 1st.

Summary of RAF flights in Brunei
[ultimatetables 1 /]


[1] The Air Mails of Sarawak 1926-1941, JFM Rogers, Sarawak Specialist Society, 1996.

[2] Stamps and Covers of South East Asia, Auction Catalogue, Spink Singapore September 2012, p.105.

[3] Sarawak Stamps & Postal History, W.R. Forrester-Wood, 1957.

Further reading: North Borneo RAF airmails 1930

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