A Queens Messenger by LTC Kimmins

Queen’s Messenger LTC KimminsQueens Messenger LTC Kimmins
John Kimmins had an army career that started in Sandhurst, where he joined a Cavalry regiment. On retirement at 55, he became a Queen’s Messenger. For those who know little more than that, there are such individuals as Queens’ messengers. It seems like an easy job: flying Club class everywhere (although in the early days, this was always first class!), earning good salaries, meeting influential people, and having minimal responsibilities. But they cover millions of miles a year. In that much air time, there is much that can go wrong.

The office of the monarch’s messenger is, in fact, very ancient, going back to 1199 when King John appointed an individual to deliver secret documents; the first King’s Messenger identified by name was John Norman, appointed by Richard III in 1485. Methods of transportation have changed over the centuries, mainly since the eighteenth when the horse was supplanted by the carriage system. The last time a horse was known to have been used was in 1949. In search of authentic stories, Jon Kimmins visited the King’s Messenger involved. Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins

The country was Nepal and then covered diplomatically from Delhi. But at that time, there was no suitable road or airstrip. So the King’s Messenger went by train with a secretary to the frontier. At the border, two horses, grooms, and Sherpas were waiting. The King’s Messenger changed into diplomatic “whites”, donned a sola toupee, set out on his horse, and ceremoniously entered Kathmandu.

The reference to trains caused John to reflect that in the last century, progress went backward for the traveler to near destinations in continental Europe. When the Silver Arrow to Paris was in operation, he could leave Victoria at 9.15 p.m., dine, sleep comfortably in his suite and arrive at the Gare du Nord at 9.15 a.m., the entire train having been transported on a ferry while he slept. Today’s business traveler leaves Waterloo by Eurostar at 6.20 a.m. to arrive in Paris by 9.40 to achieve the same full day and then suffers a journey back in the evening arriving at 9 or 10 p.m. Queen’s Messenger LTC Kimmins.

An amusing railway incident involved an Italian Count delivering a message to London from Mussolini, who started with a British KM. After some conversation, the Italian excused himself to visit a lady in another part of the train, leaving his message in charge of the King’s Messenger. Unfortunately, the train split partway through the journey, taking the Count and his inamoratas. The King’s Messenger delivered the message to the Italian Embassy in London, with the seal unbroken in the best tradition of diplomacy. No more was heard of the Count.

Queen’s Messenger LTC Kimmins
Queen’s Messenger passport

There were many more anecdotes involving, for example, Tiananmen Square and a perilous journey involving hired tricycle vans, a flying boat to Switzerland via Portugal (who were neutral) in WW2, landing in Munich, Germany because of bad weather, and so on. Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins

But why continue to send live people around the world in an age of electronic computing and computer-generated coding systems? Well, anything sent over the ether can be captured – and diplomatic sources are fiercely monitored. No code is any good after three months. Signals can be trapped and stretched so that code breakers can operate in real time. There is no substitute for a trusted, resourceful (and courageous) servant. Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins

There were many questions. For example: how is Queen’s Messenger recruited? Anyone between the ages of 40 and 50 can apply. The great majority (currently 13 out of 16) are ex-service. This is not surprising for several reasons because service careers usually terminate well before those of civilians, and service wives have become tolerant of long periods of separation.

Queen’s Messenger LTC Kimmins
Silver Greyhound Badge

A question about passports led John to draw attention to a small display of Diplomatic and Queen’s Messenger passports, which he had brought with him and attracted much attention afterward. Was there a badge/medal of office (shown below), and indeed the specific tie worn by the speaker indicating the greyhound logo does not give undue notice in these days of tight security? Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...