Postal Censorship: An evening talk with Graham Mark

Tomorrow we welcome Graham Mark as he presents Postal Censorship and the Additional Mail Services of the First World War. In today’s blog Graham gives us a sneak peak as he shares insight into the censorship of foreign mails.

Cancelled with Army Post Office cancellation and with triangular censor mark. (PH12/05)

Cancelled with Army Post Office cancellation and with triangular censor mark. (PH12/05)

Censorship of foreign mails got off to a shaky start in London in 1914, but by slowly gathering staff with the required skills they were ‘in gear’ by the late Autumn.  The scope of their operations expanded in 1914-15, but was somewhat curtailed by the nervousness of the Foreign Office, which feared upsetting neutrals.  Censorship did that but the War Office was responsible for the censorship and defended its position.

American terminal and transit mails came under censorship in 1915, firstly on an experimental basis, which showed the need to establish regular examination of those mails.  For American mails a new office was set up at Liverpool in December 1915, which was logical as that was where the mail ships docked.  Transit and all other terminal mails were still handled in London.

Complaints arose that the censors were delaying the mails, so some schemes were set up to reduce this possibility. Banks and other businesses in London got into the habit of taking their mails direct to the censors, but this became a nuisance and was forbidden when an ‘Express Censorship’ was introduced in July 1915 for a fee of 2s/6d plus the usual postage costs.

An ‘honour envelope’ used during the First World War. These envelopes would not be opened and read by the censor if the sender signed the declaration that there was no war information being conveyed. This example however was not signed and so was opened by the censor. (PH32/27)

An ‘honour envelope’ used during the First World War. These envelopes would not be opened and read by the censor if the sender signed the declaration that there was no war information being conveyed. This example however was not signed and so was opened by the censor. (PH32/27)

Shipping documents are needed at the port of discharge so delay was reduced by a scheme set up in 1916 through the British Post Office and their counterparts overseas.  Packets appropriately marked were bagged separately and when the ship called at a British port those mails were examined at that port then returned to the ship, rather then being sent to London for censorship with the rest of the mails.

Under a third arrangement, of May 1917, the Post Office guaranteed for a fee of 6d plus treble registration, to send original and duplicate letters by different vessels in view of the danger to ships being attacked by the enemy.  These mails also had to be censored.

The percentage of mails examined was reduced by stages in 1919 and with minor exceptions the censorship ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June.  By September 1919 the items detained by the censors over the previous five years had been disposed of and the last of the censorships was terminated.

- Graham Mark

Postal Censorship and the Additional Mail Services of the First World War with Graham Mark. 7.00pm-8.00pm at the Phoenix Centre. Book your place online or call 020 7239 2570.

#AskaCurator: Day in the life of a BPMA Curator

This Wednesday Curator Joanna Espin will be available to answer any questions you might have on Twitter for #AskACurator day! In today’s blog, she gives us an idea about what it means to be a BPMA Curator.

The main purpose of my job is to prepare the museum collection to move to our new museum.

Opening a box

Opening a box

I arrive at about 8:30am and my first task is to check the work progress spreadsheet, which shows all of the shelves in the repository and is colour coded to mark which shelves are ready to move and which ones are yet to be completed.  We are 93% of the way through housing aisles B-F and need to be at 100% by the end of the year.

Aisle F

Aisle F

This is my first job as a Curator and it is a fantastic opportunity to handle and house an amazingly diverse collection. I have re-housed so many interesting objects, including original evidence from the Great Train Robbery. I follow a strict procedure for auditing the collection, re-housing objects and updating their location.

Before it has been prepared for the move.

Before it has been prepared for the move.

As I am still quite new to the role, a part of the day may be dedicated to training. I have recently received manual handling training, and can proudly say that I can move a telephone kiosk when called to do so!

I moved to my current role from the BPMA Philatelic team and I spend one day a week with the Philatelic department, assisting with preparations to move the stamp artwork collection to a new storage facility. Our next task is to tie approximately 600 boxes with pink archival tape, to ensure the security of the boxes during the move.

I finish work at about 5pm. At the weekend I go home to Yorkshire and spend some time in the countryside with my border terrier.

Chester outside of the BPMA

Chester outside of the BPMA

Have any questions for me or the rest of the curatorial team? We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below and we will answer you on Wednesday.

-Joanna Espin, Curator

Autumn Stampex 2014

IT’S BACK! On Wednesday 17 September, Stampex will open its doors once more at Business Design Centre. Entry is free, and we are delighted to have a stand at the show. Come visit us on:

  • Wed 17 September: 11.30am – 7pm
  • Thu 18 September: 10am – 6pm
  • Fri 19 September: 10am – 6pm
  • Sat 20 September: 10am – 5pm

Our stand will be situated at Gallery Bay 20. Gallery Bay 20 is immediately to the right of the stairway up from the main Mezzanine floor, half-way along the right-hand side.

The BPMA stand at Spring Stampex 2014

The BPMA stand at Spring Stampex 2014

We will be giving away FREE goodie bags to every visitor, including a limited edition postcard. We will also be sharing news about events and activities and will be available to answer questions and provide information on our forthcoming plans to open The Postal Museum.

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Free limited edition postcard available at Stampex: Poster advertising post card rates. Hass, Derrick. 1954 POST 110/1322

There will be a great selection of BPMA shop stock to purchase including a new Stampex presentation pack and limited edition Airmail First Day Covers.

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Stampex Autumn 2014 Presentation Pack

You can also browse our new Airmail range, full of great gift ideas for those near and far.

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We will also have an exciting display marking 80 years of UK Inland Airmail, with facsimiles available of newspaper reports from 1934, documenting air mail trials via plane, and even rocket! We will also have a display marking the centenary of postage due stamps, first established in 1914.

Also available at the BPMA stand will be tickets to purchase for the BPMA evening talk taking place on Thursday 18 September, entitled ‘Postal Censorship during the First World War’ with Graham Mark. The talk is taking place on Thursday 18 September at 7pm, at the Phoenix Centre (next door to the BPMA), a 20 minute walk from the Business Design Centre. Light refreshments will be available from 6pm at the Phoenix Centre.

Innovation in the Air: 80 years of UK Inland Airmail

On August 20, the BPMA marked the 80th anniversary of UK Inland Airmail with the launch of a special commemorative Post & Go stamp, including a pictorial element for the first time. The stamp is available from the BPMA Post & Go machine at Freeling House. The underprint incorporates the airmail logo designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott in 1934 for use on Inland Airmail posters, flyers and labels, with the text “Inland Airmail 1934”. In a change to the currently available stamps the Machin head will feature on the Second Class as well as First Class denominations for the duration of the commemorative issue, replacing the previous Union Flag design.

Our Search Room foyer will be open throughout Stampex for those wishing to purchase Post & Go products. If you do visit the Post & Go machine at Freeling House, we would also encourage you to have a look at our slightly larger Inland Airmail exhibition, currently on display.

We look forward to seeing you both at Stampex and at Freeling House!

-Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Commemorating the start of the Second World War:

75 years ago today, at 11.15am Britain declared war on Germany following its invasion of Poland two days earlier. In the year of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War it is important to remember not just the sacrifices made in that war, the “war to end all wars”, but also those that followed.

'Searching for the enemy.' 20th City of London (3rd GPO) Battalion Home Guard.

‘Searching for the enemy.’ 20th City of London (3rd GPO) Battalion Home Guard or The Post Office Home Guard.

During the Second World War the General Post Office (GPO) not only released men to fight on the front lines, but as in the First played a vital and wide reaching role at home.

Within days of the war breaking out, as men left their jobs to go and fight, women once again began taking on the vacant positions. Many more women were already employed by the GPO at the outbreak of the Second World War than the First but there was still an increase of approximately 78,000 during the course of the conflict. Not only were more women employed by the GPO, they were also given opportunities to take on jobs previously unavailable to them, such as working as an engineer or driving a post van. Women were even allowed to join the Post Office Home Guard, receiving much praise for the work that they did.

Women sorting the mail during the Second World War.

Women sorting the mail during the Second World War.

Not all male GPO staff left to fight on the front lines, for various reasons there were many who were left behind either because of unsuitability for service due to age or injury or because their skills were necessary on the Home Front to keep the war effort going. Perhaps two of the most notable and interesting of these stories belong to Tommy Flowers and Frederick Gurr.

Serious bomb damage at Mount Pleasant during the Second World War.

Serious bomb damage at Mount Pleasant during the Second World War.

Flowers was an experienced telephone engineer who had been responsible for helping to improve the telephone systems before the war. During the war he was working at the Post Office Research station in London, Dollis Hill. It was while he was here he was invited to Bletchley Park to assist with the code breaking work that was occurring there. During his time at Bletchley Park, Flowers worked on the team that cracked the Enigma code and also created Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, which enabled Britain to crack the code of the German High Command.

Gurr’s story is equally impressive. A postman on the verge of retirement when the war broke out Gurr took it upon himself to create the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad. He was concerned that the ordinary salvage squads didn’t recognise the importance of the mail and, as such, his own squad would rescue not only valuables from bombed out Post Offices but also supplies and the mail itself, ensuring that the Post Office could prevent mail being delayed more than 48 hours due to enemy action. For his services Gurr was awarded the British Empire Medal by King George VI.

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Gurr’s scrapbook of GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad

These stories show not just the bravery and commitment of individuals but also how great the Post Office’s contribution was. It is commonly known that the Post Office remained dedicated to ensuring delivery of mail but it’s these surprising and often under-told human stories that really shaped the Post Office in the Second World War.

It’s these stories and many more that we intend to bring to light in The Postal Museum revealing Britain’s social, communications and design history.

Mount Pleasant Memorial Granted Listed Status

The Postal Workers’ War Memorial at Mount Pleasant sorting office has been listed at Grade II.  This is part of an English Heritage scheme to list up to 500 war memorials a year over the next five years to mark the centenary of the First World War.

4 August commemoration event at the Mount Pleasant Memorial.

4 August commemoration event at the Mount Pleasant Memorial.

Postal Workers War Memorial at Mount Pleasant.

Postal Workers War Memorial at Mount Pleasant.

The war memorial commemorates 130 postal workers of the Western District who lost their lives in the First World War.  Originally constructed at the Wimpole Street Post Office by their colleagues with funds raised from the staff of the district, it was unveiled on New Year’s Day, 1920.  A further plaque was added listing 56 workers who lost their lives in the Second World War.

When the Wimpole street office closed in 1981, the memorial was moved to the delivery offices at Rathbone place, and then to the sorting office in Mount Pleasant in 2013.

4 August - First World War commemoration ceremony at Mount Pleasant memorial.

4 August – First World War commemoration ceremony at Mount Pleasant memorial.

4 August - First World War commemoration ceremony at Mount Pleasant memorial.

4 August – First World War commemoration ceremony at Mount Pleasant memorial.

You can find out more information about the Mount Pleasant memorial along with information about Post Office war memorials around England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

NEW EXHIBITION Innovation in the air: The 80th anniversary of inland airmail

20 August 2014 marks the 80th anniversary of UK inland airmail delivery. To mark this fascinating story we are hosting a new display in the BPMA Foyer and Search Room from 20 August to 20 October.

Alongside the display will be the chance to look through facsimile examples of newspaper reports from 1934; visitors can read first-hand accounts of the storm chaos that overshadowed the inaugural flight on 20 August. Evening newspaper headlines were quick to tell the public of the bumpy start to the service. Contemporary accounts from the time scream aloud ‘Britain’s Great Air-Mail Muddle’ and tell of the ‘Mail Planes In Gale Ordeal… Chairman of New Line ‘Bumped’ Through Roof’.

Airmail logo.

Airmail logo.

Alongside a discussion of the merits and limitations of the new airmail service, the display will also look at other unusual methods to deliver the post that were trialled around this time- namely the ultra-imaginative but ultimately unsuccessful rocket mail, which saw mail actually delivered in specially designed rockets.

Newspaper report and picture of Zucker’s rocket exploding on Scarp,  The Daily Telegraph, 1 August 1934.

Newspaper report and picture of Zucker’s rocket exploding on Scarp,
The Daily Telegraph, 1 August 1934.

Partly burnt items of mail, singed during the rocket explosions, can still be seen in our collection today.

‘How is the Post Office to make itself heard, to capture the interest and attention of the public, upon which there are already so many claims?’ – Sir Stephen Tallents, 1934

With the growing volume of letters sent by air came the idea of having special letter boxes for their collection. In 1930 the Post Office began painting pillar boxes to be used for airmail collections an ‘Air Force’ blue colour. The eye catching blue boxes promoted and advertised the new airmail service now available to the public. On display for the duration of the BPMA display will be a blue ‘Air Mail’ pillar box.

Our airmail pillar box.

Our airmail pillar box.

By 1934, the Post Office had become very conscious of design. A Public Relations department had been created under Sir Stephen Tallents. Theyre Lee- Elliott was commissioned to redesign labels, leaflets and posters especially for the new airmail service. Based upon stylised wings the new label was introduced on 25 July 1934. Just prior to that, on 17 May 1934, a new flag was authorised for aircraft carrying the Royal Mail.

Available alongside the display, from our Post & Go machine, will be a special commemorative Post & Go stamp, which will include a pictorial element for the first time. The underprint will incorporate the airmail logo designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott in 1934 for use on Inland Airmail posters, flyers and labels, with the text “Inland Airmail 1934”.

Check out our airmail shop range for first day covers, mugs, postcards and much more!

We will also be launching a Google Cultural Institute online exhibition on Wednesday exploring the stories of innovation in delivering the post. ‘Post Haste’ will look at the unusual and imaginative ways that have been used to transport the mail from cats to rockets and many more!

- Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

COMING SOON: New FREE downloadable First World War learning resource

From next Friday (22 August) you will be able to download a FREE First World War learning resource from postalheritage.org.uk/fwwlearning. Here is a look at what is inside…

In Last Post, war time characters guide your pupils through different topics. From the importance of female postal workers on the Home Front to the telegram messenger boys tasked with delivering news of the fallen, you will discover how mail was sent to soldiers and find out about the sacrifices made by the Post Office Rifles regiment who fought on the Front Line.

B. Conflict

What’s Inside:
This resource supports learning across the curriculum in Key Stages 1, 2 and 3.

  • Lesson plans
  • Teacher’s notes
  • Over 100 activity ideas
  • Image galleries
  • PowerPoints for whiteboards

Pupils will use real archival documents, photographs, maps and museum objects to discover how the postal service went to war. With cross-circular activities including how to make a Morse code transmitter and how to send a secret message by pigeon post. Last Post reveals stories of memorials and medals, soldiers and stamps, censorship and communication and much more!

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