On Saturday 3rd November 2012, I was fortunate enough to attend a reunion event at the home of the British Forces Post Office (BFPO). This was held to commemorate the organisation as a whole but specifically the Battle for Wurst Farm Ridge, Ypres, Belgium, in which the 2nd/8th Battalion London Regiment, known as the Post Office Rifles took part. Many serving members of the modern day BFPO and Postal and Courier Services Officers’ Association were also present to remember their predecessors’ actions.
In 1917 the company was sent to Ypres and in September they began training for what was to be the Battle for Menin Road Ridge. Their objective was to capture a portion of this ridge, known as Wurst Farm in attempt to cut the Germans off and force a surrender. One of the prominent individuals in this battle was Sergeant Alfred Knight, from the Engineers Department of the Post Office. Knight had joined the Post Office Rifles at the outbreak of World War One in 1914 and served throughout the war along with other Post Office volunteers.
Mrs Ann Turrell, granddaughter of Alfred Knight, was also present at the lunch and gave a vivid and detailed account of his actions that day. There was also a reading from Charles Messenger’s book Terriers in the Trenches:
He rushed through our own barrage, bayoneted the enemy gunner, and captured the position single handedly. Later, twelve of the enemy with a machine gun were encountered in a shell-hole. He again rushed forward by himself, bayoneted two and shot a third, causing the remainder to scatter. Subsequently, during an attack on a fortified farm, when entangled up to the waist in mud, and seeing a number of the enemy firing on our troops, he immediately opened fire on them without waiting to extricate himself from the mud, killing six of the enemy.
It was these actions that earned Sergeant Knight the Victoria Cross, the only Post Office rifleman to achieve this, the highest British Decoration for Gallantry. The medal is now in the BPMA’s collection along with other medals won by Knight throughout his service. As part of the day, the BPMA arranged for the Victoria Cross to be displayed alongside BFPO’s painting by Terence Cuneo, showing Knight in action at the battle. These, coupled with Ann’s account of her grandfather really made the day a very special one and many thanks to both her and Major Chris Violet at the BFPO for making it so.
The Post Office Rifles were a remarkable unit and it is important that their role, and stories such as Alfred Knight’s, are remembered. It is perhaps one of the lesser known aspects of the history of the postal service and really highlights the breadth and depth of BPMA’s collection. It is treasures such as these that we hope to be able to share with the public in our new home in Calthorpe House.
- Emma Harper, Curator (Move Planning)
The exhibition Last Post: Remembering the First World War can be viewed online, and will be on display at the Museum of Army Flying, Hampshire from 25 March – 27 September 2013, and Aysgarth Station Heritage Site, North Yorkshire 4 – 8 May 2013.