Category Archives: Talks

A War of Letters: Understanding WWI through letters

On Thursday 16th October Curator Emma Harper is giving a talk at the Guildhall Library entitled ‘A War of Letters’, here’s a little preview of what you can expect. 

Every aspect of the war was communicated by letter and, for many, letters were a way of maintaining some semblance of normality. Whilst accurate figures for the amounts of mail sent during the war are hard to pin point, we know that at its peak over 12 million letters a week passed through the Post Office’s temporary sorting office – the Home Depot.

Embroidered postcard. (OB1995-64)

Embroidered postcard. (OB1995-64)

 

Some survive in the BPMA’s collection and reflect the range of subjects that were written about. The weather, health and letter writing itself, or lack of it, were spoken about rather than the war itself, the effects of which were often played down as in this postcard from ‘Fred’ to his mother:

A postcard from a soldier to his mother. (OB1995.64/1)

A postcard from a soldier to his mother. (OB1995.64/1)

‘Just a few lines hoping that you are in the very best of health Dear. I hope that you are not offended with me for not writing to you before now, but I knowed the one letter would do for the two of you. I am not very sound myself but you need not worry over me.’

Receipt of a letter was a huge boost to morale both for those at home and at the Front, the maintenance of that link was of vital importance and recognised as such by the Post Office. By writing ‘On Active Service’ at the top of their correspondence soldiers could write home for free.

One of the most common ‘letters’ received from the Front was the Field Service Postcard. These postcards only allowed soldiers to give basic details to family back home as rather than writing their own sentiments they had to pick from a list, deleting those that didn’t apply. This was a form of censorship as the limited space for personal expression meant that there was less risk of divulging confidential information or of tales that may reduce morale reaching the Home Front. Despite the fact that nothing else was meant to be written on the postcard there were always exceptions and some of them did get through the censor, such as this harmless Christmas message [also 2014-0062].

Field Service Postcard signed from George Sidebottom. 2014-0062)

Field Service Postcard signed from George Sidebottom. (2014-0062)

Many of the letters received however did not bring such happy messages and some of the most poignant of the war are those last letters ever written, a selection of which I’ll be sharing in my talk. One of the letters in BPMA’s collection informs Mrs Peel of the death of her husband, Captain Home Peel of the Post Office’s own regiment, the Post Office Rifles [OB1997.212/46]. Unusually it was written by a German soldier, E.F. Gaylor [OB1997.212/37]. He writes: Although enemy and sometimes deeply hurt by the ridiculous tone of your horrid press, I feel it as a human duty to communicate you these sad news. Capt Peel was killed in action near Longueval & died, as it seems by the wounds received, without suffering.’

Captain Home Peel. OB1997.212/46)

Captain Home Peel. (OB1997.212/46)

Letter from German solider to Home Peels wife. OB1997.212/37)

Letter from German solider to Home Peels wife. (OB1997.212/37)

The fact that Peel carried his letters round with him and that Gaylor still felt it his duty to communicate the news to Peel’s loved ones, his enemies, shows the strength of feeling and importance given to letter writing in the war. These letters now also play a vital role in deepening our understanding and remembrance of the war.

To find out more please do come along to Guildhall Library on Thursday 16th October at 6pm. You can still book your tickets online!

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.

The Role of the Post Office in the First World War

Join us this Thursday from 7pm-8pm to learn more about the vital role of the Post Office during the First World War from delivering mail to setting up quick forms of communication through telgraph lines. In this quick post, Head of Collections, Chris Taft introduces what you can expect. You can book your place online.

Sorting mail in the Home Depot at Regents Park, London (POST 56/6).

Sorting mail in the Home Depot at Regents Park, London (POST 56/6).

At the outbreak of the First World War postal communication was a vital way of troops keeping in touch with loved ones at home. The British Post Office’s role in the war effort was therefore essential. Its role however was far broader than just delivering mail. Over 75,000 men of the Post Office went off to serve in the armed forces throughout the war years and the postal service at home had to carry on as well as expanding to deliver mail to a world at war. The contribution however went far beyond this and with the loss of men to the war effort the Post Office was employing thousands of temporary workers, including women taking on roles previously the reserve of men for the first-time.

Human Ladder For Telephone'. Two men in uniform, one standing on the other's shoulders.

Human Ladder For Telephone’. Two men in uniform, one standing on the other’s shoulders.

The Post Office was also managing the Separations Allowance and Relief Fund and of course managing the parcel traffic. This talk will explore the variety of these roles and the contribution the Post Office made as well as touching on the commemoration of the war that still plays a role in the modern Royal Mail.

-Chris Taft, Head of Collections

£3 per person. £2.50 for concessions*

* Concessions 60+ (accompanied children under 12 free)

Book online or via phone 020 7239 2570

Limited number of tickets available on the night.

A “Painful Duty”: sneak peak at this week’s talk

This Thursday, 12 June 2014, Kathleen McIlvenna will be giving a talk on the changing attitudes and procedures seen in the Home Front Post Office as its workers adapted to change and continued to do their duty. Tickets are still available. In this post, Kathleen introduces what you can expect from her talk.

Researching the First World War is hard. Like all research it’s a matter of countless catalogue searches, digging in archives and endless reading. But as a social historian it doesn’t take long to realise what a difficult time this must have been to live through.

It could be easy to imagine the Post Office was an idyll of bureaucracy consumed by forms and logistics, and in many ways it was, but dig a little deeper and you uncover a workforce.

Women mending parcels (POST 56/6)

Women mending parcels (POST 56/6)

In my research I have uncovered diaries and oral histories of some of the remarkable employees of the Post Office during the First World War. From Amy Grace Rose, the temporary postwomen in a Cambridgeshire village supporting her daughter and disabled husband, to Edwin Purkiss, postman for London’s South-Western District and avid fundraiser. Using these sources with the records of local offices and reports produced after the War a rich picture of life on the home front is created, a mix of pain and happiness, as well as logistics and experience.

This was a time that saw the decrease in deliveries and collections, notably the end of Sunday deliveries and collections, something that one hundred years later may now return, but also saw the increase in the financial service provided by the Post Office, including separation allowance. The building of new post offices and projects were delayed, but the telephone network was developed as an air raid alarm system. New temporary staff were taken on, discovering a new world, whilst current staff tried to adapt to it. Politics found its way into post office corridors through suffragettes and consciousness objectors. But for the public if often came down to letters, paper that could either be welcome news from a loved one, or the worst news possible, starting ‘It is my painful duty to inform you’.

A 'Women on War Work' Black Cat cigarette card giving information about the jobs being done by women during the war (2010-0535)

A ‘Women on War Work’ Black Cat cigarette card giving information about the jobs being done by women during the war (2010-0535)

In my talk this week I hope to explore what it was like to work for the Post Office during this extraordinary time and discover how this government department tailored its operations and inevitably touched the lives of many.

Kathleen’s talk, ‘A Painful Duty to Inform’, will take place from 7-8pm this Thursday at the Phoenix Centre. Book your tickets today! 

Loughton Festival comes to the BPMA

It’s that time of the year again when Loughton, Essex celebrates its amazing cultural heritage at the Loughton Festival. Once more we’ll be opening the doors to our museum store in Debden to take part in this fantastic community event. There will be a range of great activities on offer over the two days providing entertainment for adults and children alike…

Vehicles, telephone boxes and more all at our Museum Store

Vehicles, telephone boxes and more all at our Museum Store!

Saturday – Adult Event

On Saturday come and take part in an artist-led workshop, where you will have the opportunity to design your own post-card or letter. From there take a self-guided tour exploring the highlights of our museum collection. From the iconic red telephone kiosks and post boxes to the Morris van, Mail Coach and ingenious Victorian pneumatic rail cars – they all tell the captivating story of communication past and present.

Letters with unusual addresses

Letters with unusual addresses.

We’ll also be joined by BPMA curator, Emma Harper, who will be giving a fascinating talk revealing some hidden gems from the collection. Relax with some drinks and nibbles, while Emma to takes you on a journey through over two centuries of “the curious culture of letter writing.”

When: Saturday 10 May 2014, Drop in from 10.00am-4.00pm, Evening talk and refreshments 4.00pm-5.00pm
Where: 
The British Postal Museum Store, Essex
Book in advance for the evening talk

Sunday – Family Event

Drop in on Sunday where you will find an array of family friendly activities. Have a go at discovering mystery objects in our trail and win a prize if you succeed in your task.

For when you are feeling creative there will be craft activities on offer, including design and send your own post card – which you can send to family or friends for free! After that, try designing and building your own mini letter box.

There will also be the opportunity to find out what it was like be a postie from the past through trying on old uniforms and handling some real museum objects – remember to bring your camera!

When: Sunday 11 May 2014, Drop in from 10.00am-4.00pm
Where: 
The British Postal Museum Store, Essex

-Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer

 

The Thin Red Streak: the Histories of The Times’ War Correspondents

Anne Jensen is the Archivist Assistant at News UK. This Thursday (20 February)  from 7pm-8pm, she will be giving a talk on the histories of The Times’ War Correspondents from the Crimean in 1854 to today. Tickets are still available. Here she gives a glimpse about what you can expect to hear about later on this week…

From the writing of a story in the field to its publication in the newspaper there is often a lot of drama. War correspondents have lied, smuggled, bribed and pleaded to get their dispatches to their editors by post, ship, runner, telegraph, phone, balloon, and pigeon.

The archive of The Times is full of documents telling these stories. The descriptive reports from the battlefields of the Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) written by William Howard Russell, took weeks to reach London. An example of this was his letter reporting the arrival of the allied forces outside Sebastapol.  The letter was dated 4 October 1854 and it was published in the paper on the 23 October, almost 3 weeks later.

Russell

Letter from William Howard Russell to John Thadeus Delane, Editor of The Times, dated 23 April 1855.

The Crimea War was the first war in which the telegraph was to figure. Russell’s access to the telegraph was dictated by the military authorities and was sporadic and inconsistent and he continued to rely upon a mixture of overland mails, boat and telegraph when the opportunity allowed.

Through the Siege of Khartoum (1883-1885) it continued being difficult to get the news sent home to London. Frank le Poer Power sent messages via steamer and telegraph from Khartoum until the middle of April 1884, but then the telegraph was cut and all communication with Khartoum was lost. However, Power continued to send dispatches by runner, none were received by The Times until one runner successfully reached Musawwa in September. Three messages, written in April and July, were handed to the provincial governor, Alexander Mason, who forwarded them to Charles Moberly Bell, The Times’ Cairo correspondent. They were published in The Times on September 29, 1884 and told of an increasingly desperate situation.

An interesting postscript to this story was added in 1890, when one of Power’s despatches, dated April 14, 1884, was received by The Times. It had been delivered to Sir Evelyn Baring in Cairo. It transpired that the messenger who had been sent from Khartoum carrying the telegram had arrived in Dongola, the day before it fell to the Mahdi. The messenger was captured and imprisoned by the enemy, but not before he had successfully hidden the telegram in the wall of a house outside the town. Following his release from prison several years later he returned to the house, retrieved the telegram and took it to Cairo. As Moberly Bell had by now returned to London to become the Manager of The Times, the messenger delivered the document to Baring who forwarded it to his old friend Bell.

Khartoum

Handwritten telegram sent to The Times by Power on Easter Monday [April 14] 1884. This message did not reach The Times until 1890. The runner carrying the telegram arrived in Berber the day before the Dervishes captured it. On the fall of Berber he hid the messages in a house outside the town and returned to Khartoum. When Khartoum fell the runner was imprisoned for some years and subsequently returned to Berber, removed the telegram from its hiding place and delivered it to Sir Evelyn Baring, the British Agent in Cairo, who forwarded it to The Times.

The talk will also cover stories from the Siege of Ladysmith (1899-1900), where a telegram was captured by the enemy, and the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05), where The Times spent a fortune on wireless communication.

During the First World War the stories sent back from correspondents at the front were subject to strict censorship by the War Office Press Bureau.

At the beginning of the war Arthur Moore was sent to work behind the British Expeditionary Force. He found himself among the scattered remnants of the British Fourth division after the retreat from Mons, and was alarmed at what he saw.

On the 29th August 1914 he wrote, from Amiens, a dispatch and sent it to London where it arrived on Saturday evening. Both the acting Editor George Sydney Freeman and Henry Wickham Steed, the Foreign Editor, thought it unlikely that the dispatch would pass the censor. They applied their own censorship before sending it to the Press Bureau, from whence it returned two hours later.

Dispatch from Arthur Moore from Amiens. Copyright The Times.

Covering letter from The Times submitting the Amiens dispatch for censorship. Censor, F.E. Smith’s reply can be read on the covering letter.

On the covering note F.E. Smith, the head of the Press Bureau, had annotated: “I am sorry to have censored this most able and interesting message so freely but the reasons are obvious. Forgive my clumsy journalistic suggestions but I beg you to use the parts of this article which I have passed to enforce the lesson – re-enforcements and re-enforcements at once.”

A number of deletions made by Freeman and Steed had been restored by Smith and a couple of extra phrases had been added to the last paragraph in Smith’s handwriting, strengthening the dispatch’s conclusion. The annotation on the covering note was taken as an order to publish the dispatch and it was published, as amended by Smith, the next morning.

The dispatch caused quite a stir as it was the first time a newspaper had reported the gravity of the situation so openly.

Next morning, The Times published a sharply worded column by Freeman, which explained that Moore’s offending dispatch had been published not merely with the consent but at the request of the head of the Press Bureau. With this reply from Printing House Square attacks on The Times ceased.

Expenses claim by

Transcript of Philby’s list of the personal kit he lost on 19 May 1940 while retreating rapidly from Amiens the day before the German army captured the town.

In the very early days of the Second World War we come across a well-known name: Harold Adrian Russell Philby, better known as Kim, was appointed correspondent of The Times with the British Expeditionary Force in France on 9 October 1939. The documents held at the archives of The Times tell the story of the rapid retreat from Amiens, the main base for the British war correspondents, on 19 May 1940, the day before the Germans captured the town.

Philby lost his personal kit, when the war correspondents were taken to Boulogne and shipped back across the Channel before that town was captured on the 23 May 1940.

The expense claim which Philby wrote detailed, amongst other things a “camelhair overcoat (two years of wear)” and a “Dunhill pipe and pouch (six years old but all the better for it)”. A copy memorandum to the accountant shows that Philby was only paid £70 of the £100 16s he estimated as the value of the items lost.

-Anne Jensen, Archivist Assistant at News UK

The talk will conclude with a look at present day war correspondence and coverage of the Iraq war in 2003.

Please book your space online or simply show up at the Phoenix Centre (next door to the BPMA Search Room) for 7pm to attend.

Tickets are £3 per person, £2.50 for concessions (60+) and accompanied children under 12 free.

Curious Addresses

Curious Addresses are the name given to envelopes where the address is presented in a different format, such as a poem or a picture. These are fascinating and beautiful works of art to view, but probably less of a joy to the poor postman or postwoman who has to decipher them!

The address has been scattered across and combined within this image. (E3243.10)

The address has been scattered across and combined within this image. (E3243.10)

To mark the release of our latest podcast The Curious Culture of Letter Writing with Emma Harper, we’ve added seven curious addresses from our collection to Flickr. Can you work out the addresses? When you think you’ve got it out, click on the image to reveal the correct answer.

Read Emma Harper’s blog previewing The Curious Culture of Letter Writing.