Sending WWI Trench Cake

In today’s post for Explore Your Archives week, Archives and Records Assistant Penny McMahon shares the story of Trench Cake – a First World War recipe intended to be sent to troops on the front.

This summer members of the Great British Bake Off production asked us how much it would cost to send a trench cake to the front in 1916. I had no idea that cakes were sent to the front but it is a natural thing for family members to send cakes to loved ones, especially at Christmas.  It would have cost 1.s 4d to send a cake over 3lb between 7lb and would have cost 1s. 7d to send a cake between 7lb and 11lb.

No sellotape used - only brown paper and string!

No sellotape used – only brown paper and string!

The question intrigued several members of staff. We wanted to find out if we could still send a Trench Cake in the post and whether it would turn up in one piece. We carried out some research and found a notice detailing the packaging required to send food stuffs overseas from 1916. We also found a notice from 1918 asking members of the public not to send out Christmas cakes to men at the front. The notice went as far as to reassure the Great British public that the men serving oversees would be provided with a Christmas pudding.

We baked several cakes inline with an authentic recipe. The recipe has an interesting ingredients list. Presumably the cakes were made so that they’d be able travel, last well, and wouldn’t use too much rationed food. We packaged the cakes inline with the guidelines given on the notice. Then we posted the cakes to destinations including our own offices, to a cake baking competition in London (more on this later), Scotland and France.

Me with my Trench Cake before it was sent to Scotland.

Me with my Trench Cake before it was sent to Scotland.

I sent my cake to my brother in Scotland. It arrived in one piece the next day and he assures me that it tasted good.

IMG_6635

The Archive Services of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found a recipe from the Ministry of Foods Nutrition Collection and are having a cake baking competition. We have sent one of our efforts off to the competition so hopefully it will arrive safely. Our Head of Archives, Vicky Parkinson, is taking part in the judging. We’ll let you know via Twitter how we get on!

Trench cake sent from our office in Islington to our Clerkenwell Office. It arrived in one piece and we are enjoying it this morning!

Trench cake sent from our office in Islington to our Clerkenwell Office. It arrived in one piece and we are enjoying it this morning!

Favourite archive item: original poster artwork

For Explore Your Archive week, Head of Archives and Records Management Vicky Parkinson introduces her favourite item from our archive…well at least her favourite of the week!

“How do you feel about us filming a short ‘soundbite’ of you talking about ‘your favourite item’ while you are at the Conference next week?” started the email from the Head of Public Affairs at Archives and Records Association (ARA).

“Why not!” I thought, I can put my media training to use, and so I started to think about what my favourite item in the archive is. When you have around two and a half miles of shelving filled with archival material, dating back to 1636, it’s pretty hard to pick one item that’s your favourite.

POST 109/365.

POST 109/365

It’s actually quite hard to choose just one item from an archive. The very nature of archives means you tend to consider them as series, rather than individual items. How do you single out one volume from a run of volumes containing cash accounts from the 17th century or one staff handbook from a series that contains over 700 volumes?(Side note: I did seriously consider choosing a cash book; the handwriting is beautiful and they can tell you a lot, not just how much money went in and out of the post office in any given year)

So maybe I should choose a series first, perhaps something I enjoy showing people when I do a tour of the archive? No doubt as to what that is, I love showing people our posters. Most people have hazy preconceptions of what will be in our archive before they come on a tour, and it’s fun to challenge those. Regular readers of our blog will know that we love the posters and will use them wherever we can to illustrate articles. What’s not to love about a series of posters that starts at the golden age of public relations?

Each poster is stunning in its own right, together they show the development of so many things: the use of PR in the Post Office, the changing services it provided, the issues that were important to the organisation (you just have to look at how many Post Early for Christmas campaigns there have been to realise what a big issue it is for the postal service every year), the development of design and the move to computerised design in the 1980s, to name a few. Watching people’s eyes light up when I open the draws and start bringing out the bright colourful posters reminds me what an amazing job I have.

As amazing as the posters are I love the artwork for the posters even more. In this age of technology it’s easy to take design for granted, one look at poster artwork reminds you what an amazing skill the designers had. You can see every brush stroke, see the pencil lines drawn to help keep lettering straight, see where they’ve stuck additional bits on, where there were fiddly bits that would have ruined the picture if they’d tried to paint in on directly. Unfortunately they’re also rather fragile, much more fragile than the posters, which means that we can’t handle them too much and so I don’t look at them as frequently and don’t know them as well.

POST 109/364

POST 109/364

Just before the ARA conference I took an artist down to the posters to give him some ideas of what we had, so that he could start thinking about how to engage a class of children in a project we were working together on. It was whilst preparing for this visit that I came across a wonderful piece of poster artwork (POST 109/158) and had a true wow moment.

POST 109/158

POST 109/158

We don’t have the poster for this, so this was the first time I had come across it. The colours pop in real life, and the text is bold. One of these days I will find the time to look through the records relating to poster design and see what I can find out about the artwork, and the artist, but the poster artwork itself stands on its own without any accompanying information, and little information on the poster itself. It shows the story of the GPO in the mid-1930s, and using graphic designers, it challenges the old fashioned art establishment, illustrating the pioneering go-getting nature of the GPO with its deliciously sleek airmail planes.

Up close picture of artwork for a poster. Artist: Ronald Watson POST 109-158

Up close picture of artwork for a poster. Artist: Ronald Watson POST 109-158

Ask me again in a few months time and I may very well have a different favourite item in the archive, that’s the joy of having two miles and a half of shelving containing records that document 378 years of postal history!

-Vicky Parkinson, Head of Archives and Records Management

 

#ExploreArchive: What to expect next week

This year we’re once again taking part in the Explore Your Archive campaign. From 10-15 November organisations across the UK are taking part in the campaign to celebrate the UK’s archives and heritage. Penny McMahon, Archives and Records Assistant, tells us a little about what you can expect.

explore-primary-message

All of the BPMA’s Explore Your Archive activity will take place via social media, so look out for #explorearchives on our Twitter and Facebook pages, and right here on our blog. Every member of the archive team has selected one of their favourite records from the collection. This includes original artwork, snippets about the Post Office using animals in its workforce and a first-hand account of the Great Train Robbery.

Here are some of the highlights:

On Monday 10 November, Director Adrian Steel will be taking over Twitter sharing what goes on behind the scenes in our archive and here at the BPMA.

On Thursday 13 November, Head of Cataloguing Gavin McGuffie will also be giving the public an opportunity to choose a box in the archive to investigate, in our ‘pick a shelf any shelf segment’. We will put up a list of shelf numbers alongside a photograph of the shelf and you can choose which box he’ll look at.

Lastly we have been hard at work in the kitchen recreating Trench Cake. Trench cake was devised as a way of sending a cake to loved ones on the Front that would travel and keep well, without using up too many precious rationed goods. I first learned of Trench Cake when a member of the Great British Bake Off production team asked us how much it would cost and how a cake would be packaged during the First World War.  We have baked several examples of the cakes, brought one in for staff at the BPMA, sent one to Scotland and one to France. Fingers crossed they arrive in one piece!  Look out for a follow up blog to see how we got on.

Do you want to have a go at trench cake? We’d love to see your attempts – tweet us your pictures and tell us how it tastes!

- Penny McMahon, Archives and Records Assistant

Hounded from Pillar to Post: The Experiences of FWW Conscientious Objectors

This Thursday join Ben Copsey, Manager of the “Objecting to War” Project at the Peace Pledge Union, as he explores the lives and experiences of the 20,000 British Conscientious Objectors during the First World War. In today’s post we give you a sneak peak at a relatively unknown topic.

With the introduction of Conscription in 1916, men who believed they could not fight in the war were left with a difficult choice. Abandon their principles and take up arms, or face ridicule, arrest, assault and prison as Conscientious Objectors.

First World War conscientious objectors. Courtesy of the Peace Pledge Union.

First World War conscientious objectors. Courtesy of the Peace Pledge Union.

Over three hundred Post Office workers from around the country made the difficult decision to refuse to fight and kill in the First World War. Whether religious, political or ethical men, each one made a stand on the principle that noone should be forced into the army – a stand that for many would lead to years in prison, ostracism, and for some, death. Their motivations, experiences and opinions make a fascinating collection of sometimes odd, often passionate and always interesting stories of resistance and dissent. Post Office COs came from every area and community – from Jewish Sorters in the East end and Anarchist Postmen in Glasgow to Quaker Telegraphists in Liverpool – and experienced everything that could happen to an objector during the war, whether working with an ambulance service, going on the run or stubbornly refusing to compromise from the inside of Wormwood Scrubs, the men of the Post Office who stood up to say “No” to war provide a perfect snapshot of Conscientious Objection.

Many of their experiences are coming to light for the first time, telling a fascinating tale of courage, resistance and conviction of men standing up for their principles and the right to refuse to kill. While myths of Conscientious Objection still paint them as cowards and traitors, this talk will discuss why ordinary men
made an extraordinarily brave decision – and what happened to them as a result.

Join us this Thursday (6 November) from 7pm-8pm at the Phoenix Centre to find out more. Book your ticket online today to avoid missing out!

The Postman’s Snuffbox (Part 2)

Earlier this week, our guest blogger Kenneth Grey Wilson shared the story of a postman’s snuffbox that he came across while on holiday in London. In this post he shares the story of the snuffbox’s owner, Arthur Whittard, and his family.

Paddy put us in contact with her first cousin Sadie Evans, another of Arthur’s granddaughters. With help from Sadie and her daughter, Jane English, the story of the Dursley postman, Arthur Whittard, began to take form. My wife and I offered to return the snuffbox to the Whittard family in exchange for some details of Arthur’s story.

Arthur Whittard was born in Dursley 1866, began work as an errand boy at age 15, and later joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRR).  After his military service, Arthur was certified as a postman in 1893, and a year later he married Ada Morgan. The 1911 census reveals that the Whittard family lived on Slade Lane, and had nine children: Frederick 16, Arthur Victor 14, May 12, Maud 11, Edith 9, Valentina 8, Alfred 6, and Dorothy 2.

One family story relates the possibility that Arthur worked as a school headmaster in India.  We could not confirm this, but it is of note that in the late 1800s the Kings Royal Rifles were posted to India. Perhaps this family story relates to time that Arthur spent in India with the KRR before returning to Durlsey and beginning his work as a postman.

Dursley Postmen 1900

Dursley Postmen, circa 1900. Arthur Whittard fifth from the left back row, with the prominent mustache. Back (L-R) Unknown, Unknown, Frank Martin (?), Unknown, Arthur Whittard, Unknown, Unknown, Fred Hitchins. Front (L-R) Tom Fussell, Frank Hadley, Unknown, Unknown, ? Hitchins, Jim Fussell. Seated, Harry Trotman, Telegraph Boy. Photo and information courtesy of David Evans and Andrew Barton, Dursley

With the onset of World War I, Arthur’s eldest son, Frederick, joined his father’s old regiment as a rifleman with the King’s Royal Rifles in July 1914. In September, Arthur, age 48, re-enlisted in the military and served as a corporal-instructor with the Army Service Corps in England.  Arthur’s younger son, Victor followed his brother into the King’s Royal Rifles infantry regiment as a rifleman in January 1915.

Both of Arthur’s sons saw action in the trenches of the Western Front of France and Flanders in 1915.  Victor met the fate of so many men in the trenches, and became ill with pneumonia. He died on Boxing Day, December 26, 1915. He was only 19 years old. Victor is buried in Merville Communal Cemetery in Northern France.  His brother Frederick was wounded in Ypres during the heavy fighting of the summer of 1915, and was discharged in May 1918, with the loss of a leg. Arthur continued to serve in the ASC until he was discharged as ill, in March 1918, and he died only a few years later at age 59.

We will probably never know how the Arthur’s snuffbox traveled from Dursley, to Old Spitalfields Market in London 88 years after his death, but the little snuffbox was returned to Dursley and to Arthur’s granddaughter, Sadie Evans. With a little luck, some online research, and some trans-Atlantic sleuthing two tourists from Texas learned a bit about a British postman and the history of a family in a small market town in Gloucestershire.

“When people bury treasure nowadays they do it in the Post-Office bank.”
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

If this story inspired you to do some family history research of your own, or you just want to find out more about a family member who worked for the British postal service, the BPMA has range of records in its collection that may help you find out more.

The Postman’s Snuffbox (Part 1)

While on holiday in London Kenneth Grey Wilson and his wife found a snuffbox owned by a British postman. In trying to find the relatives of this postal worker he came across a few unexpected surprises. This week (in a two-part post), Kenneth will be sharing his story and that of the snuff box owner.

We all love a good treasure-hunting story; accounts of buried pirate booty, lost gold mines, or Roman coins found in a farmer’s meadow seem to capture the attention of nearly everyone. Most of us are not fortunate enough to discover a buccaneer’s hoard behind a chimney stone, but it seems that we all in our way do a bit of treasure hunting—keeping an eye out for a Picasso at a jumble sale, searching for bargains at Debenhams, or just looking for forgotten change in vending machines.

My wife and I are both collectors and treasure-hunters of a sort, and when traveling we look for inexpensive curios in antique shops, shop windows or flea markets—objects that seem to convey history, hold a strong visual appeal, and ideally some level of mystery. The object might be a hand-made toy, a piece of jewelry, an old postcard or a faded photograph, but it must convey a human touch or story that communicates across time. On a recent trip to London we spent hours in the British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, and the Museum of London, but what really excited us was the prospect of discovering small treasures in the many flea markets of the city.

On a damp, grey Sunday—the kind of day that makes tourists feel that they are in the London of Sherlock Holmes or Charles Dickens—we ventured out to the Old Spitalfields Market in the East End, an area of London outside the old medieval walled city that has seen buying, selling, haggling and trading of all sorts for hundreds of years. The historic market looked promising—crowded aisles between stalls filled with bits and pieces of other times and other lives.  The odors of age and dust were greatly improved by the smells of of Cornish pasties and meat pies and we eagerly took to the hunt.

While bargaining over some small metal hooks that might find use in our bathroom, I noticed a small, nickel-plated snuffbox with the words, “A. Whittard, Postman, Dursley” marked on the lid. The letters had been stamped into the metal, one at time, with hand tools. The repetition of the letter “X” turned on its side had created a border around the words.  My wife and I immediately thought that this intriguing find had enough clues to trace it to its original owner, and that mission might serve as a fun challenge. The snuffbox would be our map. The owner would be the treasure.

Snuffbox

Snuffbox

I made a cash deal with the seller for both the bathroom hooks and the snuffbox and my wife and I went happily back to our hotel room to rest up for the next day’s adventures.  A week later, back at home in Texas, I searched the Internet for Dursley, and found that it was a small market town in Gloucestershire. A search for A. Whittard, Postman, Dursley, quickly turned up a link to an online forum for past residents of Dursley and a comment by Julie Smith from Ohio, USA, about growing up in the town, along with a mention of her late brother, Alan Whittard, who had been a Dursley postman.

Parsonage St., Dursley, circa 1910. The old post office was on this street. Postcard from Kenneth's collection.

Parsonage St., Dursley, circa 1910. The old post office was on this street. Postcard from Kenneth’s collection.

It appeared that we had a win on the first spin of the wheel, but in further investigation, we recognized that Alan was too young to be our snuffbox owner, and what’s more, no one remembered him ever using snuff. Julie offered to contact a friend in Dursley, Jennifer Rennie, known as “Paddy.” As it turned out, Paddy’s maternal grandfather was Arthur Whittard, a Dursley postman at the turn of the 20th century. So, unknown to Julie, she and her “friend” Paddy were actually distant cousins…

If this story inspired you to do some family history research of your own, or you just want to find out more about a family member who worked for the British postal service, the BPMA has range of records in its collection that may help you find out more.

Behind the scenes at the Pop-Up Field Post Office

For the next two weeks we’re busy working with Big Wheel Theatre Company to deliver a First World War project for schools and visitors at the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron.

This week over 300 school pupils will experience Meaning in the Mud: Letters to and from the Front Line, an immersive theatre workshop, and visit our Pop-up Field Post Office. Often little more than a table in a field, sometimes just a tent, or a temporary structure – Field Post Offices provided a vital link between the home and fighting fronts by distributing the letters and parcels sent to soldiers from loved ones.

Photo of a Field Post Office in the BPMA collection.

Photo of a Field Post Office from the BPMA collection.

Here are  a few photos of us building the set to show you more about what the pupils can expect to find out.

Hannah from the BPMA and Maureen from the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust hard at work.

Hannah (BPMA) and Maureen (Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust) working hard to build the set.

During the Meaning in the Mud workshop actors from Big Wheel will show how the war affected the people of Shropshire through an interactive performance using objects, archival sources, poems and photographs from the BPMA collection.

Field Post Office 1

The finished Field Post Office.

After the performance pupils will write their own letters from the Front Line and step into the Field Post Office to send them to their schools.

IMG_0914

Ta Dah! The finished set.

You can follow this project on Twitter #PopUpPost

Twitter copy

This project supports the BPMA’s Last Post: Remembering the First World War exhibition on display in Coalbrookdale until April 2015.

-Sally Sculthorpe, Learning Officer

Meaning in the Mud and the Pop-Up Post Office are generously supported by a grant from the First World War: Then and Now Heritage Lottery Fund.