Tag Archives: Second World War

70th Anniversary of D-Day: a letter to the GPO from General Eisenhower

As countries around the world commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day (the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on 6 June 1944) news channels fill our screens with moving and horrifying images and footage of troops readying themselves on the shores of southern England, planes on bombing runs across the channel and landing craft coming ashore on the beaches of Normandy. The films show the military hardware, the explosions and exchanges of gun fire, and the people on the front line of the successful offensive. But what they do not show is the immaculate and comprehensive pre-planning that went into that crucial day, seen as the point in which the war turned in the favour of the Allies.

Number of bags of mail sent on D-Day and the following days from Army Council Secretariat minutes (POST 47/770)

Number of bags of mail sent on D-Day and the following days from Army Council Secretariat minutes dated 19 June 1944 (POST 47/770).

One of the organisations involved in that planning was the General Post Office. Its work both in the lead up to, and aftermath of, D-Day was of major importance. Flicking through our files, it’s amazing what we uncover. Alongside some interesting information detailing the GPO’s activity both before and after D-Day itself in POST 47/770, we also unearthed a letter printed in the Post Office Circular of Wednesday 28 June, 1944.

The letter, dated 22 June 1944, thanks the GPO for its work in constructing “…a vast network of communications radiating from key centers of vital importance in the United Kingdom” and makes a point of offering the author’s appreciation of “their contribution… and [for the] excellent cooperation they have given towards our success”.

Letter from General Eisenhower reprinted in the Post Office Circular (POST 47/770)

Letter from General Eisenhower reprinted in the Post Office Circular (POST 47/770)

Not only does this give us an insight into the vital role the GPO played in D-Day itself, but it shows how important the contribution was deemed at the time. Perhaps most excitingly, the letter is signed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander.

The full transcript can be seen below:

Supreme Headquarters

ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

Office of the Supreme Commander

22 June, 1944

Dear Captain Crookshank [sic]

The build up of the necessary forces for the current operations has involved the construction of a vast network of communications radiating from key centers of vital importance in the United Kingdom. The greater part of this work has been undertaken by the Engineers and Staff of the General Post Office.

It is my great pleasure, on behalf of the Allied Expeditionary Force, to ask you to pass on to them my sincere appreciation for their contribution and for the long hours they have worked and for the excellent cooperation they have given toward our success. 

Sincerely,

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Remarkable Lives issued today

A new set of stamps issued today another selection of remarkable individuals from the realms of sport, design, economics, heroism and the arts. The set commemorates individuals born 100 years ago this year. Notable figures include a footballer, actors and molecular biologists, to boast a few.

Remarkable Lives First Day Cover

Remarkable Lives First Day Cover

Dr David Lawrence, writer, researcher, architectural historian and lecturer at Kingston University and designed by Purpose, the Filler Card provides a brief look at the ten remarkable individuals featured on the stamps.

Kenneth More, 1st class.

Kenneth More, 1st class.

Joe Mercer, 1st class.

Joe Mercer, 1st class.

Joan Littlewood,1st class.

Joan Littlewood,1st class.

Dylan Thomas, 1st class.

Dylan Thomas, 1st class.

Barbara Ward, 1st class.

Barbara Ward, 1st class.

Alec Guinness, 1st class.

Alec Guinness, 1st class.

Abram Games, 1st class.

Abram Games, 1st class.

Roy Plomley, 1st class.

Roy Plomley, 1st class.

Noorunissa Inayat Khan, 1st class.

Noorunissa Inayat Khan, 1st class.

Max Perutz, 1st class.

Max Perutz, 1st class.

The Special Stamps are available from 25 March online at www.royalmail.com/remarkablelives, by phone on 08457 641 641 and in 10,000 Post Offices throughout the UK.

A Project Archivist Farewell

I’ve just completed my final task as Project Archivist: appraising and cataloguing a vast deposit of records on the Army Postal Service (APS). The files focus mainly on the Royal Engineers Postal Section (REPS) and its successors, and date from before the First World War to the 1970s. I’ve catalogued nearly 500 files, volumes, photographic collections and plans.

Matt presents a small selection of the Army Postal Service files he's been cataloguing.

Matt presents a small selection of the Army Postal Service files he’s been cataloguing.

There have been challenges along the way. I’ve had to battle an onslaught of Armed Forces vocabulary:  being able to tell a sitrep from a sapper was essential, and woe betide an archivist who confused the DAPS with a WOLO.* My geographical knowledge has also been tested: the deposit included files on British and Allied Forces’ postal arrangements in India, North Africa, the Middle East and Far East, with many locations identified by their old colonial names. The most unexpected item was a manual from an Army post office in Kiribati!

The deposit’s greatest strength is its rich insight into the APS during the Second World War and its aftermath. Virtually every theatre of operations is covered. There are Directorate-level files on postal arrangements during the Siege of Malta (POST 47/1034), the Battle of Madagascar (POST 47/871), the Dunkirk evacuation (POST 47/925) and the D-Day preparations (POST 47/747), to name just four. The handover of postal and telecommunications services to the government of newly-independent India is also documented.

Public confidence in the APS was vitally important during the War. This letter concerns one of many press visits to postal facilities organised by the Armed Forces and the Post Office. [Extract from POST 47/1028.]

Public confidence in the APS was vitally important during the War. This letter concerns one of many press visits to postal facilities organised by the Armed Forces and the Post Office. [Extract from POST 47/1028.]

The files also hold lots of personal stories about the careers of REPS officers. POST 47/780, for example, partly records a falling-out between the APS staff at HQ First Army and Allied Force HQ during the Tunisian Campaign and the interception of ‘artistic’ postcards that were being received by First Army soldiers. And if you ever wanted to know how many bugles were held by the Post Office Cadets at the Home Postal Centre in Nottingham in 1947, POST 47/942 will tell you.**

A list of band parts on loan to the Post Office Cadets in 1947, attached to a letter concerning a shortage of bugles. [Extract from POST 47/942.]

A list of band parts on loan to the Post Office Cadets in 1947, attached to a letter concerning a shortage of bugles. [Extract from POST 47/942.]

The APS files have been catalogued in POST 47 and 56. The deposit also contained large amounts of non-postal material on the REPS more generally. These have been catalogued as a separate ‘REPS collection’. All these files will appear on our online catalogue in the coming months.

This is the end of my year-long, grant-funded Project Archivist post. I’ve catalogued over 1,500 files from all over the Archive in that time. But I’m not leaving the BPMA! Instead, I’m regenerating into a new incarnation as a catalogue systems archivist. I’ll be doing lots of data-processing work and beta-testing our shiny new online catalogue before it launches later this year. Watch out for an update from me on this blog in the Spring.

- Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

* Sitrep = situation report; sapper = the Royal Engineers’ equivalent to a private; DAPS = Director Army Postal Service; WOLO = War Office Liaison Officer.

** Two (one substandard).

It’s a Project Archivist Christmas

As 2013 comes to a close, I’ve repackaged and catalogued over 1,000 files from the Archive. In this blog post, I’ll share a few of the methods I used to get this historic material processed and available for researchers as quickly as possible.

Project Archivist Matt reflects

Project Archivist Matt reflects on a year’s work.

As I wrote in my introductory post, most if not all archive services have backlogs of material that hasn’t been catalogued due to lack of time or staff. My main role as Project Archivist is to reduce the BPMA’s backlog, one section of the Archive at a time. So far I’ve eliminated four backlogs:

  • Organisation, circulation and sorting of inland mails (POST 17).
  • Post Office counter operations and services (POST 22).
  • Establishment records (POST 59).
  • Public Relations Department, predecessors and successors (POST 108).

Each backlog was composed of hundreds of individual files, ranging from administrative papers to technical plans to visual material like posters and photographs. The files had come into the Archive from many different sources over the past few decades. My task was to repackage and catalogue the files, and find places for them in the BPMA’s existing catalogue structure. I also needed to remove redundant files to free up much-needed repository space. And I wanted to make my descriptions reasonably detailed, to help people search for files in our online catalogue.

The working method I devised, therefore, was based around fast, detailed processing on a file-by-file basis. I had the opportunity to evaluate and refine the method after each backlog was finished. I also familiarised myself with More Product Less Process (MPLP) theory after recommendations from professional colleagues. While I didn’t completely embrace the MPLP approach, I adopted some of its ideas to increase efficiency.

I’m not going to hurl technical details at you, but here are some of the techniques I used to process over 1,000 wildly differing files alongside the other work I do at the BPMA.

1. Get to know the territory: Before starting, I visually inspected the entire backlog to get a rough idea of its extent and anything requiring special conservation treatment. I also collated any existing box lists and accession records, did background research, and compiled a glossary of terms used in file names.

2. Establish basic standards: I adopted a minimum standard of description and repackaging, which could be enhanced if a file warranted it. Any file containing a contents list or executive summary had it copied pretty much verbatim into the catalogue description, while files in stable ring binders were generally not repackaged.

3. Multi-task: I combined appraisal (i.e. deciding if we needed to keep the file), repackaging, physical arrangement and catalogue description into a single integrated process, performed on one file at a time. Intellectual arrangement of files into a catalogue structure was only done after all files had been processed.

4. Use simple, sensible numbering: The BPMA uses two numbering systems. Each file/item has a Finding Number, which is unique, fixed, and used by researchers and staff to retrieve archives for consultation. Files/items also have Reference Numbers, which structure the multi-level archival descriptions I described in this blog post. Reference Numbers aren’t seen by researchers and can be swapped around as often as needed. This is a really great way to do almost all the processing of files without having to worry about exactly where they’ll go in the catalogue.

Cataloguing database screen capture

A screen capture of Matt’s cataloguing database, showing some of the completed fields and the BPMA’s dual numbering system.

5. Wherever possible, get a computer to help: I designed a relational database in Access for all my project work. The database would automatically complete some catalogue fields, saving lots of time. It logged which files had been catalogued and which had been marked for disposal. I used it during processing to group files into rough subject categories, which were refined into catalogue sub-series at the end. Best of all, I could take all the descriptions I’d written in the database and import them into our catalogue software in one batch.

These are some of the techniques I’ve used in my work. Perhaps you might find them helpful if you’re working on a similar task. Of course, there are many other ways of working, and I’d be very interested to read your suggestions for how I could do things differently!

WW2 postal records

Christmas is all about opening boxes, but archivists get to do it every day! Here, Matt opens the first of several boxes of uncatalogued WW2 postal records.

My new project is to catalogue a large collection of British Army postal service records, dating from World War 2 to the 1980s. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Christmas, and see you in the New Year!

- Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

They came to do a job and they did it

Head Postmaster of Dover AWB Mowbray kept a typed account of the Blitz years in what became known as ‘Hell’s Corner’, recounted here by BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes.

Mowbray wrote with pride when a member of his staff, Miss W N Scanlan, was awarded the British Empire Medal in October 1941. This was announced in the London Gazette alongside a notice that the same award was awarded to two other female supervisors in charge of Post Office telephone exchanges.

Medal awarded to Miss W Scanlan during World War II for bravery during bombing raids on the Telephone Exchange at Dover. (2004-0024/01)

Medal awarded to Miss W Scanlan during World War II for bravery during bombing raids on the Telephone Exchange at Dover. (2004-0024/01)

Little more is known of these women’s particular acts of bravery, aside from what is written in the newspaper:

These three Supervisors of Women Telephone Operators have, by their courage and devotion to duty, set a fine example to their staffs. Throughout the air raids in the areas where they work, they have maintained an efficient telephone service during periods of constant danger.

According to the General Post Office press release, eight other female supervisors and telephonists had previously received awards and commendations.

Over 100,000 women had been employed by the GPO by November 1941 – more than one-third of the total staff. Due to the shortage of manpower, women worked a range of duties including some previously considered ‘male’ occupations – such as telephone engineers and the first ever female motorised van driver.

Mowbray describes how, in Christmas 1941…

… the kaleidoscopic effect of the multi-coloured jumpers and overalls of the women temporary sorters who fluttered about like so many butterflies was unmarred even by 2½ hours of shelling in one evening…they came to do a job and they did it regardless of the large quantity of roof glass.

Additionally, one-third of the Sub Post Offices in the country were controlled by women. It is clear that without them, the vital communication networks cared for by the Post Office could not have been maintained.

In addition to these examples there are many other notable tales of bravery by postal staff during the Blitz. A total of 27 post office staff died on duty in 1941. By the end of that year, over 100 men and women had received commendations and awards from the King, while on Civil Defence or Post Office Duty. These ranged from 38 British Empire Medals to eight George Medals.

Mowbray himself was to be included in the New Years Honours list in 1942, as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1941, 117 staff were also commended by the Postmaster General for their work on the home front. For every Post Office worker who won an award, there were countless others behind them who received no official recognition. Miss Scanlan announced the award to her staff by flourishing the letter and saying ‘Girls we’ve got the British Empire Medal’. And, as Mowbray himself readily acknowledges, it was the co-operation of the police, fire, transport and military services, and the cheeriness of the population that helped his staff cope with the strain of war.

We do not like the phrase “We can take it”. It would be more honest to say “It’s forced on us”, but the Dover people and Dover Post Office staff do their utmost to make the best of decidedly unpleasant circumstances.

Vyki Sparkes’ podcast The Post Office and the Blitz can be downloaded for free from the BPMA website, iTunes or SoundCloud.

See Shells Over the White Cliffs and Harder times in Hell’s Corner for more from the AWB Mowbray accounts.

Harder times in Hell’s Corner

Head Postmaster of Dover AWB Mowbray kept a typed account of the Blitz years in what became known as ‘Hell’s Corner’, recounted here by BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes.

Working and living conditions were incredibly arduous in Dover during the Second World War as Mowbray records:

…the demands made on the Staff were many, and the inconveniences suffered legion, but the response was excellent at all times, especially when one bears in mind the nuisance raids – lone raiders swooping on the town and harbour from high altitudes with engines cut out – the first intimation of their presence being the whistle of bombs; four or five visits a day sometimes for lengthy periods, was not conducive to the maintenance of a high standard of morale, but the Dover staff showed no weakness; Postal services were invariably completed, sometimes a little late when streets or roads were unsafe.

When the destruction of his neighbour’s house brought the danger uncomfortably close to home, Mowbray slept in a public shelter for five weeks while awaiting safer accommodation. With a corridor reserved for his family, he dryly comments: ‘This mode of retiring was not exactly what I had visualised as being proper for a Head Postmaster’, but he found it a useful experience to understand what other staff and townspeople had to endure.

Apart from the numerous disturbances by policemen, wardens, gunfire and bombs, this shelter sleeping was not without its entertainment. Owing to the continuous strain under which we lived, people talked frequently in their sleep – of their fancies in ladies, beer or pictures, of the merits of this Dictator or that – I only trust I gave away no official secrets myself. The comradeship was most striking. It seems strange that it should take wars to settle national differences, yet in a public shelter, no matter whether the folk be rich or poor, clean or grimy, a tin of sweets works wonders with frayed tempers and jaded nerves.

On several other occasions Mowbray and the evening staff needed to spend all night at the office as safe travelling was impossible.

‘The Demon Postmaster’. This is believed to be a comic portrait of AWB Mowbray, Head Postmaster of Dover during the Second World War. (POST 118/1557)

‘The Demon Postmaster’. This is believed to be a comic portrait of AWB Mowbray, Head Postmaster of Dover during the Second World War. (POST 118/1557)

One American philatelist wrote to Mowbray at the time, keen to obtain letters date-stamped ‘Hell’s Corner’, as the German pilots had nicknamed Dover. A polite reply was sent, reading

…although this is a veritable “Hell’s Corner” to the Germans, we are proud of it. Our town and harbour have been bombed, shelled and mined, but there is not a finer lot of men, women and children anywhere. It is business as usual. I am sorry we have no date stamp ‘“Hell’s Corner”, but our lads have stamped “Hell’s Corner” on Jerry’s mind plain enough.

Vyki Sparkes’ podcast The Post Office and the Blitz can be downloaded for free from the BPMA website, iTunes or SoundCloud.

See Shells Over the White Cliffs for more from the AWB Mowbray accounts.

New Merchant Navy and Bertram Mackennal stamps

As always during Stampex Royal Mail are issuing several sets of new stamps. Today sees the launch of a commemorative issue on the Merchant Navy and commemorative sheets marking the 150thanniversary of the birth of Bertram Mackennal.

Merchant Navy

The Merchant Navy stamps salute the heritage of the UK’s trading fleet of ships, run by various companies. These export and import goods from around the world as well as carrying passengers, and historically have been intertwined with the fortunes of the nation.

Merchant Navy stamp - 1st Class – Atlas, 1813.

Merchant Navy stamp – 1st Class – Atlas, 1813.

Merchant Navy stamp - 1st Class – Britannia, 1840.

Merchant Navy stamp – 1st Class – Britannia, 1840.

Merchant Navy stamp -1st Class - Cutty Sark, 1870.

Merchant Navy stamp -1st Class – Cutty Sark, 1870.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Clan Matheson, 1919.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Clan Matheson, 1919.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Queen Elizabeth, 1940.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Queen Elizabeth, 1940.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Lord Hinton, 1986.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Lord Hinton, 1986.

The accompanying miniature sheet honours the contribution of the Merchant Navy in times of war, when its ships assisted in the war effort. 2013 will mark the 70th anniversary of the turning point of what is called the Battle of the Atlantic, after which losses reduced considerably.

Merchant Navy: Miniature Sheet - The Atlantic and Arctic Convoys.

Merchant Navy: Miniature Sheet – The Atlantic and Arctic Convoys.

Bertram Mackennal

Bertram Mackennal was born on 12th June 1863 in Melbourne, Australia, to parents of Scottish descent. After initial training in design and sculpture at the National Gallery in Melbourne, Mackennal travelled to Europe. Having completed further studies in London and Paris he began to receive commissions in Australia and the United Kingdom, and eventually came to the attention of King George V.

In 1910 Mackennal began work on the effigy of King George V for new British and imperial coins and medals, and from this he developed the designs for the King’s head on British postage stamps and also worked on Indian and colonial stamps. Through this work, he began a lifelong friendship with the king helping to establish his philatelic legacy. In 1921, Mackennal was knighted by King George V.

The Mackennal stamps available from today feature ten definitive sized 1st Class Royal Seal stamps alongside images showing key works from Mackennal. These include the halfpenny green and one penny red stamps from 1912-1913, the George V five shilling Seahorses stamp from 1913 and a commemorative Olympic Games medal from 1908.

Bertram Mackennal commemorative sheet.

Bertram Mackennal commemorative sheet.

Royal Mail has also produced a facsimile pack of the Seahorses stamps. The ‘Seahorses’ were high value definitive postage stamps issued during the reign of King George V and designed by Mackennal. These stamps were notable for the quality of the engraving and the design, featuring Britannia on her chariot behind three writhing horses on a stormy sea.

Bertram Mackennal facsimile pack.

Bertram Mackennal facsimile pack.

The Merchant Navy stamps are available online via www.royalmail.com/merchantnavy. The Bertram Mackennel stamps are available online via www.royalmail.com/mackennal.

Both issues are also available from the Royal Mail stand at Stampex, in Post Office branches or by phone on 08457 641 641.

Museums at Night – Stories from the Store

Venture off the beaten track on Thursday 16th May and explore the treasures of the British Postal Museum and Archive (BPMA) Museum Store at a special after-hours event.

Behind its unassuming façade, the Museum Store houses a wonderful collection of the BPMA’s larger exhibits – each with a story to tell. As part of Museums at Night 2013, come and find out about some of these stories as they are brought to life by The Big Wheel Theatre Company!

Morris van at the Museum Store.

Morris van at the Museum Store.

What can you do on the night?

Big Wheel Theatre Company

Stories will be revealed by some fascinating characters from our postal past! Through some exciting interactive performances and activities find out about the Suffragette ‘human letters’ fighting for the right to vote and see how the Post Office had to adapt to the demands of war with new services. Mingle with these characters from history to truly understand all that they went through and achieved. (You can find out more about the ‘human letters’ by listening to episode #3 of our podcast.)

Anti Suffragette postcard. (2011-0365)

Anti Suffragette postcard. (2011-0365)

Craft Guerrilla

Show your support for our resident Suffragette for the evening by making your own rosette, reminiscent of those worn by the campaigners who fought for Women’s rights. East London craft company, Craft Guerrilla, will be running the activity. All materials provided for free, just bring your creativity and enthusiasm!

Discover how the post office went to war

Explore our Second World War handling box. Dress up like a wartime post man, and write a telegram to a loved one.

Write your own Post Office Telegram.

Write your own Post Office Telegram.

Postal fun at the Museum Store!

Postal fun at the Museum Store!

Have a browse

Take a walk down ‘letter box alley’ or take a look at our fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail in a self led exploration of the collection. BPMA staff will also be on hand to answer questions about the collection. When you leave you will be able to recognize a hen and chicks bike, a K2 telephone kiosk and an Edward VIII pillar box!

Hen and chicks cigarette card.

Hen and chicks cigarette card.

Refreshments

At an event celebrating stories from our past it only seemed right to have a vintage themed refreshment stand! Help yourself to a selection of home made cakes and finger sandwiches, cloudy lemonade or a hot drink – all absolutely free.

Date and Time

Thursday 16th May, 6.00pm-9.00pm.

Cost and Booking

Free – no booking necessary

Visit our website to find out more about our Museums at Night event.

Valentines Greetings Telegrams

At this time of the year the postal service is kept busy delivering love letters and cards on Valentine’s Day, but in the 20th Century cards and letters weren’t the only ways to send a romantic message. In 1936 the General Post Office introduced the Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, which enabled people to send a 9 word message for just 9d. This was 3d more expensive than sending a standard telegram, but it meant that the message would arrive on a specially-designed form.

Valentine's greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Valentine’s greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Denmark in 1907, and in Sweden in 1912. By the time Britain introduced them in 1935 most of Europe, the USA and many other countries had such a service. Between 1935 and the cessation of the service in 1982 a variety of greetings telegrams forms had been issued, enabling customers to send greetings for weddings, birthdays, coming of ages, Christmas and the Coronation, as well as Valentine’s Day.

The 1936 Valentine’s Day greetings telegram was seen as an experiment by the GPO, and it was the first telegram form to be printed in multiple colours. 50,000 Valentines telegrams were sent in 1936, which provided a much-need boost to the telegram service at a time when it was facing stiff competition from the telephone service.

During the Second World War the greetings telegram service was downscaled, and an “all in one” telegram form was introduced in 1942. It was less elaborate and colourful (to save on ink and paper during wartime shortages), and was carefully designed to be appropriate for many occasions. The design shows a village scene: a young couple have just been married in the church, an older couple are sitting on a bench together (perhaps having a low-key wedding anniversary celebration, or consoling each other after a loss), and a stork is delivering a baby to another couple.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegrams returned in 1951, with new forms issued in both 1952 and 1953. Thereafter it became common to re-issue greetings telegram designs from previous years. Rosemary Kay designed the last new Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form in 1961.

Valentine's Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

- Alison Bean, Web Officer

Visit us on Flickr to see a selection of Valentine’s Day greetings telegram forms and Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form artwork.

Bibliography: