Tag Archives: World War 2

Christmas Airgraphs

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, 1944 poster by Leonard Beaumont. (PRD0392)

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, 1944 poster by Leonard Beaumont. (PRD0392)

This poster designed by Leonard Beaumont in 1944 promotes the airgraph service, a method of sending messages to servicemen by airmail during the Second World War. Messages were written onto a special form that was then given an identification number and photographed onto microfilm. The microfilm was flown to its destination, developed into a full size print, and posted to the recipient.

Airgraph form, Christmas 1943 (POST 52/692)

Airgraph form, Christmas 1943 (POST 52/692)

Sending 1600 airgraphs on microfilm weighed just 5oz compared to 50lbs for the same number of letters. Copies of the microfilm were kept so that if they were shot down the messages could be re-sent.

Christmas time is often the most difficult for serving military personnel and airgraphs were eagerly anticipated by troops. Today, the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) uses an electronic system called eBlueys – read more about it in this blog about our visit to the BFPO in 2009.

Visit our website for more on the Airgraph Service – did you know that Queen Elizabeth (later The Queen Mother) sent the first airgraph?

Queen Elizabeth taking a look at an airgraph film. The Queen sent the first airgraph to launch the service in 1941.

Queen Elizabeth taking a look at an airgraph film. The Queen sent the first airgraph to launch the service in 1941.

The Central Telegraph Office as I knew it

Jim (Dusty) Miller, who was a Messenger/Young Postman at the Central Telegraph Office from 1946-1950, recently visited the Royal Mail Archive and was kind enough to write down his memories. In this, his final article, he tells us what he remembers of the Central Telegraph Office.

The Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was located on the corner of Newgate Street and St Martin’s Le Grand. It was originally five stories high but was reduced to one as a result of the bombing during the 1940 blitz. A second, brick built, story was added in 1946/7. This floor was used to re-house much of the admin staff such as the typing pool, Chief Inspector of Messengers, etc.

Central Telegraph Office - bomb damaged interior, 1941 (POST 118/5169)

Central Telegraph Office – bomb damaged interior, 1941 (POST 118/5169)

The Central Telegraph Office exterior, decorated for King George V Silver Jubilee, 1935 (POST 118/1130)

The Central Telegraph Office exterior, decorated for King George V Silver Jubilee, 1935 (POST 118/1130)

The function of the CTO was to act as a clearing house for both inland and overseas telegrams. It was connected to most major cities in the world by teleprinter (the forerunner of the fax machine). It was also linked to almost all of the central London post offices by a pneumatic tube. By placing a telegram awaiting despatch into a container, that resembled a 25lb shell case covered in felt like material, it was possible to send the telegram via an underground tube direct to the CTO or the smaller tube officer located in the basement of King Edward Building, for despatch. Alas most of this system was destroyed during the war, although a large part was reinstated when the roads were repaired during the rebuilding of inner London.

Plaque giving instructions for operating Pneumatic Tubes (2002-0376)

Plaque giving instructions for operating Pneumatic Tubes (2002-0376)

Just across the road from the CTO was another building. This building was almost as big as the CTO and was known as Angel Street. This building was connected to the CTO by a bridge built at the second floor level. The function of this building was to provide rest rooms, locker rooms and a restaurant for the many staff employed at the CTO. These facilities were needed as many of the staff worked split shifts and were required to work, say, from 7am to 11am, then they would be required again until 2pm when they would work until 6pm. This building was also badly damaged at the same time as the CTO. The surviving part was used to provide a ground floor restaurant whilst the upper two floors were used as locker/rest rooms for the messengers and girl probationers (the equivalent of the boy messengers). The remaining areas, because it contained undamaged basements and sub basements was asphalted over and used as air raid shelters. It was locked-up when the war ended and never re-opened.

The CTO was connected to the other three local buildings by underground passages and despite the damage suffered during the war it was still possible to use this method of contact.

The CTO was finally demolished in 1967. When the site was being prepared for redevelopment a large Roman mosaic floor was discovered. During the subsequent excavation a Roman burial ground was also uncovered. The Romans wrapped the bodies in a form of straw matting and placed them into slots in the wall as their final resting place…

I thought at the time how ironical it was that people should shelter from the bombs in a burial ground.

American Independence Day

Today Americans all over the world are celebrating Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776 and subsequent independence from Great Britain.

As many readers may already know the BPMA and Royal Mail Archive hold material relating to postal communications from a variety of countries, not just Great Britain, so this seemed an appropriate time to highlight two items in the BPMA’s collection with American connections.

A black and white steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, c. 1865 (2009-0038)

A black and white steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, c. 1865 (2009-0038)

This steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, scientist, politician, Postmaster and ‘Founding Father’ of the United States features an inset image of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The scene shows Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both of whom went on to serve as President of the United States. Benjamin Franklin has also been featured on a Great Britain stamp, issued in 1976 to mark the bicentenary of the Declaration of Independence.

Letter from General Eisenhower to Captain Crookshank, congratulating engineering and postal staff on their contribution to the war effort (POST 118/1596)

Letter from General Eisenhower to Captain Crookshank, congratulating engineering and postal staff on their contribution to the war effort (POST 118/1596)

One of my colleagues showed me this signed letter from General Dwight D Eisenhower shortly after I started as a Cataloguer at BPMA. As an enthusiastic new recruit and having recently listened to our podcast on the Post Office during the Second World War, I was struck by the seemingly sincere appreciation of the Post Office’s hard work and dedication during the conflict.

Dated 22nd June 1944, whilst Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and addressed to the Postmaster General Captain H.F.C. Crookshank, the letter reads:

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.

Sarah Jenkins – Assistant Cataloguer

Both of these items are available to view on our online catalogue.

A selection of lantern slides showing United States Post Office buildings can also bee seen on our Flickr site.

The distinctive films of Humphrey Jennings

Humphrey Jennings (1907-1950), is widely considered to be one of Britain’s greatest documentary filmmakers, with a distinctive style much admired by cinema-goers and critics alike. Born in Suffolk to a painter mother and architect father, he was creative in a number of fields before working in film: after attending the Perse School, he studied English literature at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where in his spare time he painted, designed sets, and also managed to find time to co-found the literary periodical ‘Experiment’, with William Empson and Jacob Bronowski (later to become well-known figures themselves).

A still from "London can Take It!", Jenning's documentary made in the early days of World War 2.

In 1934, Jennings joined the GPO film unit, where he worked with colleagues such as John Grierson and particularly Alberto Cavalcanti, and developed an experimental style that became instantly recognisable. Having helped to organise the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936 it’s no surprise that the movement influenced his work: he strove to see the extraordinary in the everyday, stating that ‘to the real poet the front of the Bank of England may be as excellent a site for the appearance of poetry as the depths of the sea’. This sensibility was perfect for his work for the General Post Office, and is evidenced in films like ‘Penny Journey’, where the seemingly simple journey of a postcard is followed with a focus on the behind-the-scenes processes that enable its arrival, and, most famously, ‘London can Take It!’, a film that celebrates London’s enduring spirit, resilient even during the Blitz.

GPO Public Relations Department poster - "Visit the Post Office film display - Free" - a projector is projecting an image of a GPO badge. (POST 118/506)

Many of Humphrey Jennings’s films (alongside other GPO classics) feature on the compilation GPO Film Unit DVDS ‘Addressing The Nation’, ‘We Live In Two Worlds’, and ‘If War Should Come’, available from the BPMA shop.

Or if you want to see even more of his work, a brand new compilation released by the BFI features some of his GPO work as well as his other films. ‘The Complete Humphrey Jennings: Volume 1’ is available from the BFI shop.

The Post Office and the Blitz

Our archive and museum collections could tell a billion stories. In our latest podcast Assistant Curator Vyki Sparkes reveals some of them as she uses diary extracts and official documents to show how postal workers and buildings were affected by the Blitz.

New Cross Exchange, damaged by two High Explosive bombs which fell close to the building on 4 October 1940. (POST 56)

New Cross Exchange, damaged by two High Explosive bombs which fell close to the building on 4 October 1940. (POST 56)

Between September 1940 and May 1941 Nazi bombers targeted important infrastructure in the British Isles, including General Post Office (GPO) buildings such as sorting offices and telephone exchanges.

Many GPO staff showed great courage and determination to keep mail moving and telecommunications services functioning. Amongst them was Frederick G. Gurr who led the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad, a small group of men who rescued mail, money and supplies from Post Offices and letterboxes bombed in the City of London.

To find out more about Gurr and other GPO World War 2 heroes download The Post Office and the Blitz podcast from www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast or subscribe to our podcast with iTunes.

Phoenix Place – the last undeveloped WW2 bomb site?

by Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

Opposite the BPMA’s entrance in Phoenix Place is a rundown area of open space currently used as a car park for employees of the Mount Pleasant sorting office. This is how it looks on Google Street View.

There is some speculation, including on Flickr, about the car park’s significance as one of the last undeveloped World War II bomb sites in central London. Since we have lots of plans, maps and photographs in our collections relating to Post Office and Royal Mail property in London, I wanted to see if I could find any evidence that the rumour is actually true.

Immediately I discovered it isn’t. You can see from the photograph below that pre-war buildings were still standing in Phoenix Place in the 1960s.

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

The area shown is almost opposite what is now the BPMA (our Archive Search Room and Main Office are located where the tower is in the photograph). The remains of a building are also visible, and this may have been the ‘bombed site’ at No. 4 Mount Pleasant referred to in a meeting held in 1956 to discuss the possible extension of the sorting office into Phoenix Place. Google Street View shows how that area looks now.

The size, location and function of Mount Pleasant sorting office made it a likely target for German bombers, and it was struck numerous times. On 16 September 1940 Mount Pleasant was hit for the first time by incendiary bombs. The Parcel Office received further direct raids from incendiaries and high explosives in October and November 1940, and again in January and April 1941.

Surrounding areas, including Eyre Street Hill, Farringdon Road, the Daily Sketch garage at the corner of Mount Pleasant and Gough Street, and Bideford Mansions in Mount Pleasant, were bombed, causing damage to the sorting office.

Several houses in what is now the car park suffered serious damage, including those owned by the Post Office at 34-40 Gough Street. Numbers 12-26 Mount Pleasant were also bombed and subsequently cleared.

Before the war, there were two additional pubs to the current generous supply of watering holes in the Mount Pleasant area. The Two Blue Posts at 79 Mount Pleasant, and the buildings running to Laystall Street on its left, suffered extensive bomb-damage. They were replaced by the block of flats we see now.

The Two Brewers at 32 Gough Street also suffered considerable damage during the war, but was still standing in 1947 as it received a special licence for the Royal Wedding. You can see from the photograph below that the bomb-damaged neighbouring building had been cleared.

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

References on Flickr suggesting the car park area was home to the Parcel Office during the war are incorrect. The Parcel Office was actually located on the current Mount Pleasant site, and was moved to the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington after a direct hit on 18 June 1943. This created a ‘raging inferno’ that left the building a ‘shapeless mass of twisted girders and smouldering ruins’ (see photograph below) and resulted in two fatalities.

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

After the war, discussions were held about the possible rebuilding and extension of the Parcel Office on the site now occupied by the car park. The area still contained a number of properties, despite being damaged during the war. The map below, from 1952, shows the layout of buildings in the area bordered by Mount Pleasant, Phoenix Place, Gough Street and Calthorpe Street (the red area was Post Office property).

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

In 1956, the Planning Authorities recommended that the Post Office acquire the land now occupied by the car park. The London Postal Region was intending to use this site to provide a new Parcel Section, and the map below shows the dates for the proposed acquisition of the remaining properties. The yellow area was already Post Office freehold whilst the red area, incorporating a food suppliers, and Kemsleys Newspapers, which owned the Sunday Times, The Daily Sketch and The Sunday Graphic, was to be acquired in 1958.

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

However, the Parcel Section was never rebuilt on this land and it seems that it has remained empty since, with the crumbling remnants of buildings giving the impression that the whole area has remained a bomb-site.

Sources:

POST 122/222 – ‘Buildings: rebuilding/extension of Mt Pleasant Parcel Office’,
(1950-56)

POST
56/175
– ‘ARP arrangements and incidents at Mt Pleasant during the Second World War, 1939-1945’

POST
102/50
– ‘Mount Pleasant Parcels Office, air raid damage’ (1943-1946)

http://pubsinuk.com/LondonPubs/Holborn/TwoBluePosts.shtml (24/05/11)