Tag Archives: WW1

Princess Mary Tin: Christmas on the front in 1914

In 1914 there was a popular view that the First World War, which had started on 4 August of that year, would ‘be over by Christmas’. As December rapidly approached however it was clear that the war would last considerably longer. It was in this atmosphere that Princess Mary, the only daughter of George V, expressed her wish to send a Christmas present to ‘every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front’. To help achieve this, a Christmas Gift Fund was established on 14 October 1914, taking  Princess Mary’s name. The public were immediately receptive to the idea agreeing with the Princess that ‘we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning’.

Princess Mary photo and christmas card

Princess Mary photo and Christmas card.

The form the gift would take was finally agreed on as a box containing tobacco and cigarettes along with the accoutrements such as a pipe and lighter. The box also contained a photo of the young Princess and a Christmas card with the message ‘With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year from The Princess Mary and Friends at Home’. Only a month after the fund had opened and with one month still to go until Christmas there was enough money left over to extend the gift scheme to every man ‘wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914’. A non-smoker’s version of the gift was developed with a khaki writing case containing pencil, paper and envelopes as well as the Christmas card and photograph mentioned above.  Religion was also taken into account so that everyone received a suitable present with tobacco being replaced by sweets and spices for Indian troops.

Non-smokers version - khaki writing case.

Non-smokers version – khaki writing case.

Many of the tins were kept as souvenirs and survive in families to this day. We are lucky enough to have two in the BPMA’s collection. One doesn’t have any of the contents remaining but the tin itself is a lovely item decorated with relief patterns including a side portrait of Princess Mary in the centre with a wreath with decorative ‘M’ either side. On six sides of the lid is lettering in vignettes showing the names of the allied forces: ‘Belgium'; ‘Japan'; ‘Russia'; ‘Montenegro'; ‘Servia'; ‘France’. The other is a new acquisition into our collection and includes the contents of tobacco and cigarettes. It belonged to Alfred Greenwood who served with the Royal Engineers and can be seen at our Last Post exhibition in Coalbrookdale until March 2015.

princess mary tin

Princess Mary tin.

 

Princess Mary tin and contents.

Princess Mary tin and contents.

In all almost 500,000 men received a gift from the Princess Mary fund and they have become treasured possessions and heirlooms for many families throughout the country and a reminder of the sacrifice that was being given at the time.

-Emma Harper, Curator

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.

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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!

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!

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.

4 August 1914: Commemorating the First World War

To commemorate today, 100 years since England entered the First World War, Head of Collections Chris Taft reflects on the essential role of the Post Office and its people at home and on the front.

Exactly 100 years ago today the world descended into chaos and changed forever, as England declared war on Germany. In the words of Wilfred Owen, poet and soldier, the ‘Winter of the World’ closed in. Every person in Britain was to be impacted as was every industry. For no industry can this be truer than for the British Post Office, it touched the lives of everyone. For many it was an employer, for even more it was a part of their community and for everyone it was the primary means of communication. By 1914 the Post Office was managing postal communication, telephones and the telegraph. It was also a central point of contact with government departments where people could collect forms, licences and pensions. Any global event was to have an impact on such a key organisation, and certainly the First World War was to.

Photograph of Sergeant Thomas May (second from left on front row) of the Post Office Rifles with the rest of his company outside some tents. (2013-0021/3)

Photograph of Sergeant Thomas May (second from left on front row) of the Post Office Rifles with the rest of his company outside some tents. (2013-0021/3)

As the European or Great War as it was known at the time broke out the Post Office was immediately called up. On the day war broke the Postmaster General was instructed that the Post Office was to take charge of censorship, initially this was just for letters coming from or going to Germany but gradually this role expanded until by later in the War censorship became a major weapon in the fight.

The duties expected of the postal service were many, from censorship already mentioned to managing the separation allowances, relief fund, war bonds and ration books. All this on top of the ordinary duty of delivering mail, as well as the massively expanded task of delivering mail to a World at war.

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The role the Post Office was to play in the First World War is explored on our online exhibition Last Post: Remembering the First World War. The story is also told in the Last Post Exhibition which is currently on at the Coalbrookdale Gallery at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and touring at venues around the country.

The biggest impact however was to be in respect of the people. Over 75,000 men of the Post Office went off to fight. Over 8,000 of these men were to never return. After the war, memorials began to be erected up and down the country to colleagues who lost their lives, today there are over 350 such memorials to postal and telecommunication workers.

Home Depot, Armistice Dat 11 November 1918 (POST 56/6)

Home Depot, Armistice Dat 11 November 1918 (POST 56/6)

As the men left to fight tens of thousands of women took on new role helping to keep the communications lines open both by delivering mail at home and helping to sort the mail for the troops in sorting offices in Britain and in Northern France and Belgium. Their contribution was immense.

As we remember the dawning of the ‘Winter of the World’ we must most of all remember all those people who played their part in the war that was meant to end all wars.

-Chris Taft, Head of Collections

To commemorate the beginning of the First World War, we have added all new content to our online exhibition, Last Post.

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!