Last Post: Remembering the First World War

Last week saw the closure of Last Post: Remembering the First World War at the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms. The exhibition is now on a national tour.

Jointly organised by the BPMA and the CM&CWR, the exhibition displays artefacts, posters and images from both the Imperial War Museum’s and the BPMA’s collections. It celebrates the the vital role the Post Office played during the First World War (1914-1918).

Highlights include a rare opportunity to see the Victoria Cross awarded to Sergeant Alfred J. Knight, a member of the Post Office Rifles, whose brave and selfless acts included single-handedly taking on twelve German soldiers – killing three and leaving the rest to flee.

The exhibition also features the very first showing of a facsimile of Winston Churchill’s tender letter to his wife Clementine to be opened in the event of his death, sent from the Western Front where Churchill fought from November 1915 – May 1916.

During the First World War Women Post Office workers took on the role of drivers of horse drawn vehicles, a job previously reserved for male workers.

During the First World War Women Post Office workers took on the role of drivers of horse drawn vehicles, a job previously reserved for male workers.

The tens of thousands of women who joined the Post Office during the war years to fill the job gaps left by over 75,000 men sent to fight are also celebrated. This was the first time in Britain that women were allowed to carry out duties such as delivering mail in urban areas and opening packets in the Returned Letter Office. These women became indispensable, sorting 12 million letters and one million parcels a week to be delivered to the front line trenches and around the world.

Recordings of personal stories from wartime, including the account of a 13 year old telegraph girl, Eileen Johnston, bring the era to life. Johnston’s father, a docker, was killed in 1915 meaning Eileen had to leave school at the age of 13 and go to work at the Post Office in Whitechapel. She speaks about being punished for dossing, as well as her experiences of delivering the harrowing news to women that their son or husband had been killed – “really awful. So hard for a child to have to tell them that”.

Last Post: Remembering the First World War also demonstrates how letters were delivered to the front, how the Post Office dealt with dramatic increases in volumes of mail and the vital part that censorship played in the war effort.

A talk related to this exhibition, entitled The Post Office during the First World War, will take place at the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms on 5th March at 7pm. The speaker is Peter Sutton, a researcher at the BPMA. For more information on this talk please click here.

The BPMA has produced a Last Post Online Exhibition and placed some Last Post images on Flickr. Last Post educational resources are also available, as is a set of postcards.

Exhibition Tour Dates

RAF Museum Cosford, 27th February – 26th May 2009

Staffordshire Regiment Museum, 1st April – 31st July 2009

Firepower, The Royal Artillery Museum, 5th June – 9th September 2009

Powysland Museum, 1th September – 30th November 2009

Aldershot Military Museum, 18th September – 27th October 2009

REME Museum, 6th November 2009 – 19th January 2010

Royal Logistic Corps Museum, 9th December 2009 – 19th February 2010

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