War time postal publicity campaigns

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

The Second World War hit postal and telecommunications services hard. Lack of personnel due to conscription meant that all services were under pressure and the Post Office used the Public Relations Department to carry their twin calls for understanding and assistance to the general public.

One of the Post Office’s main concerns was the delivery of mail to HM Forces overseas. Delivery times for letters sent via Air Mail services were greatly slowed down due to enemy action in the Mediterranean and the Post Office needed to find a speedier alternative; it decided to adopt the Airgraph service.

Sending an Airgraph involved customers writing a letter on a special form which was transported to a central despatching office and photographed onto a film. At the Receiving Office, large prints on bromide paper could be made from the films and despatched by post to the addressees. Although there was a slight delay for processing at each end, the service had the benefit of being faster than normal Air Mail as the films travelled in comparatively small high speed aircraft.

The service proved to be popular and in May 1942 it was extended to include civilian correspondence. The Public Relations Department were called in to help ‘popularise’ the service and as part of their strategy they produced a series of posters encouraging the public to use the service. These included posters by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero) (POST 110/2971), Jan Lewitt and George Him (POST 110/2972), and Anthony Frederick Sarg (POST 110/3194).

Send Airgraphs - they save aircraft space, designed by Anthony Frederick Sarg

Send Airgraphs - they save aircraft space, designed by Anthony Frederick Sarg

Austin Cooper also designed posters advertising airgraphs: (POST 110/4151 and POST 110/1184); in addition he produced a poster to advertise the first Christmas Airgraph in 1943 (POST 110/1185).

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, designed by Austin Cooper

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, designed by Austin Cooper

The Airgraph for the following Christmas was advertised in a poster produced by Leonard Beaumont (POST 110/1193). The Christmas Airgraphs proved very popular, with six million incoming and outgoing for the two years that they were available.

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, produced by Leonard Beaumont

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, produced by Leonard Beaumont

Closer to home, the telecommunications service was under pressure to perform and it was forced to drastically reduce the services that were on offer to the public as it simply could not cope with the demand. In the years 1943 and 1944 the Public Relations Department were instrumental in getting the public to reduce their use of the trunk telephone service. They did this in a number of ways, including the use of newspaper advertisements and the production of a short film to be shown in most cinemas.

They also produced a number of posters encouraging the public to ‘write instead’ of using the telephone or telegraph services. These were designed by artists such as Leonard Beaumont (POST 110/1188), Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero) (POST 110/3200) and Hans Arnold Rothholz (POST 110/1187).

Think Ahead, Write Instead, designed by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero)

Think Ahead, Write Instead, designed by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero)

Posters produced for these two wartime campaigns were displayed on postal vans as well as inside post offices and they helped to create a situation where the public worked in partnership with the Post Office to ensure that available services were effectively operated.

Some of the other major publicity campaigns coordinated on the Home front during the Second World War by the Public Relations Department were: ‘Post Early in the day’, the annual ‘Post Early for Christmas’ campaign and a campaign beseeching the public to ‘write clearly and correctly’. The latter practice was essential so that inexperienced staff, standing in for those at war, could effectively sort the mail.

Posters played a key part in spreading the word of these campaigns and artists such as Hans Schleger (Zero), Tom Eckersley and Jan Lewitt and George Him helped to get the message across.

The BPMA exhibition Designs on Delivery: GPO posters 1930-1960 will open at the London College of Communications on 7th October 2009. 2b9pdhtfur

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