Painting of letter boxes during World War II

During World War II, the frequency of normal repainting of letter boxes, telephone kiosks, fire alarm posts etc was suspended. Each Head Postmaster was to decide what painting was necessary though they were expected to spend no more than a quarter of the normal, pre-war, amount on this.

Pillar box in Birkenhead painted with three white lines, 1938

Pillar box in Birkenhead painted with three white lines, 1938

A degree of over-enthusiasm was exhibited in Oxton, Birkenhead in 1938 when the local A.R.P. employed workmen to paint certain obstacles with white lines. The men painted a number of pillar boxes with three bands of white paint. It was reported that the “rapidly promoted sergeants of the sidewalk soon lost their military status” and the boxes were quickly restored to their normal peacetime colour scheme.

More official steps were soon taken to assist in the movement of vehicular traffic during ‘black-out’ conditions.  Local Authorities, acting on instructions from the Ministry of Home Security, applied bands of white paint or ‘other suitable distinguishing marks’ to trees, lamp posts, poles etc. bordering roads. The normal practice was for street objects to be painted with 6” white bands at 6” intervals to a height of 3’ from the ground. The decision on which objects required painting lay with the Local Authority and the Post Office gave authority for pillar boxes, police and fire alarm posts, telephone poles and telephone kiosks to also be painted with white paint if requested. However Local Authorities were advised that the Post Office preference was for just the plinths of pillar boxes to be painted white. If additional white paint was required, authority was given for the projecting rim of the cap to also be painted. Telephone kiosks types K2, K4 and K6 had bases painted white up to the bottom level of the glass panes. Kiosks K1 and K3 already featured stippled light paint and did not require further work. If local authorities pressed strongly for more extensive painting then this was permitted.

At first, Local Authorities were expected to pay for the white paint being applied, but from November 1944, instructions were issued that the Post Office would meet the cost of any white bands applied to Post Office property.

During the war the Post Office agreed with the Home Office that Local Authorities could, where they desired, paint the caps of pillar boxes with yellowish green, gas detector paint. It was thought that this would enable Air Raid Wardens to detect the presence of gas in the event of enemy raids. The Home Office issued instructions that this was not to be carried out until Local Authorities received notification ‘to complete Air Raid Precaution plans’. Regional Head Postmasters were informed by the Authority which boxes had been so painted. In response to tentative enquiry, in late 1944 the Post Office specifically stated that they were not considering the question of camouflage painting of letter boxes.

Sources:
BPMA  POST 78/311
BPMA POST 78/312
BPMA POST 78/313

BPMA POST 78/314
BPMA POST 56/23
, Post Office A.R.P. Manual VIII 13, 1940
Post Office Magazine November, 1938

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