Over the past few months, I have been cataloguing many of the lantern slides in the BPMA’s collection as part of our documentation backlog project and scanning the slides ready to be added to our online catalogue. The slides cover a wide range of subjects, from Post Office buildings around the world to the hustle and bustle of the Sorting Offices, providing a snapshot of a variety of postal activities. Many also contain some interesting and surprising stories, such of that of Miss Walton, a ‘P.O. Heroine’.
This unassuming hand-coloured slide shows a single storey building below the portrait of a woman in Victorian dress. Curious to know who Miss Walton was and what she had done to earn the title of ‘P.O Heroine’, I started to investigate a bit further. Miss Walton was Postmistress at Van Wyk Vlei, in the Northern Cape of South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and bravely refused to hand over the keys to the Post Office when armed rebels arrived in the village.
Her account of the incident on 13th March 1900 states:
I was told it was of no avail trying to stand against the force, and commanded to hand over the keys of the offices and safe. I placed myself against the door to guard it, whereupon one of the party pointed a rifle at me and exclaimed “I will shoot you dead!“ I replied, “Shoot, coward, and kill me; then you can have the keys, not otherwise”.
The rebels broke down the door of the Post Office, cut the telegraph wires and took the telegraph equipment but left Miss Walton unharmed. She recovered the office valuables and travelled safely with them to the town of Carnarvon two days later.
Miss Walton’s plucky conduct was honoured in a song in Punch magazine later the same month:
This is the song of a heroine,
Mid the heroes of the war
The song of a maid, who was not afraid,
But stood to her trust as a man should stay,
Who scorned the threats of the rebel raid,
And looked down the rifle without dismay,
British born! True to the core!
I’m not sure many employers today would expect such commitment from their employees!
Sarah Jenkins – Assistant Cataloguer