Harder times in Hell’s Corner

Head Postmaster of Dover AWB Mowbray kept a typed account of the Blitz years in what became known as ‘Hell’s Corner’, recounted here by BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes.

Working and living conditions were incredibly arduous in Dover during the Second World War as Mowbray records:

…the demands made on the Staff were many, and the inconveniences suffered legion, but the response was excellent at all times, especially when one bears in mind the nuisance raids – lone raiders swooping on the town and harbour from high altitudes with engines cut out – the first intimation of their presence being the whistle of bombs; four or five visits a day sometimes for lengthy periods, was not conducive to the maintenance of a high standard of morale, but the Dover staff showed no weakness; Postal services were invariably completed, sometimes a little late when streets or roads were unsafe.

When the destruction of his neighbour’s house brought the danger uncomfortably close to home, Mowbray slept in a public shelter for five weeks while awaiting safer accommodation. With a corridor reserved for his family, he dryly comments: ‘This mode of retiring was not exactly what I had visualised as being proper for a Head Postmaster’, but he found it a useful experience to understand what other staff and townspeople had to endure.

Apart from the numerous disturbances by policemen, wardens, gunfire and bombs, this shelter sleeping was not without its entertainment. Owing to the continuous strain under which we lived, people talked frequently in their sleep – of their fancies in ladies, beer or pictures, of the merits of this Dictator or that – I only trust I gave away no official secrets myself. The comradeship was most striking. It seems strange that it should take wars to settle national differences, yet in a public shelter, no matter whether the folk be rich or poor, clean or grimy, a tin of sweets works wonders with frayed tempers and jaded nerves.

On several other occasions Mowbray and the evening staff needed to spend all night at the office as safe travelling was impossible.

‘The Demon Postmaster’. This is believed to be a comic portrait of AWB Mowbray, Head Postmaster of Dover during the Second World War. (POST 118/1557)

‘The Demon Postmaster’. This is believed to be a comic portrait of AWB Mowbray, Head Postmaster of Dover during the Second World War. (POST 118/1557)

One American philatelist wrote to Mowbray at the time, keen to obtain letters date-stamped ‘Hell’s Corner’, as the German pilots had nicknamed Dover. A polite reply was sent, reading

…although this is a veritable “Hell’s Corner” to the Germans, we are proud of it. Our town and harbour have been bombed, shelled and mined, but there is not a finer lot of men, women and children anywhere. It is business as usual. I am sorry we have no date stamp ‘“Hell’s Corner”, but our lads have stamped “Hell’s Corner” on Jerry’s mind plain enough.

Vyki Sparkes’ podcast The Post Office and the Blitz can be downloaded for free from the BPMA website, iTunes or SoundCloud.

See Shells Over the White Cliffs for more from the AWB Mowbray accounts.

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