The First World War was a major turning point in the history of the Post Office. To mark the year of the centenary, our First World War exhibition, Last Post, is now open at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums group.
The exhibition explores the contribution of millions of people to wartime communication and the far reaching role of thePost Office on both the battlefield and the home front.
An Oxo tin among other things
Demonstrating the huge variety of items that could be sent through the post in wartime, you can see on display an OXO tin posted home from the fighting front by William Cox, a former Post Office worker. He posted the OXO tin back to his brother and sister, containing a button from the tunic of a fallen soldier and a piece of shrapnel.
Battlefield will and a favourite plant
You can also view the story of Private Leonard Eldridge of the 8th London Regiment (The Post Office Rifles). Soldiers were encouraged to write battlefield wills whilst on the Front. Private Eldridge’s will is on display in the exhibition.
Eldridge writes: ‘everything I possess except the aspadastras plant of mine, I give to you. The plant, I, with my last wish, leave it, and must be given to, Miss Florence Smith… She must be treated in my absence as my lover with every respect.’
Also on display in the exhibition are two original poems written by local Shropshire-born First World War officer and poet Wilfred Owen, kindly lent to us for the exhibition by The British Library.
‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, perhaps Owen’s most iconic poem, is on display. The poem was written in October 1917 and revised a few months later, in early 1918. Owen sent the poem to his mother, Susan Owen, with the message: ‘Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final).’
We also fittingly have on display Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘The Letter’. The poem depicts a soldier writing a letter to his wife back home. Whilst writing the letter, the soldier is fatally hit, and a comrade finishes the letter off for him.
The poem highlights the importance of letter writing to soldiers and also the danger present at all times in the trenches. It also illustrates that the contents of letters home may not have accurately depicted the conditions of everyday life for soldiers.
The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, until 27th March 2015 and entrance is free.
If you are unable to visit the exhibition in person, we have launched a simultaneous online exhibition in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute.
Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer