Tag Archives: army

A Project Archivist Farewell

I’ve just completed my final task as Project Archivist: appraising and cataloguing a vast deposit of records on the Army Postal Service (APS). The files focus mainly on the Royal Engineers Postal Section (REPS) and its successors, and date from before the First World War to the 1970s. I’ve catalogued nearly 500 files, volumes, photographic collections and plans.

Matt presents a small selection of the Army Postal Service files he's been cataloguing.

Matt presents a small selection of the Army Postal Service files he’s been cataloguing.

There have been challenges along the way. I’ve had to battle an onslaught of Armed Forces vocabulary:  being able to tell a sitrep from a sapper was essential, and woe betide an archivist who confused the DAPS with a WOLO.* My geographical knowledge has also been tested: the deposit included files on British and Allied Forces’ postal arrangements in India, North Africa, the Middle East and Far East, with many locations identified by their old colonial names. The most unexpected item was a manual from an Army post office in Kiribati!

The deposit’s greatest strength is its rich insight into the APS during the Second World War and its aftermath. Virtually every theatre of operations is covered. There are Directorate-level files on postal arrangements during the Siege of Malta (POST 47/1034), the Battle of Madagascar (POST 47/871), the Dunkirk evacuation (POST 47/925) and the D-Day preparations (POST 47/747), to name just four. The handover of postal and telecommunications services to the government of newly-independent India is also documented.

Public confidence in the APS was vitally important during the War. This letter concerns one of many press visits to postal facilities organised by the Armed Forces and the Post Office. [Extract from POST 47/1028.]

Public confidence in the APS was vitally important during the War. This letter concerns one of many press visits to postal facilities organised by the Armed Forces and the Post Office. [Extract from POST 47/1028.]

The files also hold lots of personal stories about the careers of REPS officers. POST 47/780, for example, partly records a falling-out between the APS staff at HQ First Army and Allied Force HQ during the Tunisian Campaign and the interception of ‘artistic’ postcards that were being received by First Army soldiers. And if you ever wanted to know how many bugles were held by the Post Office Cadets at the Home Postal Centre in Nottingham in 1947, POST 47/942 will tell you.**

A list of band parts on loan to the Post Office Cadets in 1947, attached to a letter concerning a shortage of bugles. [Extract from POST 47/942.]

A list of band parts on loan to the Post Office Cadets in 1947, attached to a letter concerning a shortage of bugles. [Extract from POST 47/942.]

The APS files have been catalogued in POST 47 and 56. The deposit also contained large amounts of non-postal material on the REPS more generally. These have been catalogued as a separate ‘REPS collection’. All these files will appear on our online catalogue in the coming months.

This is the end of my year-long, grant-funded Project Archivist post. I’ve catalogued over 1,500 files from all over the Archive in that time. But I’m not leaving the BPMA! Instead, I’m regenerating into a new incarnation as a catalogue systems archivist. I’ll be doing lots of data-processing work and beta-testing our shiny new online catalogue before it launches later this year. Watch out for an update from me on this blog in the Spring.

– Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

* Sitrep = situation report; sapper = the Royal Engineers’ equivalent to a private; DAPS = Director Army Postal Service; WOLO = War Office Liaison Officer.

** Two (one substandard).

Christmas mail for HM Forces

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising final posting dates, 1974. (POST 110/0079)

Poster advertising final posting dates, 1974. (POST 110/0079)

Military personnel are constantly on the move, so spare a thought for the British Forces Post Office which has the unenviable task of getting mail to them. In 1974, as now, the families of those serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force had to be very organised to ensure their loved ones received their Christmas cards and parcels. Mail from home is a great morale boost to servicemen and women on operations far from home, especially at Christmas time.

Royal Mail’s Paralympics Hero

Much has been written about how Paralympians have overcome adversity to achieve sporting success. It is also notable that many Paralympians compete in more than one discipline. Team GB’s first London 2012 Paralympics Gold Medal winner Sarah Storey has overcame her disability to win multiple medals in several sports. The same is true with Royal Mail’s Paralympics hero Ian Hayden.

Royal Mail's Gold Medal Winner stamp issued today commemorating Sarah Storey's gold medal win in the Cycling: Track Women's C5 Pursuit.

Royal Mail’s Gold Medal Winner stamp issued today commemorating Sarah Storey’s gold medal win in the Cycling: Track Women’s C5 Pursuit.

Ian Hayden joined the Army in 1970 but suffered injuries to his back, legs and shoulders after being attacked on guard duty in 1974. While this ended his Army career, Ian Hayden was obviously not a man to rest on his laurels – within two years he had started a business and formed the charity All About Ability. He also became active in a variety of sports after leaving the Army, including horse riding, cycling, golf and athletics.

After being asked to open the new disabled entrance to a local Post Office, Ian became an Equal Opportunities Officer and Employment Consultant at Royal Mail Oxford.

Royal Mail’s staff magazine Courier reported in January 1992 that Ian Hayden had been selected for the Barcelona Paralympics. He had previously won two Gold Medals and one Silver Medal at the Seoul Paralympics in 1988, and was also the World Record holder in javelin, discus and shot in the standing position.

Ian Hayden with his medals from the Seoul Paralympics and other championships, with Royal Mail managing director Bill Cockburn. (Courier, January 1992)

Ian Hayden with his medals from the Seoul Paralympics and other championships, with Royal Mail managing director Bill Cockburn. (Courier, January 1992)

Later that year, in the July issue of Courier, it was reported that Ian had been forced to switch from competing in the standing position to competing from a wheelchair. But this proved not to be a problem, as he then went on to break three new records at the national championships, and to break two of them again in international competition.

At the Barcelona Olympics itself Ian Hayden won two Silver Medals, despite injuring his arm whilst getting out of the bath at the Olympic village. The October 1992 issue of Courier reported that this injury caused Ian a great deal of pain, as apart from his physical disabilities Ian was also a haemophilic. Reporter Graham Harvey wrote that Ian “ignored the pain to take silver in the shot and javelin”. Ian himself said of his experience at Barcelona “I was beginning to bleed pretty badly after competing so I had no choice but to withdraw from the discus”, the implication being that had he been able to compete he may have medalled in that event too.

Ian Hayden with his two Barcelona Paralympics Silver Medals, which he won despite an arm injury. (Courier, October 1992)

Ian Hayden with his two Barcelona Paralympics Silver Medals, which he won despite an arm injury. (Courier, October 1992)

Ian Hayden had hoped to go to the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics but injured his back during qualifying. However, in 1995 he completed a sponsored ride from John O Grots to Lands End on a hand-powered bicycle, which raised £100,000 for the British Paralympics Association, so he still managed to contribute to British Paralympics success in Atlanta.

Ian Hayden (front left) with fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey (later Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson), receiving a cheque for £200,000 from postman Brian Burnham (top left) on TV-am in 1992. Also pictured is TV-am presenter Katharyn Holloway. The money was raised for the British Paralympic Team by Royal Mail employees. At this time Royal Mail was the only sponsor of both the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. (Courier, September 1992)

Ian Hayden (front left) with fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey (later Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson), receiving a cheque for £200,000 from postman Brian Burnham (top left) on TV-am in 1992. Also pictured is TV-am presenter Katharyn Holloway. The money was raised for the British Paralympic Team by Royal Mail employees. At this time Royal Mail was the only sponsor of both the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. (Courier, September 1992)

Ian Hayden died aged 64 in 2011, and his obituary appeared in the Oxford Times. The obituary notes that Ian was awarded the MBE in 1994 for services to equal opportunities. His family reflected that “Ian led an amazing life.”

Stamps featuring all Great Britain’s Paralympics gold medal winners will be issued within 24 hours of victory. Visit your Post Office today to buy the stamps, or buy online at www.royalmail.com/goldmedalstamps.

The Royal Mail Archive in London holds back issues of Post Office and Royal Mail staff magazines, which are an invaluable resource for family historians and researchers. Find out more at www.postalheritage.org.uk/genealogy.

The Post Office in the First World War

Even today we are reminded from time to time of the importance and value of a letter or packet to British troops serving across the globe. The receipt of a letter or parcel containing news from home or small mementoes or gift is a vital life line. This was also true during the First World War. Now over 90 years since that conflict ended the story of just how important a postal service was is still being told. The BBC Radio 4 series, included some touching extracts from letters sent by British soldiers, and even letters from German soldiers back to the family of fallen British officer. A number of these letters are today preserved as part of the British Postal Museum collection.

Delivering mail to troops during the First World War (POST 118/5429).

Delivering mail to troops during the First World War (POST 118/5429).

The First World War was fought at a time when other forms of communications were still in their infancy, most homes for instance still did not have the telephone, and indeed the Post Office themselves had only be managing the network for two years when war broke out. Written communication was therefore essential not only to maintain morale of the troops and allow news of the war home, but it was also a vital part of conveying military information.

The breakout of war across the world posed a massive challenge for the postal system that not only had to maintain a service at home but was now also having to provide a service to ever changing theatres of war around the world and at sea. The British Post Office not only had to rise to this massive challenge, but had to do so with reduced numbers of staff. The organisation sent thousands of men off to fight in the war and also to help run the postal service at the front lines. Many of these men were to never return home. Women were employed in huge numbers to fill the gaps left by men. The Post Office were to lead the way in providing employment for women that was to go on after the war to help in the cause of women’s suffrage.

Women working on parcel sorting during the First World War (POST 56/6)

Women working on parcel sorting during the First World War (POST 56/6)

The Post Office’s roles of operating a postal system and sending men off to fight were however far from its only contributions. As The Peoples Post has shown the Post Office also played a pivotal role in censorship and espionage. On the one hand the Post Office were catching spies through the interception of mail, and on the other were helping to prevent the leaking, either accidental or deliberately, of military secrets. Letters sent from the front were subject to inspection by the postal censor, unless they were sealed in a signed ‘honour’ envelope, where the sender would sign a declaration conforming the contents of the letter did not reveal military information.

Honour Envelope – obverse (PH32/27)

Honour Envelope – obverse (PH32/27)

Other methods were also employed to help reduce the chances of military positions or details escaping, such as the field service postcard (referenced in the radio series) that limited the things that could be said by way of multiple choices.

If this was not all enough the Post Office also operated and managed the Separation Allowance, paid to those left at home while the wage earner was off fighting the war, and the war savings bond, a government launched savings scheme set up to help pay for the war.

The Post Office’s contribution to the war was on many levels, and really was essential to the eventual victory in so many ways. Perhaps the most remarkable element to all this is how this was all being done while so many of the organisation’s most experienced staff were off serving in the armed forces. Many of these never to returned, and even today Royal Mail is one of the largest custodians of war memorials in this country. For those that did come back the Post Office established its own hospitals and convalescence homes to care for its returning heroes.

The story of the Post Office in the First World is huge and fascinating and there is so much more of it to tell. Find out more in our online exhibition The Last Post.

– Chris Taft, Curator

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage The Post Office at War. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.