Tag Archives: AWB Mowbray

They came to do a job and they did it

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.

Mowbray wrote with pride when a member of his staff, Miss W N Scanlan, was awarded the British Empire Medal in October 1941. This was announced in the London Gazette alongside a notice that the same award was awarded to two other female supervisors in charge of Post Office telephone exchanges.

Medal awarded to Miss W Scanlan during World War II for bravery during bombing raids on the Telephone Exchange at Dover. (2004-0024/01)

Medal awarded to Miss W Scanlan during World War II for bravery during bombing raids on the Telephone Exchange at Dover. (2004-0024/01)

Little more is known of these women’s particular acts of bravery, aside from what is written in the newspaper:

These three Supervisors of Women Telephone Operators have, by their courage and devotion to duty, set a fine example to their staffs. Throughout the air raids in the areas where they work, they have maintained an efficient telephone service during periods of constant danger.

According to the General Post Office press release, eight other female supervisors and telephonists had previously received awards and commendations.

Over 100,000 women had been employed by the GPO by November 1941 – more than one-third of the total staff. Due to the shortage of manpower, women worked a range of duties including some previously considered ‘male’ occupations – such as telephone engineers and the first ever female motorised van driver.

Mowbray describes how, in Christmas 1941…

… the kaleidoscopic effect of the multi-coloured jumpers and overalls of the women temporary sorters who fluttered about like so many butterflies was unmarred even by 2½ hours of shelling in one evening…they came to do a job and they did it regardless of the large quantity of roof glass.

Additionally, one-third of the Sub Post Offices in the country were controlled by women. It is clear that without them, the vital communication networks cared for by the Post Office could not have been maintained.

In addition to these examples there are many other notable tales of bravery by postal staff during the Blitz. A total of 27 post office staff died on duty in 1941. By the end of that year, over 100 men and women had received commendations and awards from the King, while on Civil Defence or Post Office Duty. These ranged from 38 British Empire Medals to eight George Medals.

Mowbray himself was to be included in the New Years Honours list in 1942, as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1941, 117 staff were also commended by the Postmaster General for their work on the home front. For every Post Office worker who won an award, there were countless others behind them who received no official recognition. Miss Scanlan announced the award to her staff by flourishing the letter and saying ‘Girls we’ve got the British Empire Medal’. And, as Mowbray himself readily acknowledges, it was the co-operation of the police, fire, transport and military services, and the cheeriness of the population that helped his staff cope with the strain of war.

We do not like the phrase “We can take it”. It would be more honest to say “It’s forced on us”, but the Dover people and Dover Post Office staff do their utmost to make the best of decidedly unpleasant circumstances.

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 and Harder times in Hell’s Corner for more from the AWB Mowbray accounts.

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.