Tag Archives: Field Post Office

Mail to troops fighting the First World War

In wartime one of the most important means of maintaining troops’ morale is provision of an efficient mail service. Letters from family and loved ones are eagerly awaited, as is news from the front to those at home.

Writing Home in Dug-Out (2011-0511/01)

Writing Home in Dug-Out (2011-0511/01)

300 members of the Army Postal Service travelled with the British Expeditionary Force to France in August 1914, but by the end of the war this had grown to nearly 4,000 across all spheres of conflict.

Suvla Bay Post Office (2011-0502/11)

Suvla Bay Post Office (2011-0502/11)

Lantern slides, recently catalogued by our curatorial team and volunteers, show some of these personnel at work. A field post office established at the side of a road in France is typical of the makeshift facilities employed to run the service.

British Field Post Office France (2011-0502/07)

British Field Post Office France (2011-0502/07)

Other images show foreign troops receiving their mail.

India Military Camp Post Office (2011-0502/16)

India Military Camp Post Office (2011-0502/16)

As artefacts, these lantern slides are fascinating for many reasons. The crude colourisation of some of them tells us about the technology of the time, and the desire of the image-makers must have had to show us the world as it is – in colour. But more interesting are the glimpses of the conditions endured by the troops, even when they weren’t fighting at the front, and the expressions on their faces, showing obvious delight at receiving news from home.

Visit Flickr to see more of our First World War lantern slides.

Virtual Advent Calendar – 6th December

In the lead-up to Christmas we are showcasing some of the festive items in our collection across our social networks. Behind the door of our virtual advent calendar today is…

Christmas Greeting from The Army Post Office Corps Bloemfontein (1890s-1920s)

A black and white lantern slide of an image of a map, with a group photo in front of Field Post Office in the centre.

A black and white lantern slide of an image of a map, with a group photo in front of Field Post Office in the centre.

See larger images of all the items in our Virtual Advent Calendar on Flickr.

Illustrating Empire Mail: George V and the GPO

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Projects Manager

The BPMA’s major exhibition this year – Empire Mail: George V and the GPO – runs until 25 July at Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London.  Big exhibitions like this take several years of planning, starting with a theme and developing the story around it. Objects must be selected and conserved (including any loans from other institutions), text and captions written and images chosen to bring the story to life. Empire Mail explores the reign of George V (1910-1936), innovations in the General Post Office and George V as a stamp collector – one of the finest of his time.

Selecting images to use in an exhibition can certainly be a challenging task.  Each image has to earn its place, illustrating a different aspect of the exhibition’s story.  Inevitably there will be many wonderful images that don’t quite make it.

I wanted to share some of these as I think they still deserve to be seen.  If you haven’t yet been to see Empire Mail: George V and the GPO, you might wonder which ones were chosen!

1. Field Post Office, First World War

Field Post Office, First World War

We used two other photographs of First World War Field Post Offices in the exhibition, so this one didn’t make it, but I still really like the image. Sending and receiving mail was vital for troop morale and Field Post Offices would be set up in any appropriate location. Notice the F.P.O sign on the windowsill and the poster promoting war savings certificates as an appropriate gift for a sweetheart!  Unfortunately we don’t know where or when this photo was taken.

2. Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Two women posting into a special aerial post box at the officers of the Windsor Chronicle.  The 1911 Coronation Aerial Post was the world’s first regular airmail service.  One of these red, wooden post boxes (on loan from Windsor & Royal Borough Museum) can be seen in the exhibition and we would have liked to include this image of it in use. Unfortunately, because this is an image from a newspaper it would have been very poor quality once blown up to the size needed for display.

3. Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

We had some good images of the September coronation airmail flights and the rehearsals the month before, so this one did not make the grade. It shows a postman with mail sack approaching one of the planes during a rehearsals. (This particular plane – a Valkyrie Monoplane – was used in the rehearsal, but not the actual mail flights.)

There were 20 flights in total (16 from Hendon to Windsor and 4 on the return leg) each generally carrying 2 mail sacks with a combined weight of about 50lbs.  Only special postcards and envelopes were carried, examples of which can also be seen in the exhibition.

4. Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

The exhibition team all liked this pleasant rural scene from the 1930s with the iconic George V Morris van, however the image didn’t quite fit in with the exhibition themes. The photograph was most likely taken for the Post Office magazine, illustrating the work of Post Office employees in different parts of the country.  We do have one of the Morris vans on display.  Moving it into the gallery took some very careful manoeuvring!

5. Light aircraft about to leave Newtownards airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

Light aircraft about to leave Newtonard airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

There were many good airmail photos to choose from and unfortunately this one is from just outside the dates covered by the exhibition. Airmail was still a relative novelty during the 1930s; here a small plane is operating out of a small airfield with a grass runway. But even this scene was advanced compared to images of the open wood and fabric aircraft making that first airmail flight just 24 years previously!

6. Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

This photograph was almost chosen for the section illustrating the development of motorised mail transport. We are lucky to have one of the original BSA B33 motorbikes on display, a unique survivor from the introduction of motorcycle telegrams delivery in the early 1930s. Messengers had to be at least 17 years old and were expected to ride at 15mph – something I suspect they didn’t always adhere to!

7. Post Office London Railway, 1926

Post Office London Railway, 1926

This fascinating illustration shows the route of the Post Office underground railway that runs from Whitechapel to Paddington Station and also how the mail was transported from the sorting offices via chutes and lifts to the railway below. This image is rather busy and in the end we chose to use a simpler map of the route alongside plans, photographs and original objects.

An online version of Empire Mail: George V and the GPO can be found on the BPMA website.

The British Forces Post Office

Recently a small group of BPMA staff and Friends visited the British Forces Post Office (BFPO). Based in an impressive purpose-built building at RAF Northolt, the BFPO provides a mail service to members of the British armed services, as well as a number of government departments and corporate clients.

The BFPO can trace its history back to 1799 when the office of Army Postmaster was established. Over time the service has formalised and expanded to become an important part of military life. From its initial beginnings as part of the Army it now ensures letters and parcels reach serving Navy and Air Force personnel too.

One reason for the longevity of the service is its value as a morale booster. During the Second World War (WW2) General Montgomery was heard to say that his soldiers could march for three or four days without food on the strength of one letter from home. These sentiments were echoed by Lieutenant Colonel J.A. Field, the present Commander of Defence Postal Services.

For this reason the BFPO and its predecessors have always been keen to use the technology of the day to deliver mail quickly and efficiently. Trials of airmail were conducted by the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) in 1918 and these proved so successful that a regular service between Folkestone and Cologne was established the following year. During WW2, Postal Section personnel were regularly detached with forward troops, often establishing postal services within hours of their arrival. In recent times the BFPO has used cutting-edge OCR technology to sort mail, and has established an innovative hybrid mail system called the e-bluey.

The BFPO uses OCR technology (foreground) to read addresses on mail. Once an address has been read the item of mail is dispatched down a chute (background) and bagged for dispatch.

The BFPO uses OCR technology (foreground) to read addresses on mail. Once an address has been read the item of mail is dispatched down a chute (background) and bagged for dispatch.

Families of British service personnel have long been able to send letters on special blue stationery (known as a blueys), as well as packages weighing up to 2kg, free of charge, but e-blueys enable them to send a message electronically – which will usually arrive within 24 hours. E-blueys can be hand-written and faxed, or sent through the BFPO website. Drawings and colour photographs can also be included, a feature particularly popular with personnel with young families.

Once sent, the e-blueys are delivered via an encrypted computer system to Field Post Offices, where they are printed out using a special printer which seals each message as it is printed. The messages are then distributed to troops with regular mail, having been seen by no one apart from sender and recipient. The e-bluey system is extremely popular, and photographs and drawings which have been sent in this way are said to adorn the walls of many a barracks.

In addition to its sorting, delivery and logistics activities, the BFPO has a Philatelic Bureau which issues a number of First Day Covers each year. The BPMA group was lucky enough to receive one of these to commemorate our visit. As part of an initiative to collect items from postal services other than Royal Mail, the BPMA’s curatorial team collected BFPO bag labels, e-bluey samples and a range of other material.

The BFPOs First Day Cover to commemorate our visit

The BFPO's First Day Cover to commemorate our visit

The BPMA would like to thank BFPO for allowing us to visit, and is particularly grateful to the Officers and staff who provided us with information and assistance.