Tag Archives: heroism

Another tale of postie heroism

Wandering Genealogist’s recent blog on a mail coach accident involving his ancestor reminded us of two photos in our collection relating to another mail coach tragedy which occurred in Southern Scotland.

On the morning of 1st February 1831 mail coach driver John Goodfellow and mail coach guard James McGeorge set out from Dumfries to Edinburgh. This article on the Scottish Memories website relates:

Snow had begun to fall heavily as they boarded their mail coach bound for Moffat and they had occasionally to force the vehicle through deepening drifts to complete this stage of their journey: but both…were experienced middle-aged men with a strong sense of duty and “a bit of snow” was not going to stop them.

Having taken on two more horses and some extra passengers the coach continued through the intensifying snow until after a mile and a half Goodfellow and McGeorge were forced to abandon their efforts.

While two male passengers returned to Moffat on some of the horses to raise the alarm, and several female passengers sheltered inside the coach, Goodfellow and McGeorge decided to proceed on horseback with the mail. Tragically, both men succumbed to the snow after a few more miles, although their horses made it to a nearby farm.

Postie Stone as seen in 1938.

Postie Stone as seen in 1938.

A monument to the pair, shaped a little like post box and now known locally as Postie Stone, was erected in 1931 on the spot where the men died. Photos in the BPMA archive of the monument, which were taken in 1938 by the GPO Photographic Unit, show three men, one of whom is a postman, inspecting the memorial. The surrounding landscape looks bleak, although a more recent photo which appears on The Gazetteer for Scotland website shows the area to be green and verdant.

Sadly, this tragedy is one of many which have occurred in the history of the British postal service. But like the posties on the RMS Titanic, the commitment to deliver the mail shown by Goodfellow and McGeorge is notable.

The Post Office aboard the Titanic

On this day in 1912 the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sunk less than three hours later, killing more than 1,500 people. Amongst the dead were five postal workers, British citizens James Williamson and Jago Smith and US citizens William Gwinn, John March and Oscar Woody.

RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship (at the time though it stood for ‘Royal Mail Steamer’), indicating that the Titanic was contracted to carry mail. The Titanic had a Post Office and Mail Room deep in the ship on decks F and G, the blue prints of which are held by the BPMA. The five postal workers were tasked with sorting much of the mail which had been brought on board the ship, 3,364 bags in total, as well as dealing with any letters which were posted on the ship by passengers and crew.

Blue print of the Titanics Post Office and Mail Room

Blue print of the Titanic’s Post Office and Mail Room

Amongst other Titanic-related material held by the BPMA is a file containing memos and copies of letters concerning an inspection of the ship on 9th April 1912, the day before the ship sailed. The description is reminiscent of the lower decks revelry in James Cameron’s film Titanic.

The [sleeping] Cabins are situated among a block of Third Class cabins, and it is stated the occupants of these latter, who are mostly low class Continentals, keep up noisy conversation sometimes throughout the silent hours and even indulge at times in singing and instrumental music…if their [the sorting clerks] work during the day is to be performed efficiently it is essential that they should enjoy a decent sleep at night.

The five postal workers were eventually granted alternative accommodation and permission to dine in a private area.

When the ship struck the iceberg, the postal workers were celebrating Oscar Woody’s 44th birthday. However, they soon realised that the Mail Room was flooding and so attempted to move 200 sacks of registered mail to the upper decks in the hope of saving them. They press-ganged several stewards into helping them, one of whom later recalled:

I urged them to leave their work. They shook their heads and continued at their work. It might have been an inrush of water later that cut off their escape, or it may have been the explosion. I saw them no more.

In London, the Post Office had received word that the ship was in danger and became concerned for the wellbeing of the workers and the mails. Ismay Imrie & Co., owners of the White Star Line, sent three telegrams to the Secretary of the Post Office in relation to the matter. These telegrams are held by the BPMA. Coming so soon after the disaster, they contain information which would later turn out to be incorrect.

The first telegram about the sinking of the Titantic

The first telegram about the sinking of the Titantic

The second telegram about the sinking of the Titanic

The second telegram about the sinking of the Titanic

The third telegram about the sinking of the Titantic

The third telegram about the sinking of the Titantic

A memorial to the five postal workers was errected in Southampton, from where the Titanic departed. Part of it reads “Steadfast in peril”.

More information on this topic can be found in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s Online Exhibition Posted Aboard RMS Titanic.