Tag Archives: home front

A “Painful Duty”: sneak peak at this week’s talk

This Thursday, 12 June 2014, Kathleen McIlvenna will be giving a talk on the changing attitudes and procedures seen in the Home Front Post Office as its workers adapted to change and continued to do their duty. Tickets are still available. In this post, Kathleen introduces what you can expect from her talk.

Researching the First World War is hard. Like all research it’s a matter of countless catalogue searches, digging in archives and endless reading. But as a social historian it doesn’t take long to realise what a difficult time this must have been to live through.

It could be easy to imagine the Post Office was an idyll of bureaucracy consumed by forms and logistics, and in many ways it was, but dig a little deeper and you uncover a workforce.

Women mending parcels (POST 56/6)

Women mending parcels (POST 56/6)

In my research I have uncovered diaries and oral histories of some of the remarkable employees of the Post Office during the First World War. From Amy Grace Rose, the temporary postwomen in a Cambridgeshire village supporting her daughter and disabled husband, to Edwin Purkiss, postman for London’s South-Western District and avid fundraiser. Using these sources with the records of local offices and reports produced after the War a rich picture of life on the home front is created, a mix of pain and happiness, as well as logistics and experience.

This was a time that saw the decrease in deliveries and collections, notably the end of Sunday deliveries and collections, something that one hundred years later may now return, but also saw the increase in the financial service provided by the Post Office, including separation allowance. The building of new post offices and projects were delayed, but the telephone network was developed as an air raid alarm system. New temporary staff were taken on, discovering a new world, whilst current staff tried to adapt to it. Politics found its way into post office corridors through suffragettes and consciousness objectors. But for the public if often came down to letters, paper that could either be welcome news from a loved one, or the worst news possible, starting ‘It is my painful duty to inform you’.

A 'Women on War Work' Black Cat cigarette card giving information about the jobs being done by women during the war (2010-0535)

A ‘Women on War Work’ Black Cat cigarette card giving information about the jobs being done by women during the war (2010-0535)

In my talk this week I hope to explore what it was like to work for the Post Office during this extraordinary time and discover how this government department tailored its operations and inevitably touched the lives of many.

Kathleen’s talk, ‘A Painful Duty to Inform’, will take place from 7-8pm this Thursday at the Phoenix Centre. Book your tickets today! 

World War I exhibition on tour

Last Post: Remembering the First World War, an exhibition curated by the BPMA and the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms, is once again on tour. The exhibition explores the vital role played by the Post Office during the First World War, telling the stories of postal workers at war and on the Home Front, and examining the essential role played by postal communications.

Last Post is currently on display at two venues, the Museum of Army Flying, Hampshire, and the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Fife, Scotland. Later this year it will travel to the Guildhall Library, London, and Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.

Telegraph lines in the trenches. (POST 56/6)

Telegraph lines in the trenches. (POST 56/6)

The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum is a particularly apt venue for this exhibition on wartime communications. While Andrew Carnegie is best known for using his huge fortune to build libraries and cultural venues, and found the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in his early years he worked as a telegraph messenger.

At the aged of 13 Carnegie emigrated from Scotland to Pennsylvania with his family, securing a job two years later as a telegraph messenger boy at the Ohio Telegraph Company. Carnegie was quickly promoted to telegraph operator, but left aged 18 to work at the Pennsylvania Rail Road Company. By the time he was 20 Carnegie was investing in railway companies and learning about how they were managed; he was later to become rich through investments in the oil and steel industries.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries telegraphy was an important – and the fastest – means of communication, and Post Office telegraphists were vital to wartime communications. Last Post: Remembering the First World War examines the impact of telegraphy on the war, and includes rarely-seen images of frontline telecommunications from the BPMA and Imperial War Museum’s collections.

Mobile telegraph machine. (POST 56/6)

Mobile telegraph machine. (POST 56/6)

Visit our website to see the tour dates for Last Post: Remembering the First World War.

Andrew Carnegie’s life was commemorated on a United States postage stamp in 1960 – see it on Flickr.

A weekend at Bletchley

Several BPMA staff and Friends had a very enjoyable two days at Bletchley Park over the Bank Holiday weekend.  We were there as part of the Post Office at War weekend, an event organised as part of the London 2010 Festival of Stamps.

BPMA Friend Richard West and Exhibitions Officer Alison Norris staff the BPMA table

BPMA Friend Richard West and Exhibitions Officer Alison Norris staff the BPMA table

The BPMA had a table where we could meet visitors to Bletchley Park and let them know about the BPMA and its collections. Several of the BPMA Friends made a much valued contribution, helping to promote us and sharing their personal expertise on a number of different topics with visitors. 

They also helped us sell a variety of BPMA products, including books and postcards.  The new Shire Post Offices book by our curator, Julian Stray, was particularly sought after, selling out on the second day.

Some of the creative designs for stamps

Some of the creative designs for stamps

Our activities for younger visitors proved very popular, particularly designing your own stamp and making secret codes.

Curator Vyki Sparkes gave a well received talk about the vital and difficult work of the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad during the Second World War.  They salvage squad had the responsibility of rescuing mail from pillar boxes that had been damaged or buried by enemy air raids.

Visitors enjoying the BPMA display

Visitors enjoying the BPMA display

It was standing room only in the cinema at Bletchley Park where films were being shown from our third collection of GPO films – If War Should Come.  We also took a graphic display of ten panels illustrating the essential work of the GPO on the home front during the Second World War.

1940s postman, complete with authentic bicycle

1940s postman, complete with authentic bicycle

There was much else going on during the weekend including tours, WW2 re-enactors, several other talks (including Christine Earle’s ‘The Post Office Went to War’) some rarely seen items from the Royal Philatelic Collection and other children’s activities, including letter writing and games with a former evacuee.

Bletchley Park is well worth a visit and your ticket allows admission for a whole year.

The Post Office at War at Bletchley Park

Over the August Bank Holiday weekend the 2010: Festival of Stamps will be celebrating the Post Office at War event at Bletchley Park.

Taking place on Sunday 29 & Monday 30 August, the two days will remember the role of the Post Office during World War Two and the importance of stamps in our history.

As well as running children’s’ activities on code breaking, designing your own stamp, and writing an airgraph, the BPMA will be taking our exhibition The GPO and the Home Front. The exhibition explores the impact World War Two had on the largest employer in Britain, when a third of its staff joined active service. It also looks at the role that GPO staff played in preserving normal functioning on the home front, helping to promote the domestic war effort and support military operations. Ensuring mail got to troops was also an integral part of the war effort, helping to keep up morale.

Bletchley Park Mansion

Bletchley Park Mansion

A series of talks over the weekend will include BPMA Assistant Curator Vyki Sparkes, who will be discussing the little known GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad, using unique research from the Royal Mail Archive.

The Enigma Cinema will be showing BPMA films from our GPO Film collection If War Should Come. The 18 films in this collection provide a fascinating and poignant insight into a nation on the cusp of war and its transition to the brutal realities of life in the Blitz.

Elsewhere at Bletchley, the Post Office Vehicle Club will be putting on a display of vehicles used by the Post Office during the war. Also on display will be a vast collection of historic stamps, representing all aspects of life.

Bletchley Park Post Office

Bletchley Park Post Office

Further children’s activities around the site will include learning what it was like to write home as a wartime evacuee, and re-enactors will show how people lived during the war. There will also be a rare opportunity to see a stunning display of World War Two airpower with a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flypast featuring a Hurricane and a Spitfire.

We hope you can join us for what promises to be an exciting weekend!

For more information and how to get there, please visit the Bletchley Park website.