Tag Archives: rowing

Duty and service in the Post Office in Pictures

Our current The Post Office in Pictures exhibition at The Lumen URC was conceived to show how ordinary peoples’ lives were changed through the service that the Post Office has provided. Through images of postmen and women delivering mail and serving communities in all sorts of conditions, we have endeavoured to show a unique service, second to none. What we’ve also found through our research, is how service has shaped the lives of those choosing to serve.

One of the more surprising and moving stories is that of John Rooney. A wonderful image of him rowing towards Trannish Island on Upper Lough Erne, Northern Ireland is featured in the exhibition but, were it not for a tip off from Peter Howe, the former Post Office photograph librarian, we would not have known of the richer, more heartbreaking and, ultimately wonderful story that surrounded his service in a remote part of the United Kingdom.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

John Rooney rowing towards Trannish Island.

When discussing the exhibition, Peter told me that John was not the first Rooney to be postman for Lough Erne and proceeded to tell me the desperate tale of his brothers, William and James.

William Rooney was the postman before John and it was he that would row across the lough to each island, delivering the mail to each inhabitant. On a very cold evening on Friday 29th December 1961 he was returning across the lough to his home on the island of Innishturk. The lough had frozen over and William had to break the ice in front of him. Close to home, the ice became much worse and held his boat fast.

In the worsening conditions William’s brother, James, set out in another boat to find him and bring him home. Neither brother returned and, when a search took place the next morning, both were found dead in their boats on the lough.

I was able to verify Peter’s story from a poignant article written by S.G. Coulson in the Post Office magazine from February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

Tribute to William Rooney, The Post Office Magazine, February 1962.

It seems then, that after the tragedy that befell his brothers, John Rooney took up the service of delivering mail to the inhabitants on Lough Erne.

Peter also told me other details about John Rooney that I’ve yet to confirm. One of these is that postal workers across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom began a fund to help the Rooney family in their hour of need. Enough money was raised to build a house for John’s and his mother.

I have found John Rooney featured in a story for The Courier, the Post Office’s in-house newspaper, in August 1972. The article describes his route across Lough Erne and the people he serves. The postmaster at Enniskillen declares;

It doesn’t matter how far off the beaten track people live – they’re still entitled to a postal service. And it’s thanks to people like John Rooney that they get it.

The Post Office in Pictures photo exhibition is at The Lumen URC, Bloomsbury, London until Friday 31 August. Visit the BPMA website to see an online preview. Images from the exhibition are available as greetings cards.

The first British Olympic gold medal winner on stamps

The victories of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the Women’s Pairs Rowing, and Bradley Wiggins in the Cycling: Road Men’s Time Trial yesterday has not only earned them Great Britain’s first gold medals of the London 2012 Olympic Games, but will see them appear on stamps issued today. This makes Glover, Stanning and Wiggins the second, third and fourth British Olympians (we think!) to appear on a British stamp, and amongst the few living people to ever appear on a British stamp.

Gold Medal Winner stamp featuring Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, Rowing Women's Pairs

Gold Medal Winner stamp featuring Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, Rowing Women’s Pairs

Gold Medal Winner stamp featuring Bradley Wiggins, Cycling: Road Men's Time Trial.

Gold Medal Winner stamp featuring Bradley Wiggins, Cycling: Road Men’s Time Trial.

Until relatively recently it was Royal Mail’s policy not to issue stamps featuring living people, with members of the Royal family being the only exception to the rule. But in the past decade or so we have seen many British sporting victories commemorated on stamps, including England’s victory at the 2005 Ashes cricket series.

The first British Olympian to appear on a stamp was Mark Phillips, a member of the three day event team which won a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In 1973 Mark Phillips married a fellow horse-riding champion, Princess Anne, who later represented Great Britain at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

The wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, then a Captain in the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards, took place at Westminster Abbey on 14th November 1973. These stamps, based on a photograph by royal photographer Lord Lichfield, were issued to celebrate the event, which was watched on television by around 100 million people worldwide.

Royal Wedding Stamps, 14 November 1973 - Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips.

Royal Wedding Stamps, 14 November 1973 – Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips.

Mark Phillips later competed as part of the British Three-Day Event team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, winning a silver medal. The couple’s daughter Zara Phillips was part of the British Eventing team which won a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Tuesday – the medal was even presented to her by her mother.

As to why we think Glover, Stanning and Wiggins are the second, third and fourth British Olympians to appear on a British stamp, our Curator of Philately points out that there have been “too many crowd scenes of youngsters who may have grown up to do something” on British stamps for us to be sure. If you have any information on this please let us know by leaving a comment.

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