Tag Archives: Second World War

QEII Longest Reigning Monarch

Wednesday 9 September marked the day our Queen, Elizabeth II, became the longest ruling monarch in British history, taking the title from Queen Victoria. To commemorate this occasion Royal Mail released a new stamp issue ‘Long to Reign Over Us’.

Long to Reign Over Us

Long to Reign Over Us, Miniature Sheet 2015

Above you can see the Miniature Sheet, issued with images of both the Wyon Medal, on which the original Penny Black was based, and the three-quarter portrait of the Queen by Dorothy Wilding. The Amethyst Machin definitive in the centre includes the words ‘Long to Reign Over Us’ in the background of the stamp.

Long to Reign Over Us 1st Stamp (2015) Machin Definitive

Long to Reign Over Us 1st Stamp (2015) Machin Definitive

To mark this momentous occasion I thought we should take a moment to look at some stamps that document milestones of the Queen and her predecessors. Queen Elizabeth is the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror and will become the longest ruling by surpassing the 63 years and 216 days amounted by Queen Victoria.  

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.00 Stamp (2011) Queen Victoria 1897 Diamond Jubilee

Kings & Queens, House of Hannover £1.00 Stamp (2011)

In 1952 Elizabeth inherited the throne from her father, King George VI, who became King in 1936 as the result of his brother’s abdication to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. We can see the family  line of succession in the stamp issue of 2012 depicting the House of Windsor and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. 

The House of Windsor - (2012) Presentation Pack

The House of Windsor – (2012) Presentation Pack

During the Second World War Elizabeth trained as a driver in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (WATS) to serve her country. It was here she learnt to change tyres, rebuild engines and drive heavy vehicles. We can see an image of her during this period in the centre of the below stamp.

60th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II 17p Stamp (1986) Queen Elizabeth II in 1928, 1942 and 1952

60th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II 17p Stamp (1986)

Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten in 1947 and had two of her four children before her coronation; Charles in 1948 and Anne in 1950. It was on a trip to Kenya in 1952 that she became Queen, though she was not officially crowned until a year later. It was the first time the ceremony was broadcasted to the nation, allowing everyone to celebrate the event.

50th Anniversary of Coronation 1st Stamp (2003) Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation Robes

50th Anniversary of Coronation 1st Stamp (2003)

During her reign the Queen has had two children, eight grandchildren and now five great grandchildren. As monarch, much of her life, and that of her children, has been spent in the public eye and over the years we have seen stamps document the marriages of all the Queen’s children, most recently her grandson Prince William.

Royal Wedding of His Royal Highness Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton £1.10 Stamp (2011)

Royal Wedding of His Royal Highness Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton £1.10 Stamp (2011)

The Queen has ruled through difficult times; with social unrest, conflict and the possibility of a split nation. During this time she has also made numerous changes to the monarchy; from opening up her residences to the public to supporting the end of male primogeniture. She has presided over 12 Prime Ministers including Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair and has visited countries across the world.

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Margaret Thatcher

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Margaret Thatcher

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Winston Churchill

Prime Ministers 1st Stamp (2014) Winston Churchill

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her Royal Highness has devoted her life to her country, performing over 60 years of service. It is through the commemorative stamps of her reign that we can see the development of her life and that of her decedents. In a time when the popularity of the monarchy is suffering, one must acknowledge her dedication and continued love of her country and through ‘Long to Reign Over Us’ we celebrate this.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

My Favourite Object: Prosthetic Hand

Asking a Curator to choose their favourite object is like putting a kid in a sweet shop and then telling them they can only have one! In fact, some of you may remember that I shared my favourite object with you last year, a truncheon issued to Post Office employees before the Chartist riots of 1848. Today however my favourite object is a recent acquisition of a Postman’s Hand, which is not quite as sinister as it sounds, I promise!

IMG_7501

Prosthetic hand with letter

 

Besides all the pun based opportunities this object has provided (for the last few weeks I have been constantly asking my colleagues if they need a hand with anything…) it is actually a very important addition to the BPMA’s collection, as it reveals an often hidden aspect of history.

The hand in question is not a real one but is made of wood covered with leather and has an adaptor to fit it into the wrist unit of a prosthetic arm. Some of the earliest prosthetics in history were also made of wood and leather but this hand fits into the advanced development of prosthetic limbs that occurred after the Second World War to aid rehabilitation of the many soldiers who had limbs amputated as a result of the conflict.

Postman's hand on adaptor to fit a prosthetic arm.

Postman’s hand on adaptor to fit a prosthetic arm.

The Post Office as an employer has always made a concerted effort to advance employment opportunities for disabled people, including veterans, as has been shown in previous posts and this was particularly so after the Second World War. Hands like this were in use from the 1950s through to the 1970s – this example bears its date on it ‘4/11/64’ – and were designed to hold letters. What is particularly revolutionary about this object though is that it has a roller, or wheel, under the thumb which allowed one letter to be removed while still keeping grasp of the others. This enabled disabled employees to sort letters with greater ease and efficiency than with the previous, more basic, prosthetics. Feeling the hand it is quite heavy and it has made me think what it would have been like to use.

IMG_6797

Profile of hand

 

This object was kindly donated to us from the Limb Fitting Centre at the Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, which was founded to care for soldiers wounded in the First World War, and has since become renowned as a limb fitting and amputee rehabilitation centre. They were able to tell us that the hand had been developed by Hugh Steeper Ltd, major manufacturers of prosthetics at the time. This was the only remaining postman’s hand at Roehampton and it was returned to them by a retiring postman in the early 1970s.

As you can see the BPMA’s collection is constantly developing and this object adds to our knowledge of an important part of our history which is relatively under-represented. It is fascinating objects such as this that will form the bedrock of the new Postal Museum but they are nothing without the stories of the people who used them. If you have a story to share please email us at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk and help us achieve our ambition of filling our brand new museum with the voices of real people. Thank you!

-Emma Harper, Curator

Commemorating the start of the Second World War:

75 years ago today, at 11.15am Britain declared war on Germany following its invasion of Poland two days earlier. In the year of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War it is important to remember not just the sacrifices made in that war, the “war to end all wars”, but also those that followed.

'Searching for the enemy.' 20th City of London (3rd GPO) Battalion Home Guard.

‘Searching for the enemy.’ 20th City of London (3rd GPO) Battalion Home Guard or The Post Office Home Guard.

During the Second World War the General Post Office (GPO) not only released men to fight on the front lines, but as in the First played a vital and wide reaching role at home.

Within days of the war breaking out, as men left their jobs to go and fight, women once again began taking on the vacant positions. Many more women were already employed by the GPO at the outbreak of the Second World War than the First but there was still an increase of approximately 78,000 during the course of the conflict. Not only were more women employed by the GPO, they were also given opportunities to take on jobs previously unavailable to them, such as working as an engineer or driving a post van. Women were even allowed to join the Post Office Home Guard, receiving much praise for the work that they did.

Women sorting the mail during the Second World War.

Women sorting the mail during the Second World War.

Not all male GPO staff left to fight on the front lines, for various reasons there were many who were left behind either because of unsuitability for service due to age or injury or because their skills were necessary on the Home Front to keep the war effort going. Perhaps two of the most notable and interesting of these stories belong to Tommy Flowers and Frederick Gurr.

Serious bomb damage at Mount Pleasant during the Second World War.

Serious bomb damage at Mount Pleasant during the Second World War.

Flowers was an experienced telephone engineer who had been responsible for helping to improve the telephone systems before the war. During the war he was working at the Post Office Research station in London, Dollis Hill. It was while he was here he was invited to Bletchley Park to assist with the code breaking work that was occurring there. During his time at Bletchley Park, Flowers worked on the team that cracked the Enigma code and also created Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, which enabled Britain to crack the code of the German High Command.

Gurr’s story is equally impressive. A postman on the verge of retirement when the war broke out Gurr took it upon himself to create the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad. He was concerned that the ordinary salvage squads didn’t recognise the importance of the mail and, as such, his own squad would rescue not only valuables from bombed out Post Offices but also supplies and the mail itself, ensuring that the Post Office could prevent mail being delayed more than 48 hours due to enemy action. For his services Gurr was awarded the British Empire Medal by King George VI.

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Gurr’s scrapbook of GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad

These stories show not just the bravery and commitment of individuals but also how great the Post Office’s contribution was. It is commonly known that the Post Office remained dedicated to ensuring delivery of mail but it’s these surprising and often under-told human stories that really shaped the Post Office in the Second World War.

It’s these stories and many more that we intend to bring to light in The Postal Museum revealing Britain’s social, communications and design history.

70th Anniversary of D-Day: a letter to the GPO from General Eisenhower

As countries around the world commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day (the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on 6 June 1944) news channels fill our screens with moving and horrifying images and footage of troops readying themselves on the shores of southern England, planes on bombing runs across the channel and landing craft coming ashore on the beaches of Normandy. The films show the military hardware, the explosions and exchanges of gun fire, and the people on the front line of the successful offensive. But what they do not show is the immaculate and comprehensive pre-planning that went into that crucial day, seen as the point in which the war turned in the favour of the Allies.

Number of bags of mail sent on D-Day and the following days from Army Council Secretariat minutes (POST 47/770)

Number of bags of mail sent on D-Day and the following days from Army Council Secretariat minutes dated 19 June 1944 (POST 47/770).

One of the organisations involved in that planning was the General Post Office. Its work both in the lead up to, and aftermath of, D-Day was of major importance. Flicking through our files, it’s amazing what we uncover. Alongside some interesting information detailing the GPO’s activity both before and after D-Day itself in POST 47/770, we also unearthed a letter printed in the Post Office Circular of Wednesday 28 June, 1944.

The letter, dated 22 June 1944, thanks the GPO for its work in constructing “…a vast network of communications radiating from key centers of vital importance in the United Kingdom” and makes a point of offering the author’s appreciation of “their contribution… and [for the] excellent cooperation they have given towards our success”.

Letter from General Eisenhower reprinted in the Post Office Circular (POST 47/770)

Letter from General Eisenhower reprinted in the Post Office Circular (POST 47/770)

Not only does this give us an insight into the vital role the GPO played in D-Day itself, but it shows how important the contribution was deemed at the time. Perhaps most excitingly, the letter is signed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander.

The full transcript can be seen below:

Supreme Headquarters

ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

Office of the Supreme Commander

22 June, 1944

Dear Captain Crookshank [sic]

The build up of the necessary forces for the current operations has involved the construction of a vast network of communications radiating from key centers of vital importance in the United Kingdom. The greater part of this work has been undertaken by the Engineers and Staff of the General Post Office.

It is my great pleasure, on behalf of the Allied Expeditionary Force, to ask you to pass on to them my sincere appreciation for their contribution and for the long hours they have worked and for the excellent cooperation they have given toward our success. 

Sincerely,

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Remarkable Lives issued today

A new set of stamps issued today another selection of remarkable individuals from the realms of sport, design, economics, heroism and the arts. The set commemorates individuals born 100 years ago this year. Notable figures include a footballer, actors and molecular biologists, to boast a few.

Remarkable Lives First Day Cover

Remarkable Lives First Day Cover

Dr David Lawrence, writer, researcher, architectural historian and lecturer at Kingston University and designed by Purpose, the Filler Card provides a brief look at the ten remarkable individuals featured on the stamps.

Kenneth More, 1st class.

Kenneth More, 1st class.

Joe Mercer, 1st class.

Joe Mercer, 1st class.

Joan Littlewood,1st class.

Joan Littlewood,1st class.

Dylan Thomas, 1st class.

Dylan Thomas, 1st class.

Barbara Ward, 1st class.

Barbara Ward, 1st class.

Alec Guinness, 1st class.

Alec Guinness, 1st class.

Abram Games, 1st class.

Abram Games, 1st class.

Roy Plomley, 1st class.

Roy Plomley, 1st class.

Noorunissa Inayat Khan, 1st class.

Noorunissa Inayat Khan, 1st class.

Max Perutz, 1st class.

Max Perutz, 1st class.

The Special Stamps are available from 25 March online at www.royalmail.com/remarkablelives, by phone on 08457 641 641 and in 10,000 Post Offices throughout the UK.

A Project Archivist Farewell

I’ve just completed my final task as Project Archivist: appraising and cataloguing a vast deposit of records on the Army Postal Service (APS). The files focus mainly on the Royal Engineers Postal Section (REPS) and its successors, and date from before the First World War to the 1970s. I’ve catalogued nearly 500 files, volumes, photographic collections and plans.

Matt presents a small selection of the Army Postal Service files he's been cataloguing.

Matt presents a small selection of the Army Postal Service files he’s been cataloguing.

There have been challenges along the way. I’ve had to battle an onslaught of Armed Forces vocabulary:  being able to tell a sitrep from a sapper was essential, and woe betide an archivist who confused the DAPS with a WOLO.* My geographical knowledge has also been tested: the deposit included files on British and Allied Forces’ postal arrangements in India, North Africa, the Middle East and Far East, with many locations identified by their old colonial names. The most unexpected item was a manual from an Army post office in Kiribati!

The deposit’s greatest strength is its rich insight into the APS during the Second World War and its aftermath. Virtually every theatre of operations is covered. There are Directorate-level files on postal arrangements during the Siege of Malta (POST 47/1034), the Battle of Madagascar (POST 47/871), the Dunkirk evacuation (POST 47/925) and the D-Day preparations (POST 47/747), to name just four. The handover of postal and telecommunications services to the government of newly-independent India is also documented.

Public confidence in the APS was vitally important during the War. This letter concerns one of many press visits to postal facilities organised by the Armed Forces and the Post Office. [Extract from POST 47/1028.]

Public confidence in the APS was vitally important during the War. This letter concerns one of many press visits to postal facilities organised by the Armed Forces and the Post Office. [Extract from POST 47/1028.]

The files also hold lots of personal stories about the careers of REPS officers. POST 47/780, for example, partly records a falling-out between the APS staff at HQ First Army and Allied Force HQ during the Tunisian Campaign and the interception of ‘artistic’ postcards that were being received by First Army soldiers. And if you ever wanted to know how many bugles were held by the Post Office Cadets at the Home Postal Centre in Nottingham in 1947, POST 47/942 will tell you.**

A list of band parts on loan to the Post Office Cadets in 1947, attached to a letter concerning a shortage of bugles. [Extract from POST 47/942.]

A list of band parts on loan to the Post Office Cadets in 1947, attached to a letter concerning a shortage of bugles. [Extract from POST 47/942.]

The APS files have been catalogued in POST 47 and 56. The deposit also contained large amounts of non-postal material on the REPS more generally. These have been catalogued as a separate ‘REPS collection’. All these files will appear on our online catalogue in the coming months.

This is the end of my year-long, grant-funded Project Archivist post. I’ve catalogued over 1,500 files from all over the Archive in that time. But I’m not leaving the BPMA! Instead, I’m regenerating into a new incarnation as a catalogue systems archivist. I’ll be doing lots of data-processing work and beta-testing our shiny new online catalogue before it launches later this year. Watch out for an update from me on this blog in the Spring.

– Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)

* Sitrep = situation report; sapper = the Royal Engineers’ equivalent to a private; DAPS = Director Army Postal Service; WOLO = War Office Liaison Officer.

** Two (one substandard).

It’s a Project Archivist Christmas

As 2013 comes to a close, I’ve repackaged and catalogued over 1,000 files from the Archive. In this blog post, I’ll share a few of the methods I used to get this historic material processed and available for researchers as quickly as possible.

Project Archivist Matt reflects

Project Archivist Matt reflects on a year’s work.

As I wrote in my introductory post, most if not all archive services have backlogs of material that hasn’t been catalogued due to lack of time or staff. My main role as Project Archivist is to reduce the BPMA’s backlog, one section of the Archive at a time. So far I’ve eliminated four backlogs:

  • Organisation, circulation and sorting of inland mails (POST 17).
  • Post Office counter operations and services (POST 22).
  • Establishment records (POST 59).
  • Public Relations Department, predecessors and successors (POST 108).

Each backlog was composed of hundreds of individual files, ranging from administrative papers to technical plans to visual material like posters and photographs. The files had come into the Archive from many different sources over the past few decades. My task was to repackage and catalogue the files, and find places for them in the BPMA’s existing catalogue structure. I also needed to remove redundant files to free up much-needed repository space. And I wanted to make my descriptions reasonably detailed, to help people search for files in our online catalogue.

The working method I devised, therefore, was based around fast, detailed processing on a file-by-file basis. I had the opportunity to evaluate and refine the method after each backlog was finished. I also familiarised myself with More Product Less Process (MPLP) theory after recommendations from professional colleagues. While I didn’t completely embrace the MPLP approach, I adopted some of its ideas to increase efficiency.

I’m not going to hurl technical details at you, but here are some of the techniques I used to process over 1,000 wildly differing files alongside the other work I do at the BPMA.

1. Get to know the territory: Before starting, I visually inspected the entire backlog to get a rough idea of its extent and anything requiring special conservation treatment. I also collated any existing box lists and accession records, did background research, and compiled a glossary of terms used in file names.

2. Establish basic standards: I adopted a minimum standard of description and repackaging, which could be enhanced if a file warranted it. Any file containing a contents list or executive summary had it copied pretty much verbatim into the catalogue description, while files in stable ring binders were generally not repackaged.

3. Multi-task: I combined appraisal (i.e. deciding if we needed to keep the file), repackaging, physical arrangement and catalogue description into a single integrated process, performed on one file at a time. Intellectual arrangement of files into a catalogue structure was only done after all files had been processed.

4. Use simple, sensible numbering: The BPMA uses two numbering systems. Each file/item has a Finding Number, which is unique, fixed, and used by researchers and staff to retrieve archives for consultation. Files/items also have Reference Numbers, which structure the multi-level archival descriptions I described in this blog post. Reference Numbers aren’t seen by researchers and can be swapped around as often as needed. This is a really great way to do almost all the processing of files without having to worry about exactly where they’ll go in the catalogue.

Cataloguing database screen capture

A screen capture of Matt’s cataloguing database, showing some of the completed fields and the BPMA’s dual numbering system.

5. Wherever possible, get a computer to help: I designed a relational database in Access for all my project work. The database would automatically complete some catalogue fields, saving lots of time. It logged which files had been catalogued and which had been marked for disposal. I used it during processing to group files into rough subject categories, which were refined into catalogue sub-series at the end. Best of all, I could take all the descriptions I’d written in the database and import them into our catalogue software in one batch.

These are some of the techniques I’ve used in my work. Perhaps you might find them helpful if you’re working on a similar task. Of course, there are many other ways of working, and I’d be very interested to read your suggestions for how I could do things differently!

WW2 postal records

Christmas is all about opening boxes, but archivists get to do it every day! Here, Matt opens the first of several boxes of uncatalogued WW2 postal records.

My new project is to catalogue a large collection of British Army postal service records, dating from World War 2 to the 1980s. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Christmas, and see you in the New Year!

– Matt Tantony, Project Archivist (Cataloguing)