Tag Archives: war

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.

Christmas Airgraphs

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, 1944 poster by Leonard Beaumont. (PRD0392)

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, 1944 poster by Leonard Beaumont. (PRD0392)

This poster designed by Leonard Beaumont in 1944 promotes the airgraph service, a method of sending messages to servicemen by airmail during the Second World War. Messages were written onto a special form that was then given an identification number and photographed onto microfilm. The microfilm was flown to its destination, developed into a full size print, and posted to the recipient.

Airgraph form, Christmas 1943 (POST 52/692)

Airgraph form, Christmas 1943 (POST 52/692)

Sending 1600 airgraphs on microfilm weighed just 5oz compared to 50lbs for the same number of letters. Copies of the microfilm were kept so that if they were shot down the messages could be re-sent.

Christmas time is often the most difficult for serving military personnel and airgraphs were eagerly anticipated by troops. Today, the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) uses an electronic system called eBlueys – read more about it in this blog about our visit to the BFPO in 2009.

Visit our website for more on the Airgraph Service – did you know that Queen Elizabeth (later The Queen Mother) sent the first airgraph?

Queen Elizabeth taking a look at an airgraph film. The Queen sent the first airgraph to launch the service in 1941.

Queen Elizabeth taking a look at an airgraph film. The Queen sent the first airgraph to launch the service in 1941.

Last Post: Remembering the First World War

Last week saw the closure of Last Post: Remembering the First World War at the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms. The exhibition is now on a national tour.

Jointly organised by the BPMA and the CM&CWR, the exhibition displays artefacts, posters and images from both the Imperial War Museum’s and the BPMA’s collections. It celebrates the the vital role the Post Office played during the First World War (1914-1918).

Highlights include a rare opportunity to see the Victoria Cross awarded to Sergeant Alfred J. Knight, a member of the Post Office Rifles, whose brave and selfless acts included single-handedly taking on twelve German soldiers – killing three and leaving the rest to flee.

The exhibition also features the very first showing of a facsimile of Winston Churchill’s tender letter to his wife Clementine to be opened in the event of his death, sent from the Western Front where Churchill fought from November 1915 – May 1916.

During the First World War Women Post Office workers took on the role of drivers of horse drawn vehicles, a job previously reserved for male workers.

During the First World War Women Post Office workers took on the role of drivers of horse drawn vehicles, a job previously reserved for male workers.

The tens of thousands of women who joined the Post Office during the war years to fill the job gaps left by over 75,000 men sent to fight are also celebrated. This was the first time in Britain that women were allowed to carry out duties such as delivering mail in urban areas and opening packets in the Returned Letter Office. These women became indispensable, sorting 12 million letters and one million parcels a week to be delivered to the front line trenches and around the world.

Recordings of personal stories from wartime, including the account of a 13 year old telegraph girl, Eileen Johnston, bring the era to life. Johnston’s father, a docker, was killed in 1915 meaning Eileen had to leave school at the age of 13 and go to work at the Post Office in Whitechapel. She speaks about being punished for dossing, as well as her experiences of delivering the harrowing news to women that their son or husband had been killed – “really awful. So hard for a child to have to tell them that”.

Last Post: Remembering the First World War also demonstrates how letters were delivered to the front, how the Post Office dealt with dramatic increases in volumes of mail and the vital part that censorship played in the war effort.

A talk related to this exhibition, entitled The Post Office during the First World War, will take place at the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms on 5th March at 7pm. The speaker is Peter Sutton, a researcher at the BPMA. For more information on this talk please click here.

The BPMA has produced a Last Post Online Exhibition and placed some Last Post images on Flickr. Last Post educational resources are also available, as is a set of postcards.

Exhibition Tour Dates

RAF Museum Cosford, 27th February – 26th May 2009

Staffordshire Regiment Museum, 1st April – 31st July 2009

Firepower, The Royal Artillery Museum, 5th June – 9th September 2009

Powysland Museum, 1th September – 30th November 2009

Aldershot Military Museum, 18th September – 27th October 2009

REME Museum, 6th November 2009 – 19th January 2010

Royal Logistic Corps Museum, 9th December 2009 – 19th February 2010