The Postal And Courier Service
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ROYAL POSTS (1481-1660) Origins
A military courier network in support of an English army fighting in Scotland, called the Royal Post, set up during the reign of Edward IV (1461-83), and between his court in London and Berwick-on-Tweed in 1482 is believed to the origins of the modern British military postal services. He appointed ten men "to do us service in our messages between us and our brother, the Duke of Gloucester", who was in command of the English army besieging Berwick. The couriers carried the messages on horse back along the length of the Great North Road.
The Royal Posts were formalised in 1513 by Sir Brian Tuke after Henry VIII appointed him as "Master of Posts". Tuke established regular posting stations between London and Dover. The Royal Posts continued to provide a courier service while Henry was campaigning in France. During the reign of Elizabeth I postal routes were laid for her armies campaigning in Ireland and Scotland. A special postal route was laid to the West Country in 1588 to carry news and intelligence of the expected Spanish Armada.
English Civil War (1642-49)
In 1635 Thomas Witherings as Charles I's Postmaster settled "a pacquet post between London and all parts of His Majesty's dominions, for the carrying and re-carrying of his subjects' letters", many of these routes were settled along those routes used by Elizabeth's I armies. During the Civil war both the Royalist and Parliamentarians used messengers to carry their mail. The most famous Royalist messenger was James Hicks, a Post Office employee, who passed through the Parliamentarians lines many times but was never caught. The Parliamentarian New Model Army employed its musicians as messengers. To gather military intelligence the Parliamentarians created a "Secret Office" within the Post Office, which was responsible for intercepting mail and reading its contents. Bishop Marks (1661) In 1660 Colonel Sir Henry Bishop was appointed General Postmaster, he had served a Royalist officer during the Civil War and was given the "farming" patent of the Post Office as a reward. He instigated the use of a metal stamp which was to be "put upon every letter showing the day of the month that every letter comes to the office, so that no Letter Carryer may dare to detain a letter from post to post, which before was usual". These impressions known as "Bishop Marks" were the first of their kind anywhere in the world and were the fore runner of today’s cancellation marks.
1660 Colonel Sir Henry Bishop was appointed General Postmaster, he had served a
Royalist officer during the Civil War and was given the "farming"
patent of the Post Office as a reward. He instigated the use of a metal stamp
which was to be "put upon every
letter shewing the day of the moneth that every letter cames to the office, so
that no Letter Carryer may dare to detayne a letter from post to post, which
before was usual". These impressions known as "Bishop Marks"
were the first of their kind anywhere in the world and were the fore runner of
todays cancellation marks.
English troops were engaged in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13) and campaigned under the command of Marlborough in Europe. Mail was sent by through the Post Office system using the packet boats that sailed between Harwich, England and Dutch port of Helvoetsluis. On the Continent the military mail was handled by the Thurn & Taxis Post, the postal service of the Holy Roman Empire. This service was referred to as the "Common Post".
After the Grand Alliance armies over ran Flanders the Dover-Ostend packet service re-opened, for it had been closed at the start of the war because its packet boats were prone to attack from the French.
In addition to the Common Post Marlborough used the Queen's Messengers to carry his communications between his Headquarters and the English Court. The Queen's (King's) Messengers were members of the Royal household detailed with the task of carrying despatches on behalf of the Monarch and her/his ministers. They came into existence in the 1640's. They travelled on horseback and used the official Post Office packet services to cross over the Continent. A direct line can be drawn from today’s Defence Couriers to these Messengers.
War of the Austrian Succession (1740-8)
In 1743 the first distinctive post mark appeared on letters sent by British troops campaigning in Europe. The Thurn & Taxis Post, who processed the mail on behalf of the British army, endorsed it with a small circular stamp inscribed "AB" - Armee Britannique. Mr Sutton was appointed Postmaster to the Army in 1747, but no more is known of him.
Seven Years War (1756-63)
The Seven Years war was fought in Europe, North America and India. The postal lines of communication depended upon the Post Office packet boat system. The troops in Europe had their mail conveyed on the packet boats between Harwich and Brill in Holland. The mail for the troops in North America was carried on the Falmouth, Halifax/New York packet route. The troops involved in the war in India had their mail carried on the East India Company merchant ships.
In North America the mail was distributed to the troops through the colonial postal system, which was largely developed under the management of Benjamin Franklin. Mails were often carried between the coastal ports of New York, Boston and Halifax by sloops, a similar practice operated in the West Indies.
Concessionary Postage Rates (1795)
In response to the growing literacy amongst the soldier an Act of Parliament (1795) was passed to provide cheap postage rates for non-commissioned officers (NCO) and private soldiers or Royal Navy sailors.
This concession allowed soldier's letters under the weight of ¼ ounces (grams) to be sent and received for one pence, whilst officers mail was charged at six pence. To safeguard against abuse it was necessary for a soldier or sailor's name and his regiment or ship to be endorsed on the outside of the letter and to be countersigned by his Commanding Officer. To prevent the abuse of the concession further legislation was enacted in 1806 imposing a penalty of £5 or a term of imprisonment for any abuser. It came to light that officers were handing their personal letters to their soldiers/sailors, who then signed their names on the covers and presented them as their own to their Commanding Officer for counter-signature.
Darlot - Postmaster to the Army (1799)
In the summer of 1799 the Duke of York (1763-1827), as Commander-in-Chief of the army, wrote to the Postmaster General (Lord Auckland) to request that "a good intelligent clerk" who could "facilitate delivery and to collect letters and protect revenue" be seconded from the General Post Office as the Army Postmaster to an amphibious expedition to Helder, Holland.
Henry Darlot, a clerk from the Post Office Foreign Section, was chosen as the Army Postmaster, the first to officially accompany the Army overseas. Mail for the Army was handed to the Post Office Foreign Section, sealed in bags and passed to ships sailing to Holland. The Army established a base at Den Helder. When Henry Darlot arrived with his servant, he found that two despatches of mails had already preceded him. The result was chaos. He reported to the Post Office Secretary's Office on 27 September 1799 that: "the mails are both delivered which I assure you is not so easy or businesslike as I imagined it would be, for although the letters are partly sorted in London to the different regiments, there are still a great number for persons not attached to any regiment who are so impatient to be supplied that immediately a mail arrives I am beset by at least a hundred of them. Great confusion is occasioned also by officers detached from the regiment to which their letters were addressed insisting on looking for them before the Drum Majors [who were appointed Post Orderlies for each regiment] get them. " The military campaign was a failure and Henry Darlot lost much of his equipment and his horse in the retreat to the coast. On his return to London, he was commended for having carried out his task "with ability and propriety to the entire satisfaction of the Postmaster-General. " In the two months he was in Holland his Army Post Office made an overall profit of £ 643 6s 6d. (The postage rates were 1d for soldiers and 6d for officers).
Peninsular Campaigns 1809-13
Despite Henry Darlot's successful attachment to the army, no Post Office official was sent to provide a postal service to the British forces during the Peninsular War. Mail was sent by regular weekly packet service from Falmouth to Lisbon (Portugal). This civilian service was established in 1703.
The mails were received by the British Post Office Agent, Thomas Reynolds, who passed it onto the Quartermaster General's Headquarters in Lisbon. Where the Sergeant Postmaster, Sergeant R Webb (3rd Foot Guards), who had been appointed by the Commander-in-Chief, Wellington (1769-1852) in April 1809, sorted and arranged the distribution of the mail. The transit time from London to the field was 13-20 days. Return post left Lisbon for Falmouth, three days a week. There was no censorship of mail. The military mail service was augmented through the use of the Spanish civilian postal service. When the army advanced into Spain, at the end of 1811, Major George Scovell was appointed Superintendent of Military Communications responsible for all army communications. As part of his re-organisation of the postal and courier service he detailed the cavalry to escort mail. He also ordered that "bags containing letters sent to different Divisions of the Army must be returned to Headquarters at the first opportunity. The wet bags cause the loss of many letters on the road. " After the battle of Vittoria (21 June 1813), Wellington began to close up on the Pyrenees, thus extending his line of communications. This affected the mail service and the postal operations were moved from Lisbon to the port of Pasajes (east of San Sebastian), the British Post Office Agent there was Charles Sevright, who had spent ten years as a Prisoner of War after his arrest in Holland on spying charges. In February 1814, the mail service was experiencing some problems again. Wellington became dissatisfied and rebuked Lieutenant- Colonel Sturgeon, who took it very much to heart and deliberately rode too close to the enemy lines at Vic en Bigorre (France) and was shot in the head. The post of Superintendent of Military Communications was taken over by Lieutenant-Colonel Colquhoun Grant.
The Army crossed the Pyrenees in June 1814 and Charles Sevright, moved the postal facility to Bordeaux (France) where it remained in operation until the last of Wellington's army had embarked and sailed for England.
After the capitulation of Paris in 1814 the French marshals forced Napoleon (1769-1821) to abdicate and he went into exile on the island of Elba. However, on 1 March 1815, Napoleon landed on the French coast and marched on Paris, the Allies declared war on him and thus began the Waterloo Campaign.
Wellington on assuming command of the Allied Armies on 5 April 1815 had to create a command structure. In this structure he recalled now Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George Scovell as Superintendent of Military Communications. An Army Post Office was set up in the Headquarters in Brussels with two clerks. Mails were despatched to and from the headquarters via Ostend (Belgium) where the British Post Office Agent was Charles Sevright.
influence on Rowland Hill's Postal reforms 1840
In 1840, Rowland Hill (1795-1879) began his reforms of the Post Office. An important part of these reforms was the introduction of an uniform postage rate (i.e. 1d -which could be prepaid using the now famous "Penny Black" stamp), this concept was greatly influenced by the reduced postage rate concessions granted to the Army in 1795.
Several Army officers were called to give evidence at a Parliamentary board of enquiry. One such officer was Captain J Bentham of the 52nd Regiment. He was asked if he had observed the importance of correspondence to the soldiers, he replied: "I have observed that they take very great advantage of it and they appear to derive great gratification from it, and it benefits them in a variety of ways..." He also expressed the opinion that higher rates of postage would lead to a total prohibition of the use of the mail service by "the humbler classes". He was then questioned as to the level of literacy in the Army he responded: " I believe that many of them learnt to write expressly for the purpose of writing their own letters".
CRIMEAN WAR (1854-56)
In March 1854 British troops together with an expeditionary force from France were sent to Turkey and the Crimea in support of the Turks against the Russians.
Initially it was decided that the normal civilian postal service to Turkey and the Black Sea was sufficient and therefore no British Post Office representative was sent to handle the Army's mails. Mail was despatched from London via the French 'overland route' and onto Constantinople (now Istanbul). There it was handed to the French Consular Postal Service who in turn, passed it to the French Army Post Office for distribution to the British Army. Return the French packets from Constantinople to Malta carried mail where it was transferred via the British Post Office agent onto vessels bound for Southampton. The outbound system from Britain proved to be both expensive and inadequate. As William Russell, The Times correspondent reported: "There is always something wrong about our letters. At present the French Post Office here is a receptacle of several hundred letters addressed to the generals, staff officers and officers of every Regiment which the [French] postmaster refuses to give up until some chivalrous person pays £ 12 (300 francs) for the whole bundle and to take the chance of being repaid by the various persons... ...to whom they are addressed." Further evidence of the problem is illustrated by an officer in the Rifle Brigade, Henry Clifford, who later won a VC at Inkerman. He wrote in a letter home: " I have just received your letter. It was left here in the French Post Office with 12 letters for me, they not having the three Queen's Heads [reference to a 1d stamp] requisite upon them. For the last 3 months I have not heard from England. .." By May 1854, a new deal over the transit cost was struck with the French postal authorities and this also partly solved the problem of holding unpaid mail. Mail was despatched as before but on its arrival in Constantinople British officers handled it, but unfortunately they had no experience in postal matters and there was soon a build up of undelivered letters. In the meantime, the Secretary of State for War had received many letters of complaint and took the matter up with the Postmaster General (Rowland Hill). He was informed by the Postmaster General that: "with view to relieving the Officers of HM forces in Turkey from the irksome business of superintending the arrangement and distribution of the large mass of correspondence of which mails between this country and the Army are likely to be composed, the Postmaster General has determined upon dispatching an intelligent and experienced Officer of this Department to act as Army Postmaster" Edward Smith, of the Post Office Inland Letter Section, was appointed as the Army Postmaster, and left London in June 1854 with an Assistant Army Postmaster, Thomas Angell. On their arrival they set up a Base Army Post Office in Constantinople. One of their first tasks was to recover the unpaid mails from the French. This they achieved by using their own money as well as borrowing £50 from, the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Raglan (1788-1855). A month later the Assistant Army Postmaster, Thomas Angell set up an Army Post Office in Varna in support of the Army Headquarters. A regular seaborne mail service was established between Varna and Constantinople. In late summer, an invasion fleet of some 600 ships and 50,00 men gathered at Varna creating a shortage of accommodation which prompted the Assistant Army Postmaster to obtain Lord Raglan's permission to operate from the ship Ganges, but the ship sailed for the Crimea before the Assistant Army Postmaster had moved on board. So he established the Army Post Office on the Sovereign which was smaller. This caused him sorting difficulties as his report reflects: "Scarcely had the sorting operation commenced (by making use of buckets for letter boxes) when a perfect rush was made aboard, officers, non-commissioned officers and privates came to demand the letters and papers for their respective regiments, it was in vain that I endeavoured to interpose a barrier to enable me to continue the sorting unmolested... [because of the confusion caused he sorted through the night] ...On the following morning, at five o'clock, I signalled 'Send for letters', but the order being given shortly after for the whole fleet to weigh anchor I was unable to dispose of them. " The force landed at Eupatoria on 14 September 1854, the army disembarked and marched to Balaklava. On the instructions of Headquarters Smith and Agnell switched places. The Adjutant General, General Estcourt instructed that the mails should be organised as follows: ". ..When a mail arrives you [Smith] should as speedily as possible inform me of it and name an hour either that day or the next for the delivery of letters at the Headquarters Encampment ...When a mail is to be dispatched you should in like manner inform me when you will collect letters at the Headquarters Encampment and carry them off with you to the vessel which is to carry them away..." The provision of a proper mail service was hampered by a lack of suitable labour, shipping movement details, dedicated transport and inappropriate accommodation. It came to a head when the following report appeared in the Daily News dated 13 January 1855 (Balaklava): "Whenever complaints become inconveniently local, the London Post Office is in the habit of requesting the Postmaster here the state of the case. Such a demand is unfair and unreasonable. A little candour and common sense properly applied would make the Post Office authorities understand that nothing short of confusion can be expected from a Department which as the Post Office to the Forces, is sent out in a pitiful state of hopelessness, with a heavy load of responsibility and with no adequate means of labour resources and powers ..." The article then goes on to mention the use of soldiers to assist at the Army Post Office " A close and patient enquiry into the details of the Army Post Office has convinced me that not the slightest blame attaches to the two Postmasters Smith and Angell, who are merely victims of circumstances. If these gentlemen have committed a fault it is that they did not ruin their prospects in the service to which they belonged by refusing to take upon themselves the responsibility for the mismanagement of others. Instead of detaching the Army Post Office with a sufficient number of clerks and with a couple of carts, drivers and horses for the conveyance of mails they were referred to Naval agents and the superciliousness of young gentlemen attached to the Staff." Soon after the publication of this news article two more Assistant Army Postmasters, Mr Sissons and Henry Mellersh, plus seven sorters were despatched from London. They arrived in Constantinople on 5 February 1855. Mr Mellersh was to play a significant part in the establishment of a dedicated Army Postal Service, as he was to become a member of a joint War Office and Post Office committee set up in 1876 to investigate the viability of such post service. He was the only member on the committee who had first hand experience of providing a mail service under war conditions. A further Army Post Office was established at Scutari, to provide postal services to the Barrack Hospital staff and patients.
International Money Order Service
In response to demands made by Florence Nightingale, a method of transmitting money was devised to allow troops to transfer monies back to their families at home in the United Kingdom. This was designed to prevent drunkenness and became the world's first International Money Order Service. In its first month of operation £ 7,000 was remitted by the British troops.
Afterwards Malta and Gibraltar were allowed to send, but not to receive orders. By the end of the decade Canada started to send and receive them and the rest of the dominions and colonies of the British Empire gradually followed. In 1869, money orders began to be exchanged with foreign countries, the first two being Switzerland and Belgium. In 1883 they were supplemented by the Postal Order. Peace was declared on 30 March 1856. The Army post Offices in Varna, Scutari and Balaklava were closed, while the Base Army Post Office in Constantinople remained opened and became the centre of the British postal service in the Levant until the outbreak of the First World War.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 a branch of the British Army Post Office was established in Constantinople as a sorting and forwarding station for the vast numbers of letters passing to and from the various units of the British forces in the Crimea, as well as those of the Turkish contingent. Sub-offices were in operation in the Crimea and Scutari. This was the first office outside the United Kingdom to make use of British postage stamps, which were issued there about November 1854. Mail which originated, or passed through Constantinople, were cancelled with the "Crown in Stars" or the "O*O" cancels.
ARMY POST OFFICE CORPS
Genesis - Middlesex Rifle Volunteers
A call for special constables to protect key installations, including post offices, was made in 1867 after the Fenian scare when the militant Fenian Brotherhood bombed various places in London and other cities in England. Some 1,600 members of the GPO were enrolled, and a Major du Plat Taylor of the Civil Service Volunteers (Post Office Company) was given the task of instructing them in their duties. After the scare was over, these Special Constable approached du Plat Taylor asking that they be formed into a Post Office Volunteer Corps.
Their timing was fortuitous as it coincided with the army reforms instigated by the Secretary to State for War, Edward Cardwell (1813-86), whose aim was to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Part of the reforms included the re-organisation of the volunteers, thus the Special Constables got their wish and the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers was raised, its recruits came from the Post Office, and they served in an infantry role. It was this unit that was to form the nucleus of what was to become the Army Post Office Corps. In 1880, the numerical order of the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers was changed to the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers.
Postal (du Plat Tayor) Committee
The military postal experience of the Crimea and the lessons learnt from the Indian Army encouraged the British Army to seriously review the arrangements for the provision of a postal service to the troops in the field. There were two opinions; firstly, that the Army to run its own services as in the Peninsular War. Secondly, that civilians from the Post Office be responsible for the service as in the Crimean and Indian Army example.
The Secretary for War wrote to the Postmaster-General in 1876, with a proposal to form a force of volunteers to run the Army's postal services. The Postmaster-General put the proposal to the Commanding Officer of the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel du Plat Taylor, who was an ex-Private Secretary to the Postmaster-General. A committee was formed, with terms of reference "to consider the formation of a Corps for the performance of Postal Duties in the Field". It assembled at the War Office and the Committee consisted of: · Lieutenant Colonel du Plat Taylor, · Major CE Webber RE (a RE telegraphist, who had experience of working with the GPO), · Captain AC Hamilton RE (Secretary), · Major WF Butler RA (Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General), · Mr RS Culey (GPO) and · Henry Mellersh (an Assistance Army Postmaster during the Crimean War). The committee submitted its final report to both the War Office and Postmaster General on 28 February 1877. The report contained the following recommendations:
Nothing came of these recommendations and they were shelved until 1882, in spite of du Plat Taylor's efforts to resurrect the idea in 1879. When he brought to the attention of the War Office the poor mail arrangements reported in The Times during the second Afghan War (1878-80).
of the Army Post Office Corps 1882
In 1881 a rebellion broke out in Egypt which threatened Britain's passage to India through Suez. In response an expeditionary force under Sir Garnet Wolseley was despatched to quell it. This gave Lieutenant Colonel du Plat Taylor the opportunity to raise the matter of the postal corps again and it was agreed that an Army Post Office Corps (APOC) should be formed.
Queen Victoria issued a Royal Warrant to that effect in 22 July 1882. The recruits were drawn from the GPO employees serving with the 24th Middlesex (Post Office) Rifle Volunteers
EGYPT 1882 AND SUDAN 1885
On 8 August 1882 the new Corps under the command of Major Sturgeon (Army Postmaster) embarked aboard the Black Prince on its first overseas expedition, only 17 days after its formation, and landed at Alexandra on the 19 August.
Mails from Britain were despatched 3 times a week via the 'overland route' through France to Alexandria. The Army Post Offices offered a letter and parcel service and sold stamps and postal orders. In addition to the mail services, a free parcel service from the Naval docks at Deptford was also set up. These parcels travelled by Government store ships and transports. This service was the forerunner of the Military Forwarding Office (MFO) service which still exists today.
Stationary Army Post Offices were established at Alexandria, Ramleh, Cairo, Port Said and Ismaila, while mobile Field Post Offices were attached to the divisional headquarters and moved when they moved. On 9th September, during the battle of Kassassin, the Army Post Office, under the charge of Sergeant FJ Inwood, attached to HQ 2 Division came under fire, but no one was injured. Private HF Yardley was mentioned in despatches as was Corporal WT Marchant. Major Sturgeon reported to the General of Communications, as would his successors. He sent telegraph reports of troop movements to assist with the sorting of mail in London. This practice was to be continued and indeed is still done to this day, in particular, tracking the movements of HM ships.
The Expedition was a success. The unit received high praise from the Commander-in-Chief, who wrote: "The formation of a purely military postal department has been a tried for the first time in this war. It has been very successful... 1 have much pleasure in bringing to the notice of the Secretary of State the admirable manner in which the Post Office Corps discharged its duties in Egypt ...Their services have been so valuable that I hope a similar corps may be employed on any future occasion... "
That occasion came in 1885 when the Army Post Office Corps accompanied General Wolseley’s expedition to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum.
Sudan Expedition and the Relief of General Gordon 1885
The Army Post Office Corps under the command of Major Sturgeon was despatched to Suakin in support of the expeditionary force raised to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum. They landed at Suakin on 27 March 1885 and established the Base Army Post Office there. Further Field Post Offices were opened at Quarantine Island, the railway terminus and one each with the Headquarters and 2nd Brigade.
The mails travelled the same routes as for the Egyptian Campaign of 1882. A daily mail service between Suakin, the Headquarters, Handub and Otao was arranged. Every morning a messenger travelled by train to Houdoub with the mail. The railway was constructed by Kitchner's 'Band of Boys' a member of which, was Lieutenant M Nathan RE, who was to become the Secretary to the Post Office in 1910. “’The Band of Boys’ was the nickname given by the army to the young Royal Engineers officer in the Sudan who built Kitchener’s ‘impossible’ desert railway in 1897.”
The Director of Army Telegraphs for the Expedition was Major CE Webber RE, who had been an original member of du Plat Taylor's 1877 Committee.
The Field Post Offices offered letter and parcel services, sold stamps and postal orders. Major Sturgeon introduced the sale of embossed envelopes with a sheet of note paper at 1 d or two at 1d. This was the first recorded time that stationery had been sold at Army Post Offices, and can be regarded as the forerunner to the Field Service Post Card (Army Form A2042) used in the First World War. This additional service produced a revenue of £ 60 7s 6d.
The mail service was again a success as testified by Lieutenant G Parry of 12 Company Commissariat and Transport Corps who recorded " I have never mentioned anything about our postal arrangements. We used to get our letters very regularly, considering all things, and though some necessarily never reached us, there was nothing to complain about. They only took ten days coming all the way from London, overland, via Brindisi, Alexandria, Cairo and Suez, where a steamer of one sort or another met the mails and ran then down to Suakin... When the detachment of the Post-office Volunteers arrived, everything was very well managed. .."
The Army Postal service closed on 30 May 1885 after which the Indian Field Post Office in Suakin served the remaining troops. The services of Army Post Office Corps was not called upon again until the Anglo-Boer War.Three years after the Army Post Office Corps' men returned to Great Britain, an Army Post Office Corps Field Manual (1888) was issued.
ANGLO-BOER WAR 1899-1902
On the outbreak of war, the Army Post Office Corps (M Company 24th Middlesex Volunteers) under the command of Major Treble, was appointed as Army Postmaster were mobilised and set sail for Cape Town on 14 September 1899 aboard the Dunnotar Castle. On arrival in Cape Town the Base Army Post Office was established in the newly built Cape Town Post Office building.
The original plan was that the Army Post Office Corps staff be deployed at the Base Army Post Office in Cape Town and establish Field Post Offices along the Lines of communication (LofC), however, this did not materialise because General Buller, the Commander in Chief, decided to adopt a two pronged attack; one from Cape Province, the other from Natal. Therefore the resources of the service had to be split to support the two prongs and a second Base Army Post Office responsible for servicing the troops in Natal was established at Pietermaritzburg.
Mails were sent weekly from Britain to Cape Town. The transit time was 14 days. Once in Cape Town the mails were resorted and forwarded to the Field Post Offices attached to formations in the field via the civilian postal services. Mails for the Natal Force were sent to East London and hence by a small steamer to Durban and by rail to Pietermaritzburg. This service was disrupted by the Boers advance into Natal and down to Stormberg.
During the sieges of Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley, mail addressed to the troops contained in the besiege towns mounted up and could not be distributed to the addressees until after the sieges had been broken.
The re-organisation of troops and the subsequent renumbering of units for the different phases of the war caused sortation and location difficulties. However, the Army Post Office Corps devised a location method (which is still used today) and became invaluable to both the postal services as well as the Headquarters. Due to indifference by units there were difficulties in handling causalities' mail as a letter to the Press bears out: "When General Methuen's column was camped at Jacobsdal, ...one of our Company [Imperial Yeomanry ] walked over the site, picked up a mail bag containing a good many letters, so he shouldered the bag and ran to give it to the departing Regiment. The only remark they made was 'Oh, they are only letters for the men away sick".
To solve this problem civilians were employed to maintain lists of military hospital patients so that mail could be extracted for them at the Base Army Post Offices.
During the invasion phase of the war, in accordance with orders from Lord Kitchener mail from the Base Army Post Offices was forwarded to troops through the rail network, it accumulated at stations awaiting onward carriage.
This practice was the result of an unfortunate incident at Roodewal Station. Lieutenant Preece APOC and seventeen Army Post Office Corps soldiers were at the station when the Boers under General De Wet attacked it on 7 June 1900. The 2000 mail bags on site along with stores were used to build ramparts in defence of the station. After six hours of bitter fighting and the death of the station commander, Captain Gale - Railway Pioneer Corps, the defenders were forced to surrendered to General De Wet. During the fighting Private Tuffin and Goble of the Army Post Office Corps were killed and the remaining APOC men were taken prisoner.
After the surrender the mail bags were looted by the Boers. Stock (postage stamps, postal orders etc. ) valued at £ 5099 Os 4Y2d were stolen. Sergeant Chapman APOC reported the aftermath of the action as follows: "The Boers on their arrival began to loot. Every- thing was taken, the mail bags giving them excellent opportunities ...1 made an attempt to save loose cash in my till when I was interrupted by a Boer coming into the room. I made the pretence of looking for some papers and closed the box...A grave had to be dug for poor Tuffin and the last rites performed over our late comrade. Mr Preece read the burial service and before the grave was covered in, the order was given to get kits together andfall in.& We were immediately marched off to the Boer laager ...The work of destruction on the Station then commenced. The Station-Master was apparently in league with the enemy as they allowed him to take all his furniture etc to a place of safety on the veldt before starting to blow up the place ...On the following day we were marched off pass Rhenoster[the scene of the Derby's disaster] to a position on De Wet ' s farm a distance of 9 miles. We stayed in this place for the night and the following day 9th June Mr Preece was taken suddenly ill and was removed to the Yeomanry Hospital. I had hopes of being taken also but no opportunity occurred (there being no transport) so I had to trudge on with the others for about 8 miles the next day ..."
Chapman was finally released in Kroonstad on the 25th June after being held captive for 17 days. The others were release in August 1900. As late as 1909 attempts were made in Britain to cash postal orders looted from the station and when De Wet's house was search in 1914 over 3,000 unused British stamps, souvenirs of the attack, were found there.
By August 1900 the war moved from a fluid one to garrisoning the territory that had been gained. Conse- quently the Field Post Offices were converted into Stationary Army Post Offices and were issued with a new series of date stamps, which included the name of the town where the office was based.
To service these Stationary Offices five Travelling Post Offices (TPO -Post Offices operating from a railway carriage) were set up and were operated by the APOC. The TPO vans were improvised from large box trucks fitted town nalnQ out with sorting frames, tables etc. by the Royal Engineers.
Working the TPOs could be dangerous as a APOC sergeant's report of the 19 June 1901 illustrates: "... after leaving Machavie en route for Kokemoer and Klerkdrop [on a branch line running out of and to the west of Johannesburg], the mail train was derailed and attacked by the Boers. It occurred at about 3.45 p.m. Immediately the train was at a standstill, it was riddled from end to end with bullets. ..before I could realise my position, I was surrounded by Boers some pointing their Mausers at me...By the time I got to the counter everything was removed. Two Boers were filling their pockets with registered letters. I was ordered out of the coach..."
By the end of the war the Army Post Office Corps was providing the mail service to both military and civilians alike in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony. To ensure the continuity of this postal service to the civilian population, personnel of the Army Post Office Corps were transferred to the colonial Post Office and remained in South Africa.
When the war began 111 all ranks of the Army Post Office Corps were deployed. At the end of the war there were 400 Army Post Office Corps soldiers deployed. During the war about 500,000 letters and newspapers and 12,000 parcels were delivered to the troops each week. £ 2 million of postal orders and £ 110,000 of stamps were sold. They also assisted in the handling of mails for the troops from Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand.
In October 1902 the last Army Post Office was closed, but it was not until February 1903 that the last detachment of the Army Post Office Corps left South Africa. After the Army Post Office Corps returned to Britain, its staff return to their peacetime duties with the GPO. They kept up their military skills by participating in army manoeuvers every September from 1903-13.
FORMATION OF THE ROYAL ENGINEERS (POSTAL SECTION)
Haldane Army Reforms 1905-08
War between the Great Powers (Austria-Hungary Britain, France, Germany, and Russia) - was much talked about at the beginning of the twentieth century. Britain realising that if she was to maintain her international status and Empire she had to prepare her army for a continental war. Army reforms were instigated, in 1905, by the newly appointed Secretary of State for War, Richard Burdon Haldane (1856-1928). There were three major reforms; firstly, the creation of a continental expeditionary force capable of speedy mobilisation, secondly, the setting up of a General Staff, and thirdly, through the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act (1907), the establishment of a Territorial Army as an efficient reserve for the regular forces.
Inter-departmental Committee on Postal and Telegraph Services 1908-11
The Territorial and Reserve Forces Act (1907) obliged the GPO, as the largest employer in Britain, to provide extra postal detachments for the newly created Territorial Divisions. This was in addition to the four other army units already recruited from the GPO. These, with their commitments to the Royal Navy Reserve, had obvious staffing implications, which if not correctly managed could adversely impact on the civilian postal services. To address this situation the GPO called a meeting with War Office "to consider and report as to the relations between the postal and telegraph services and the Army; and as to the organizations already in existence or proposed for giving effect to those relations."
An Inter-departmental Committee on Postal and Telegraph Services consisting of members of the War Office, Royal Engineers Telegraph Reserve and Lt Col William Price, who had served as an officer with the Army Post Office Corps during the Anglo-Boer War, among others was formed in November 1908. An interim report was submitted to the War Office and Postmaster General in April 1909 and the final report was issued, two years later, on Wednesday, 5 April 1911.
In the final report, the Committee expressed the opinion that it was important that the Postal Corps and the Army Signal Service should co-operate' and that they should be 'placed on a common basis'. The report went on to say that because the ' Army Signal Service was a branch of the Corps of Royal Engineers' it therefore follows that the Postal Service should also serve under the aegis's of the same Corps. Their reasons for this conjugation were:
FIRST WORLD WAR (1914-18)
At the outbreak of war the Postal Services personnel for the Expeditionary Force were supplied from a Postal Section of the Royal Engineers (Special Reserve) composed entirely of G.P.O. staff and employees.
The authorized establishment was 10 officers, 40 warrant officers and sergeants, and 250 rank and file, a total of 300 men. This establishment was intended both to supply the personnel for the B.E.F. and to meet the wastages of a normal campaign.
As the size of the Army increased, and new theatres of war came into being, it was found necessary to form a home Postal Depot, both to act as a draft-finding unit and to handle the mails for all theatres of war. The Headquarters of the depot was at the G.P.O. and the personnel were drawn from amongst P.O. employees enlisted for the duration of the War.
It was decided in 1917 not to enlist any more men into the Postal Service, R.E.S.R., but to post them instead to the London Regiment and attach them to the Postal Service for duty-thus preventing men so enlisted from drawing Engineer pay in the army, in addition to their full civil pay. A Postal Company of the 8th Battalion, London Regiment, was therefore formed, which was merged later into the Home Postal depot. The establishment of the depot was fixed in July of 1918 at 15 Officers, 72 warrant officers and sergeants, 1,113 other ranks, 140 civilians (ex-soldiers), and 1,120 women. The rank and file included a minimum of 250 men belonging to the Postal Company, who supplied drafts to theatres of war. The remaining R.E. personnel included in this total were intended to be gradually replaced by women in the, proportion of three to two, down to a workable minimum, and also sent overseas.
In September of 1914, it was decided to form an Army Postal Service, T.F., for the troops stationed at home.
In February of 1916, the D.A.P.S. (Home) recommended a reduction in the postal personnel allotted to formations at home. The reason given for this recommendation was the suspension of the parcel post, etc. Reduced establishments were accordingly approved in April of 1917.
The Home Army Postal Service underwent modifications from time to time in conformity with the changes in the formations considered necessary to be retained for home defence. In October of 1918, a nucleus establishment was laid down for normal working at home, which could be expanded in the event of an invasion or other grave emergency. The personnel to provide the expanded establishment were to be found from the Home Postal depot.In October of 1918, the Director of Army Postal Services at home recommended the formation of a London Volunteer Postal Company. The object of this recommendation being to supplement the Postal Service at home in the event of an emergency, as the Home Depot, on account of the number of women who were being absorbed into the establishment, would be unable to find sufficient personnel. This unit was organized on an R.E. basis. Its personnel were drawn from men exempted from Army service and from men in the London Postal Service who were over the age fixed for liability for military service under the Military Service Acts.
Formation of the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) and (Army Postal Services) 1913
On 28 February 1913, forty-six years to the day after the first recommendation to establish a military postal unit, the Army Post Office Corps and proposed territorial Army Postal Service joining the Royal Engineers' Telegraphists when they were formed into the Royal Engineers, Special Reserve (Postal Section) and the Royal Engineers, Territorial Force (Army Postal Services) respectively.
The responsibility for military remained with the Royal Engineers until it was transferred to the Royal Logistics Corps on its formation in Apri1 1993.
Royal Engineers association with the British Post Office
The association between the Royal Engineers and the Post Office started in the 1870's. At the time of the Crimean War, the civilian telegraph services were run by private enterprise. On the outbreak of the war he Electric Telegraph Company offered its services and stores to the Government for the purpose of laying down a field telegraph in the Crimea. The offer was accepted, and some sappers were sent to the company's office to receive a preliminary training in laying and working telegraph lines. This step may be taken as the first introduction of telegraphy into the Corps.
The Government nationalised the telegraph companies in 1870, the process was managed by the Private Secretary to the Postmaster General, Lt Col du Plat Taylor and by May of that year the first detachment of Royal Engineers was sent to the Post Office to aid in carrying on the Telegraph duties of that department. Members of this detachment provided the nucleus of C (Telegraph) Troop RE which was formed on 26 August 1870 and served with the Egyptian Expedition (1882). On 1 Apri11884, C (Telegraph) Troop and the 22°O and 34th Companies RE were formed into one body, under the name of "Royal Engineers Telegraph Corps", two months later it was designated "Telegraph Battalion RE".
In 1883, a year after the formation of the Army Post Office Corps the GPO received sanction from the Secretary of State for War to the form two/ volunteer telegraph companies, which were referred to in the Army List as "Field Telegraph Companies." These companies were enrolled upon the reserve strength of the Royal Engineers and like the Army Post Office Corps were attached, under the designation of I Company, to the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers for the purposes of drill and discipline. They saw service during the Sudan Expedition of 1885. During the 1890s the GPO continued to provide telegraphists to the Army, under the title of Reserve of Trained Telegraphists, L Company 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer. This Company was then formed into the Royal Engineers Telegraph Reserve.The Royal Engineers telegraphists were generally referred to as the Army Signal Service. Shortly after the end of the First World War in 1920 they were formed into the Royal Corps of Signals.
Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps
At the outbreak of war the Postal Services personnel for the Expeditionary Force were supplied from a Postal Section of the Royal Engineers (Special Reserve) composed entirely of G.P.O. staff and employees.
The authorised establishment was 10 officers, 40 warrant officers and sergeants, and 250 rank and file, a total of 300 men. This establishment was intended both to supply the personnel for the B.E.F. and to meet the wastages of a normal campaign.
As the size of the Army increased, and new theatres of war came into being, it was found necessary to form a home Postal Depot, both to act as a draft-finding unit and to handle the mails for all theatres of war. The Headquarters of the depot was at the G.P.O. and the personnel were drawn from amongst P.O. employees enlisted for the duration of the War.
It was decided in 1917 not to enlist any more men into the Postal Service, R.E.S.R., but to post them instead to the London Regiment and attach them to the Postal Service for duty—thus preventing men so enlisted from drawing Engineer pay in the army, in addition to their full civil pay. A Postal Company of the 8th Battalion, London Regiment, was therefore formed, which was merged later into the Home Postal depot. The establishment of the depot was fixed in July of 1918 at 15 Officers, 72 warrant officers and sergeants, 1,113 other ranks, 140 civilians (ex-soldiers), and 1,120 women. The rank and file included a minimum of 250 men belonging to the Postal Company, who supplied drafts to theatres of war. The remaining RE personnel included in this total were intended to be gradually replaced by women in the, proportion of three to two, down to a workable minimum, and also sent overseas.
In September of 1914, it was decided to form an Army Postal Service, T.F., for the troops stationed at home. In February of 1916, the D.A.P.S. (Home) recommended a reduction in the postal personnel allotted to formations at home. The reason given for this recommendation was the suspension of the parcel post, etc. Reduced establishments were accordingly approved in April of 1917.
The Home Army Postal Service underwent modifications from time to time in conformity with the changes in the formations considered necessary to be retained for home defence. In October of 1918, a nucleus establishment was laid down for normal working at home, which could be expanded in the event of an invasion or other grave emergency. The personnel to provide the expanded establishment were to be found from the Home Postal depot.
In October of 1918, the Director of Army Postal Services at home recommended the formation of a London Volunteer Postal Company. The object of this recommendation being to supplement the Postal Service at home in the event of an emergency, as the Home Depot, on account of the number of women who were being absorbed into the establishment, would be unable to find sufficient personnel. This unit was organised on an RE basis. Its personnel were drawn from men exempted from Army service and from men in the London Postal Service who were over the age fixed for liability for military service under the Military Service Acts.
The subject of the illustration is one Arthur Rule, who when this photograph was taken had just completed fifty-two years of military service. Arthur Rule, who is seen here wearing the uniform of a major of the 24th Middlesex Volunteer Rifle Corps, enlisted into the 20th (East Devonshire) Regiment of foot in January, 1845. In 1854 and at the rank of Sergeant, Arthur Rule embarked with his regiment for Turkey and service in the Crimean War. The 20th Regiment, which in 1881 became the Lancashire Fusiliers, saw a great deal of action during the campaign, Sergeant Rule being present at the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman, where he was wounded, and the Siege of Sebastopol.
The British Crimea medal with four bars is seen in the illustration together with that presented to certain British personnel by the Turkish Government. Also seen, second from right, is the Cross of the Legion of Honour which was awarded by the French Government to two members of the 20th Foot. The regiment for this great distinction selected Sergeant Rule and his colleague. Before he had completed twelve years service Arthur Rule was promoted to Sergeant-Major and in 1862 was recommended for a commission. However at this time there were so many candidates coming out of Sandhurst that his application was turned down.
Subsequent overseas service with his regiment saw Arthur Rule in India, China and Japan where he became Worshipful Master of the first Freemasons' Lodge that was ever established there.
Sergeant-Major Rule left the 20th Foot in 1865 and shortly after his return to England was appointed a Yeoman in the Royal Body Guard at St. James's Palace. His service as a member of the Voluntary Force began in 1868 when in January he became Sergeant-Major of the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps. The 49th Middlesex had been formed in February of that year from employees of the General Post Office and in 1880 was renumbered as 24th.
As its first Sergeant-Major, Arthur Rule did much towards the progress of the Post Office Rifles, but in 1883 due to ill health was forced to give up his position. As a result he was successfully recommended for a commission and was gazetted Lieutenant on the 19th September. Promotion to Captain and command of one of the regiments twelve companies came in December 1886.
Captain Rule held his company command until 1891 when upon his resignation in November was granted the honorary rank of Major. Arthur Rule was always held in high esteem by his fellow volunteers and in the Corps Orders published, December 9th, 1891, was subject of the following announcement: - "In announcing to the regiment the resignation of Major A. Rule, after a service of 46 years, the commanding officer (Col. De Plat Taylor, C.B.) Feels sure that all ranks join with him in expressing their sincere regret at the loss the regiment has sustained by the retirement of this officer. Major Rule joined the regiment as Sergeant-Major on its formation, and both in that capacity and also as a commanding officer, has on all occasions given his most able and untiring assistance both in maintaining the efficiency of the regiment and in all matters concerning its welfare".
Even as an Honorary member Arthur Rule continued to take part in the activities of the 24th Middlesex. He also went on to form in connection with his parish church, St. Jude's, East Brixton, a unit of the Church Lads Brigade which grew into two companies with a drum and fife band. On his rifle green uniform Major Rule wears a black patent leather pouch belt, bearing a silver plate and the usual whistle and chain. The rather handsome plate consists of a crowned wreath with in its centre a Maltese cross. Both the upper and lower arms of the cross bear the three seaxes from the Arms of the County of Middlesex while the horizontal pair show a letter "T" surmounted by a crown, the device of the regiment's Hon. Colonel, the Duke of Teck.
Superimposed upon the cross is a circle inscribed "Saint Martin's Le Grand", which is the headquarters of the General Post Office. Within the circle there is a shield bearing the Arms of the London Bishopric and between each arm of the cross a dragon taken from the Arms of the City of London.
A Bishop's mitre, one of the charges from the Bishopric Arms, is seen at the top of the upper arm while a bugle horn appears below the lower. The three scrolls at the base of the wreath bear the inscription "Post Office, XXIV Middlesex Rifle Regiment".
Engineers Postal Service
from The Cologne Post and Wiesbaden Times Xmas Annual 1928-
In 1533 Henry VIII had military posts between London and his Armies, consisting of horsemen established at 20 mile interval "by means of which, travelling at the utmost speed and no passing their respective limits" (or Posts) dispatches were carried between the King and his Armies "200 miles in two days". Thus the Army Postal Service can claim to be one of the oldest unit of the British Army.
In time of war, however, a demand for a military postal service has always arisen, and, with the growth of education, soldier have insisted on organised means of communication with their friends. When the Second Army marched into Cologne in 1918, General Plumer Herbert Charles Onslow PLUMER (1857-1932). He served in Sudan (1884) and led the Rhodesian relief force to Mafeking (1900). In WW 1 he distinguished himself as commander of the 2nd Army of the British Expeditionary Force (1915-18), he was GOC Italian Expeditionary Force (1917). He was appointed Field Marshal in 1919, was Governor of Malta (1919-24), and High Commissioner for Palestine (1925-8). Sent for the DAPS (Brig Gen W Price CB CBE CMG VD William PRICE (1864-19?) He joined the Secretary's Office of the Post Office in 1889. He served with the Army Post Office Corps during the Anglo-Beer (1899-02), twice mentioned in Despatches. He was leading member of the Inter-departmental Committee (1908-11) which resulted in the formation of the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) in 1913, he was also appointed Director Army Postal Services, holding that post throughout WW1 (1914-19). After the war he was appointed Secretary of the Post Office in Scotland until his retirement in 1924.) and told him that Football and the Army Post Office had won the war. What he mean was that those two agencies were all important to maintain the morale of the troops, and the side, which had repelled 'that fed up feeling' the longest had won.
With the growth of armies and their deployment over 'far flung battlefields" the provision of internal postal services within the Army Zone has also become highly important. The local internal communication services of the Army Postal Service with the British Expeditionary Force in France were highly organised, and by means of a fleet of 250 box cars and lorries, supplemented by train services, at one time they were carrying approximately half a million official letters daily between units and departments of the British Expeditionary Force; and, notwithstanding the constant moves of units and formations, the system enabled letters posted in any part of the British Expeditionary Force area to be delivered in any other part of the Army Zone within 24 hours.
In 1914 the peace establishment of the Royal Engineer (Postal Section) was 300 all ranks. The staff of the Home Depot in London, where the mails were sorted and which provided drafts for overseas, consisted during the war of 1,200 soldiers and 1,260 civilians and women; and, overseas, there were 8,000 men and WAAC employed in France alone, not counting, MT personnel and unskilled Labour for loading work.
The volume of mail carried cannot be appreciated by the mere recital of figures. The fact that 555, 000 sacks of mails were landed at the Base Posts in France in December 1917 may sound impressive but knowledge of the fact that these mails would require about 100 trains each of 30 trucks to carry them to railheads and represents 6,000 lorry loads to be transported from railheads to Field Post Offices with Brigades and Divisions, helps one to realise what the figures mean.
In the Field, the essential equipment of a post office was contained in a black iron box. Everything else had to be improvised on the spot or dispensed with. Where this black box was planted, and the red and white flag displayed, there was a post office where unit postmen received and posted the soldiers mail, transacted ordinary postal business, purchased postal orders and savings certificates etc., and received their supply of newspapers. The use of the postal service as a medium for distributing newspapers to the troops was a very satisfactory feature of its work and was not the only 'sideline" of the Army Post Office. They frequently came to the assistance of the Military Forwarding Department (MFO); they were used for the evacuation of the valuable kit and articles of sentimental or intrinsic value of deceased and wounded soldiers; and they distributed and collected the soldiers votes during elections both at home and in the colonies.
Always progressive, they snatched at every means to improve their services; and it was the Army Post Office, which established the earliest regular Air Mail Services between England and the Continent. The bombing planes of 55 and 120 Squadrons, RAF were used to drop baskets of mails by parachute along the track of the Second Army on its march to Cologne, when roads and railways were damaged and congested, and the service developed into the London-Cologne Air Mail Service. Rumour has it that the man who flew with the first air mails is still with the Army Postal Service here in Wiesbaden.
With the demobilisation of our war time army the vast organisation of the Army Postal Service was closed down. Its men went back to their civil jobs except the detachment which remained to serve the British Army on the Rhine, and a few who were called up again to serve the Shanghai Defence Force (1927-36). We all know their work here on the Rhine: we know they have a busy time just before Christmas; we know the unit appears twice as the Champions of the Small units Cricket League and they nearly won it a third time, but this year their luck deserted them. Their little band of NCO's inhabit the Garrison Sergeants' Mess where we hope they'll have a Happy Christmas-after they've delivered our Christmas mail.
Services In Theatres Of War Other Than France
In Italy the Directorate of Postal Services consisted of a Deputy Director, an Assistant Director, and seven other ranks, and there was an allotment of postal personnel per Division as in France.
There were also establishments of Army Postal Services in Egypt, Salonika, N. Russia and East Africa.
Every Operation/War has seen Postal And Courier Operators along side troops "Sustaining" their needs. In recent years many of our soldiers have shown great courage and professionalism in theatres such as Northern Ireland, The Falklands, The Gulf War and The Balkans.
WOMEN’S AUXILIARY ARMY CORPS (POSTAL)
by Simon Fenwick MSc MBA
"Without women, victory will tarry" Lloyd George – Prime Minister 1916 The General Post Office (GPO) was one of the first government departments to employ women, there are records going back to the mid-eighteenth century of women being appointed as Postmistresses, for instance, in 1747 Elizabeth York was appointed Postmistress of Darlington, on the Great North Road, a position she held for thirteen years. In the 1790s there is a record that a woman was employed as a ‘postboy’ in Corwen, North Wales. After the nationalisation of the commercial telegraph companies, in 1870, the GPO began to employ a large number of women to work as telegraphists, and they were also employed as postal sorters and clerks. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that by 1885, women made up 20% of the total staff of the GPO, which was the largest body of civil servants in the country consisting of nearly 100,000 persons. Incidentally it was in 1870, that the long association between the Royal Engineers and the GPO began, for in that year RE Telegraphists were seconded to the GPO to assist in the process of merging of the commercial companies into the post office organisation and to establish new routes and services. During the First World War the Royal Engineers (Postal Section), under the command of Brigadier General William Price CB, CMG, CBE, VD (DAPS BEF) and Brigadier General Sir Frederic H Williamson CB, CBE (DAPS Home), were responsible for the handling of all the British Army’s mail. The Royal Navy had their own mail facilities and arrangements. The mail was centralised on the Home Postal Depot (HPD), which consisted of Army Letter Offices (ALO) established in the GPO London premises of Mount Pleasant and the King Edward Building. The HPD was commanded by a District Postmaster London Postal Service, Col CA Wheeler RE, who was commissioned into the Corps on 28 February 1915. Over a five hundred GPO female staff, under the close supervision of Miss E.M. Permain, and Miss D. Deane sorted the armies’ letters in those respective buildings. By 1915 the mail volumes had out grown the storage capacity of both Mount Pleasant and King Edward Building and so a large wooden building, reputed to be the largest wooden structure in the world, was erected in Regents Park to accommodate the sorting of parcels, and again women were employed there in sorting and clerical capacities. The women in the Army Parcel Office were under the supervision of Miss E.A. Langham, a bespectacled woman who wore a locket about her neck, in the fashion of a choker. In the Army Letter Offices, the women seat in rows in front of wooden sorting frames, sorting letters. Mail was initially sorted into unit type, i.e., cavalry, infantry, Royal Engineers etc. and then into individual units (e.g. 204 Company RE), because it was discovered that this was the most efficient and effective way to ensure a good mail service was maintained to the various fronts in France, Gallipoli, Serbia, Italy, Egypt, Salonica, Russia, Cameroons, East Africa and Mesopotamia. The transit time for letters from the UK to the Western Front was between 12 hours and three days depending on where the unit was located. The transit times for the other fronts was governed by the distance travelled, much of it went by sea, although there were military mail rail routes that ran from the north to the south of France and into Italy for troops serving in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean areas. At the Home Postal Depot the women were also employed in the returned letter office (RLO), the registered letter enclosure and damaged parcel department. The staff who worked in the RLO were some of the first persons in Britain to be aware of the horrendous casualties suffered during the battle of the Somme in July 1916, the reason being that a large amount of undeliverable mail was being returned to the RLO. Indeed the situation was so serious that the government, who were concerned that the knowledge of this slaughter would damage home morale should it became publicly known, instructed that the members of the RLO were under no account to tell anyone about their work. Towards the end of the war, to free men for active service, women took over the arduous task of loading and unloading the mail trains at the London stations of Victoria, Charing Cross and Cannon Street. They were responsible for handling approximately 9,000 bags a day, at an average bag weight of 55 lbs (25 kg). The mail trains travelled between the London stations and the embarkation ports of Southampton and Folkestone. By 1917 the war of attrition in Europe was beginning to tell and there were severe shortages of able-bodied men to fight in the front line units. To address this short fall, there was a constant trawl of all units for fit men to transfer to combat units. The Royal Engineers (Postal Section) like other logistic units were not exempted from this trawling process, and therefore they lost men to the front line units and in turn found themselves under pressure. To cover for the lost of these men, it was decided that women should fill their places. The matter was taken up with the Postmaster General, Lord Illingworth and a notice was posted in the Post Office Circular inviting Temporary Female Sorters, Temporary Sorting Clerks, and Sub-Office Assistants between the ages 20 and 40 with at least four months’ service with the GPO to sign up for an engagement with the WAAC to serve with the Army Postal Service in France for twelve months or the duration of the war, which ever was the longer. Those who volunteered were given some postal training at the Home Depot, Regents Park, London, which also included elementary instruction in hygiene and discipline – i.e. ‘bull’ and ‘square bashing’. The first draft of Postal WAACs arrived in France in May 1917 and they were employed in the rear area stationary Army Post Offices and the Base Army Post Offices (BAPO) at Le Havre, Bologne and Calais. They wore WAAC uniform, a dark karki dress, stockings, shoes and hat, or a WAAC tunic and long skirt, with a shirt and tie worn under the tunic and a brimmed hat as head dress, they were given an annual uniform purchase allowance of £ 4, as well as an extra £1.10s on enrolment to buy a great coat. Looking closely at the photographs of the Postal WAAC it was clear that they did not wear the RE Bomb on the left breast of their tunic as their successors the ATS and WRAC women did. On their arrival in France, it was found that they required extra postal training, for the majority of them were young women who had only worked with the GPO for a short period of time. This lack of experience is easy to understand if you consider that the most likely recruits were the younger women who were unmarried and therefore had no domestic commitments in England, while the more experienced women were more likely to be older, married and have other commitments. But it should also be noted that women who had husbands serving in France were not eligible to volunteer. Working in a stationary Army Post Office (APO) in France came as a shock to many of the WAAC, who arrived under the impression that their duties would be similar to those, carried out in the GPO, back home. This is well illustrated in an extract from an article in The Postal Dump (the HPD Newsletter dated 1918) written by a woman known by the initials ‘JH’ who states: "Imagine our horror and surprise to find ourselves put to work in an ordinary post office, where all had to speedily learn the intricacies of selling and cashing postal orders, weighing parcels, accepting cables, and all the ins and outs of the routine life of a civil office at home, plus the difficulties of [currency] exchange and the complications of censorship". The women worked long hours, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. "balances and Boche permitting". Even in these rear areas they were not excluded from the dangers experienced by their front line colleagues-in-arms, for the rear areas often came under attack from long range artillery and German bombers, so when the ‘Tocsin’, the early warning siren, sounded they had to evacuate their APO, but before seeking shelter in the cellars or trenches they had to secure their stock, cash and date stamps – the loss of which in postal circles was a cardinal offence. For their work and the dangers they endeavoured, they were paid a wage of 30s a week, plus a bonus of 13s a quarter, this pay was to cover all work whether over weekdays or Sundays. A deduction of 14s per week was made for their board, lodging and washing, but, while they were abroad they were entitled to free medical care, a considerable benefit when there was no free medical services available back in Britain. To allow them to recuperate from the rigors of work they were entitled to fortnight’s leave per annum, and were granted free passage to and from France to take up their leave entitlement. In France the women were accommodated in a variety of billets, which could range from houses with their own grounds to "barrel-shaped huts" (nissen huts), within a special compound in an established Army camp. Care was taken to closely supervise and keep the women segregated from the men. This was much to JH’s disappointment, who commented that "the life of the WAAC overseas is inclined to be too disciplined to suit the modern independent Englishwoman, who feels capable of looking after herself, and is in consequence opposed to too much red tape." However, in spite of the red tape, the Postal WAACs seemed to have made the most of what little opportunities there were to fraternise with the men. Another member of the WAAC writing in The Postal Dump, under the initials ‘CNP’ who served at an APO in Dieppe tells a tale of how after an ‘All Clear’ was sounded, which they did not hear "owing to the shrieks of the wounded", they continued with their impromptu party, that had evolved during the air-raid. The party, which was held in the cellars of the APO, that acted as their make shift air raid shelter and was attended by both the male and female APO staff. The entertainment consisted of "dances by WAACs, songs of all sorts from venerable antiquities like ‘Nirvana’ to ‘Where the Black-eyed Susans Grows’", to recitations of ‘Dangerous Dan McGrew and the Lady That’s Known as Lou,’ – all innocent fun no doubt. Regardless of their title, the WAAC, was not in fact a part of the British Army but was a civilian organisation, for there was deep suspicion about the employment of women in areas that were considered by the men as being very much their own domain. The WAAC Chief Controller, Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan encountered great difficulties in removing that prejudice. The WAAC were not allowed to have officers, in spite of the fact that a management structure was required to administer the women, female Unit Administrators were appointed in their stead. ‘CNP’ writes that her Unit Administrator was called Theodosia Thomas (I suspect that her name was changed) and looked "manly", confirming the predilection of a few young women to view those in authority over them as some form of ogress. On the 9 April 1918, as a mark of appreciation for the good services rendered by the WAAC both at home and abroad, Queen Mary assumed the position and title of commander-in-chief of the corps, which thereafter bore the name Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC). The war ended on 11 November 1918 and some of Postal members of the QMAAC stayed on in France to help provide mail services to the troops who were left to clear the battle fields, the last of the Postal QMAAC were demobilised just before the 25 December 1919. In an unpublished history of the Army Postal Services (BEF) 1914-1919, contained in the PCS archives of the Royal Engineers Museum, there is a simple tribute to the women of the QMAAC – it is: "They showed considerable aptitude for the work and with increasing experience they rendered most valuable service".
BETWEEN THE WARS 1919-1939
TERRITORIAL SERVICE (ATS) – POSTAL (1939-45)
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