Archivist Helen looks at historical records of nurses in the Post Office.

Here at the Postal Museum, we enjoy looking at our collections from different angles and uncovering the unexpected. This time I decided to explore our archive for information on nurses in the Post Office.

20th City of London (3rd GPO) Battalion Home Guard. City of London ‘Invasion’ exercise 29th June 1941. Nurses tending victims POST 56/82

The Post Office established a Medical Department in 1855 and the first female medical officer was appointed in 1883. Unfortunately, there are no mentions of nurses at this point.

The first references in the archive to nursing appear shortly before the First World War. These relate to Post Office staff volunteering for the British Red Cross. The files include enquiries about whether staff could claim paid leave to attend training camps run by the Red Cross, in the same way the staff attending Territorial Army camps did. After seeking advice from the Treasury, the Post Office refused these requests but did allow the staff unpaid leave as long as their absence did not impact unduly on postal operations.

Appeal from St John Ambulance for nurses to work in military hospitals POST 30/3514 file 15

Once war broke out there was a demand for nurses to work in hospitals at home and abroad. The Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance were natural sources for the supply of nurses and the Post Office had to reconsider its position. It was decided that women who requested leave to work as probationary nurses in a military hospital would be allowed the same terms as men enlisting in the Army or Navy.

This meant that they were entitled to continue to receive pay from the Post Office to cover any gap between the £20 per year they earnt as nurses and what they would usually earn on postal duties. Being granted leave to work as a nurse was still dependent on the whether the individual could be spared from their usual duties. The records show that at least one member of staff, a Miss L K Jones, resigned from the Post Office having been refused leave to work in a military hospital as her work as a telegraphist was considered too important.

Case of Miss L K Jones POST 33/5514 file 17

These files highlight the delicate balance the Post Office needed to strike between supporting wider wartime activities and ensuring that it was able to continue to provide postal services. The comparisons between the terms for those leaving to nurse and those joining the armed forces reflect the significance of both these activities to the war effort.

In Part 2 we will look at the employment of nurses within the Post Office.

– Helen Dafter, Archivist