Post Office War Heroes
Two books of remembrance listing all 12,830 postal workers killed in the two world wars go digital as Head of Collections Chris introduces a new website.
At 11 o’clock on 11 November 1918, the guns of the First World War fell silent. A few hours beforehand the General Post Office (GPO) managed telegraph network had been issuing the instruction that a general armistice was to begin at that time.
Just as at the beginning of the war the GPO and its telegraph system were to play a pivotal role. One of the first acts in the Great War on 4 August 1914 was to sever the telegraph cable linking Britain and Germany, now 4 and a half years later, the telegraph was once again at the forefront.
The First World War had a huge impact on the postal service, it tested the service to the limit and was to change the way it operated forever. Over 75,000 men and women of the Post Office went off to war, over 8,000 of them never to return and many thousands more were injured, many permanently. For the Post Office however, it was not just the human cost.
The industry had expected to carry on most of its pre-war functions with many additional duties and responsibilities such as managing the separation allowances and selling of war bonds and coping with the huge increase in mail volumes at a time when so many of the experienced workers were being taken away for wartime duty.
The service responded fantastically and rose to the challenge, at the peak it was delivering over 12 million letters a week to the world at war, its workforce boosted by a huge number of temporary workers, including over 30,000 women drafted in to help keep the communication lines open.
The Post Office Fellowship of Remembrance
During the war the Post Office set up a relief fund, paid into by staff of the Post Office and to be used to help those colleagues affected by the war, offering charity to families who had lost loved ones or helping to pay for adaptations for those permanently disabled by the war.
This charity effort, by the staff themselves, continued after the peace with an informal set up in the North West of England where postal workers helped fund, by subscription, free convalesce and subsidised holidays for colleagues affected by the war. The fundraising helped buy a hotel in Wales called Bryn Asaph for use by Post Office staff. The enterprise grew and more properties were acquired around the country with the association being known by the name of the first hotel.
This charitable activity, independent of the Post Office, was formalised into a membership organisation, open to all Post Office workers, after the Second World War. The Post Office Fellowship of Remembrance (POFR), as it became, opened several hotels around the country including in North Wales, Dumfries, Devon and Worcester.
At its peak there were over 150,000 members. The POFR remained an independent organisation but maintained close ties with the postal business and the related trades unions.
POFR Memorial Books
As part of the commemoration to all those postal workers who gave their lives James Trezies, a postal worker himself, undertook to create a unique record and memorial to all his fallen colleagues, from the two world wars. Over the period of 3 years in the mid-1950s Trezies researched and hand-wrote the names of each of the fallen on individual sheets of cream wove paper with each name appearing in alphabetical order.
The completed pages were bound into two volumes, one for each conflict. The start of each section was illustrated with the relevant letter that was written in gold leaf and decorated with hand-drawn images. The First World War volume had native British flowers beginning with that same letter of the alphabet and the Second World War volume had hand-drawn images of native British trees, again beginning with the same letter.
The completed volumes were presented to POFR on 2 April 1957 in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
In November 2015 The POFR presented the two volumes to The Postal Museum and since then, working in partnership with The POFR and BT Archives, who today remember the contribution by the telecommunication workers to the two world wars, the two books were digitised and each name and personal details were transcribed by a volunteer and this information made available via a new website, created by The Postal Museum and supported by the POFR and BT Archives.
In total there are 12,830 names across the two books. Each name also lists the military unit the individual served with and the part of the Post Office in which they worked. The digitisation of these books allows everyone to fully explore the remarkable and unique legacy these books create and will provide a valuable resource for those interested in this story or those researching their own family history.
– Chris Taft, Head of Collections