Anniversary of the start of World War I (July 1914 - November 1918)
Post Office Staff in World War I
World War I, also known as the First World War, was a global war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. Until World War II in 1939, it was called simply the World War or the Great War, and thereafter the First World War or World War I. In America it was initially called the European War. More than 9 million combatants were killed.
The Post Office Joins Up
The Post Office actively encouraged their staff to join the war effort. Over 75,000 men left their jobs to fight in the First World War. 12,000 joined the Post Office’s own battalion - the Post Office Rifles.
The Post Office’s Battalion had officially existed since 1868. It was made up almost entirely of Post Office staff. So many men were keen to enlist that a second battalion had to be created a month after war broke out.
The Post Office Rifles fought at Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele and were awarded 145 decorations for gallantry, including a Victoria Cross. Overall the regiment earned 27 battle honours.
Post Office Rifles
Sergeant Alfred Knight VC
Sergeant Knight was a post office employee who worked as a Clerical Assistant in the North Midland Engineering District. He also fought as a Post Office Rifle and was the only member of the regiment to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC).
Born at Ladywood in Birmingham on 24 August 1888, Knight was the son of Joseph and Annie Knight. Educated at St. Phillips Grammar school, Edgbaston he married Mabel Saunderson in May 1915.
When the Post Office Engineering Department moved to Nottingham in 1912, Knight transferred and was working in Carrington Street when war broke out. He enlisted in the 2/8 London Regiment of the Post Office Rifles on 26 October 1914, but it was not until January 1917 that the unit moved to France. The first major action that this battalion saw was in the Second Battle of Bullecourt in May 1917. Knight distinguished himself in this battle by bringing in wounded men under heavy fire and for this he was promoted to Sergeant.
Sergeant Knight was later awarded the Victoria Cross for "most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the operation against the enemy positions" at the Battle for Wurst Farm Ridge, Alberta Section, Ypres, 20 September 1917 (London Gazette, 8 November 1917, see also Post Office Circular, Tuesday 20 November 1917, for whole quotation). Knight charged the enemy position and captured it single-handily, showing no regard for his personal safety.
Front Line Communications
Postal communications played a vital role in the war effort. The Post Office set up telecommunications between Headquarters and the front line. It also ran an internal-army postal system.
Telegraphs and telephones were the main means of communication between the front line and Headquarters during battle. Over 11,000 Post Office engineers worked to make this possible throughout the war, using the skills they had acquired as civilians.
Many soldiers had relatives and friends fighting in other units. From December 1914, the Post Office ran a postal service that carried mail between units.
Writing and receiving letters and parcels were a vital part of sustaining morale and overcoming the boredom, which was a feature of trench life. Many were dedicated correspondents –infantryman Reg Sims, for example, wrote home: ‘in exactly twelve months I have received 167 letters besides paper and parcels and have written 242 letters.’
The army also ran a fast and reliable pigeon post service. By 1918 there were 22,000 pigeons carrying post at the front.
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