An exhibition ‘Last Post: Remembering the First World War’ celebrating the vital role the Post Office played during the First World War 1914-1918 delivering letters to and from the front line trenches opened at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms
This temporary exhibition, jointly organised by The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) and the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms (CM&CWR), displays artefacts, posters and images from both the Imperial War Museum’s and the BPMA’s collections.
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 singlehandedly taking on twelve German soldiers – killing three and leaving the rest to flee.
It 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.
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. Visitors learn how, for the first time in Britain, 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.
Tony Conder, Chief Executive at the BPMA commented: "The role of the Post Office in the First World War is an exciting story of bravery, spies and resilience against all odds told through this fascinating exhibition."
Phil Reed, Director of the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms says, “This revealing exhibition shows how the Post Office coped with the huge increased volumes of mail and looks at the social impact of women joining the Post Office. Also, for the first time visitors are able to view a private letter written by Winston Churchill to his wife to be opened only in the event of his death.”
Recordings of personal stories from wartime, including an account of a 13 year old telegraph girl, Eileen Johnston, brings the era to life for Visitors. Eileen Johnston’s father, a docker, was killed in 1915 meaning Eileen had to leave school at the age of 13. She became a telegraph girl for the Post Office at Whitechapel. Visitors learn how she was punished for dossing, as well as her experiences of delivering harrowing news to people that their son or husband had been killed - ‘really awful. So hard for a child to have to tell them that’ and what became of her family after her Mother’s death. `Last Post: Remembering the First World War` 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.