The free exhibitions will begin in Oldham and Nottingham – home of two VC recipients from the 1914-18 war – and travel the length and breadth of the UK, offering a greater understanding of how the General Post Office fitted into the story of the First World War.
The displays will be in:
- Nottingham Post Office in Queen St (from July 8-July 25)
- Oldham Post Office in Lord Street (from July 8-July 25)
- Birmingham Post Office in Pinfold Street (from July 29-August 15)
- Dundee Post Office in Meadowside (from July 29-August 15)
- Pontycymer Post Office in Bridgend, Wales (from August 19-September 12)
- Bangor Post Office in Main Street, Bangor, Northern Ireland from (August 19-September 12)
- Oxford Post Office in St Aldate’s (from September 16-October 3)
- High Wycombe Post Office in Units 10/11 Chiltern centre from (October 7-October 24)
- Tonbridge Post Office in Angel Walk (from October 28-November 14).
The Post Office Rifles fought at Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele and were awarded 145 decorations for gallantry, including a Victoria Cross to Sergeant Alfred J Knight from Birmingham. At least three more GPO employees who fought in other regiments were awarded the VC, the highest medal for gallantry. They were: Sgt Albert Gill from Birmingham; Major Henry Kelly from Manchester; and Sgt John Hogan, of Royton near Oldham.
The Post Office Rifles included the younger brother of renowned war poet Rupert Brooke; 2nd Lt. William Alfred Cotterill Brooke who was serving with the 8th Battalion London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) was killed in action near Le Rutoire Farm on the historic Loos battlefield on 14th June 1915. 2nd Lt. W.A.C. Brooke was one of the two machine gun officers in the Post Office Rifles.
Paula Vennells, chief executive of The Post Office, said: “This exhibition is a mark of our respect for those whose courage and sacrifice in the First World War changed the course of history. On the centenary of the First World War, we particularly wanted to remember the Post Office Rifles, who earned high praise and a prestigious place in British military history. About 1,800 of its soldiers were killed – and 4,500 injured – during the war. “We’re proud to honour the fallen and their families this centenary.”
Duncan Barrett, author of a new book, Men of Letters*, which tells the story of the Post Office heroes who fought in the First World War, said: ‘Those who signed up with the Post Office Rifles were shocked by the horrors they found on the Western Front. Some men saw colleagues they had worked alongside for years killed right in front of their eyes. But with their courage, tenacity and good humour they distinguished themselves as a first-class fighting unit, and participated in many of the key battles of the war.’ (*AA Publishing, £8.99)
At Ypres and at Passchendaele the Post Office Rifles suffered tremendous losses. More than half of their fighting force was lost at the Battle of Wurst Farm Ridge in September 1917. Although unique in its composition, the experiences of the PORs were entirely representative of life on the Western Front. The 1st Battalion embarked from Southampton on 17 March 1915 and after a period of training and acclimatisation, entered the trenches to fight in the battle for Festubert, France on 11 May that year.
The Post Office Rifles fought resiliently to secure and reinforce the British position there but the experience was traumatic. Today Post Office Rifles are best remembered for their involvement as infantry on the Western Front in the First World War. Their bravery, tenacity and character during the severe circumstances of the trenches are well-documented and their endeavours have earned the regiment high praise and a prestigious place in British military history. Comprised mostly of Post Office employees, approximately 12,000 men fought with the regiment, suffering losses of 1,800 and 4,500 wounded.