Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Post

From The Times, December 22nd, 1914


...The public has become more or less familiar with the effects of the "Christmas rush" on the General Post Office.  But this year the difficulties are enormously increased owing to the pressure which already existed as a result of the war. It is probable that what may be called the ordinary Christmas business will be less than usual, inasmuch as there will be less miscellaneous present-giving.  The postal authorities, indeed, are reckoning on this and are taking on less than the usual number of extra Christmas hands.  Last year 11,000 additional men were engaged.  This year it was decided that 10,000 would be enough, and there has been some difficulty in getting that number, in spite of the fact that salaries have been increased from 24s. to 26s. and 28s. a week for postmen and 28s. to 32s. for sorters, to which the pay for overtime has to be added.  ...

...The Post Office had lost about 6,400 regular employees who are on service.  Of these about 1,000 were formerly in the Navy and 2,000 in the Army and have rejoined from the Reserves; the rest have gone as recruits in the new Army, with the Post Office Rifles or as Engineers, in which capacity they have done invaluable work in organizing the postal and telegraph services with the Army in France. ...In addition there are about 100 men, all necessarily expert, detailed for special telegraphic service at the Admiralty and War Office, besides smaller numbers detached on special duty in connexion with the various camps at home.  To replace these 6,400 there have been taken on 4,200 new men since the war began (though a proportion of them are women), the preference being given to married men and those over military age. ...

...Our Armies cause immensely more work and give much more trouble than would the same number of men in civil life.  For a long time past the number of postal packages containing "comforts" of all kinds sent to our troops abroad has been on the average about 20,000 a day. ... In the six days ended on December 12, which was the last date at which packages were supposed to be received for delivery to the men for Christmas, the parcels amounted to the appalling total of just upon 250,000.

The amount of inadequate addressing is deplorable.  The British people seems unable to get it into its head that a regiment is not a tactical unit and that it is insufficient to send a package to a man with no other indication than that he is a private in the Berkshires, the South Wales Borderers, or the London Scottish.

Sadder is the number of letters and parcels addressed to men who are "missing."  All these come back to the General Post Office.  There they are detained until the War Office releases them by information that the news of the man’s death or loss has been conveyed to his relatives at home.  The packages are then, whenever possible, returned to the senders....

And even greater and unnecessary is the burden of careless packing.

The "hospital," where these mangled parcels are cared for and repacked to be sent to their destination, is an extraordinary sight.  Profoundly pathetic is the amount of loving care which has been expended on making up a package of "comforts," which is then, perhaps, wrapped in thin paper and tied with a single piece of frail string, so that it has fallen to pieces before it has even reached the London office.  The Post Office does all that it can to repack them properly and speed them on their way: but too large a proportion are crippled beyond repair.....

[There are also] some 2,000 packages a day received for British prisoners of war in Germany, and 1,200 a day from Germany for German prisoners of war in Great Britain.  All these have to be "censored"— i-e., examined to see that they contain nothing illegitimate, though the German Customs manifest, when it details the contents, is generally treated as sufficient.  It is to be hoped that the authorities in Germany are taking the same pains to see that the parcels for British prisoners there reach them with promptitude as are being taken by the Post Office in London.  On the other hand, it is a pity that the British public does not emulate the carefulness with which the Germans do up their packages, each one of which is admirably packed....

[Interesting that the report says that 4,200 new men have been taken on, before mentioning that some of them were actually women.  

Also interesting that there was the Post Office was handling post for British and German prisoners of war, just as normal postal business, and that the German Customs were trusted to state the contents of parcels honestly.]

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