I was a messenger at the Brighton Office for 1954 until 1958. I began as a push-bike and then later to Motor-Bikes.
It would be great to be able to contact any of my old mates at Brighton.My nickname written on the back off my leathers was "Crowie" My Bike number was T1705 250cc side valve,then T2201 and T2202 ,T4172 T3505 just a few of the bikes I rode in my duties.
I have pictures of the whole office on a days outing held in 1955. It was a great time in my life.
There was also a canteen at Branch Office. It was small but very good. In later years, when I was a Policeman patrolling that area, I would often call in for a cup of their great tea and a slice of toast. What rogues we Bobbies were.
Both occupations had one thing in common. We all loved our ‘cuppa’. As a Messenger, if you missed your tea in the delivery room you could always nip in and get one somewhere. Wherever your ‘run’ took you, there was always a friend or relative somewhere in the neighbourhood, without having to go too far out of your way. Where I lived, in Barlow Street, I could call in to my home after re-fuelling at the garage. Also in Barlow Street was Ted’s house where his mother, Dolly and his auntie Cis would always have the kettle on. I wish I had a quid for every cup of tea Mrs Page gave me I would be a rich man. But I am a rich man anyway, for having known all these wonderful people
Nev Porter was one of the Senior Messengers when I joined and I admired him greatly. For some reason, which I never knew, Nev had an ex-army Dispatch Riders crash helmet instead of the normal issue bone dome. It was Khaki and made of heavy steel and was very distinctive. After Nev had gone into the R.A.F. I happened to be in the stores one day and I saw his old helmet on a shelf. I mentioned it to the store man, Sammy Simms, and he asked if it would be any good to me. I swapped my issue helmet for Nevs old one. I was proud as punch but the other lads were a bit peeved. They seemed to feel that this helmet was sacrosanct and no one else but Nev should be wearing it. When I next saw Neville I asked him and he said he didn’t mind at all.
I had a ‘run’ to Mackworth Estate one day and as my sister lived at the top end of Westbourne Park, I decided to call in for a quick cuppa. Some parts of the estate were still under construction and as I left I rode down past some building works. I was not going fast, fortunately, because a little boy, about four or five years old ran across the road in front of me. One thing all the Messengers were good at was stopping. I slammed the brakes on and avoided hitting the child, but I went straight over the handlebars and landed, head first, between the angle of the pavement and a brick wall. The child’s mother came running up in a state of panic. She seemed mainly concerned about me and I was only concerned about her son. He was frightened but unharmed. I seemed to have pulled a muscle in my leg but was otherwise O.K., that is, until I saw my bike, K.G.O. 15 The leg guard was very badly bent and I knew I would have to report the accident to the garage staff. I was not to blame in any way but Bill and Ted did not take kindly to a bent Bantam. No excuses were accepted.
The really sad part of this incident is that Nevs crash helmet was ruined. I always blamed it on Nev wearing Brylcreem or something similar because the entire interior strapping of the helmet had given way and when I rode back to the garage the helmet rim was almost resting on my shoulders. I had to return it to stores and get my old skidlid back. My glory had been short lived.
The Inspector made me take the rest of the day off because I was limping a bit and there was no bike for me to ride anyway. I went back on duty next day though and Bill and Ted in the garage had played a blinder and got ‘15’ roadworthy again.
Incidentally, Nev married a lovely girl named Joan who was introduced to him by Pam Plant at the Post Office Youth Club one night. I think it was a rare case of love at first sight on both sides.
Ray Argent was known, fondly, as ‘Rudolph’ because when it was cold his nose glowed red. He could make a Bantam ‘sit up and beg’ and was one of the quickest Messengers on the job. He was engaged to a girl named Mavis so we didn’t see a lot of him socially.
Some of the lads thought it was time I had a girl friend and decided to do something about it, without telling me of course. Mavis was having a birthday party and, through Ray, invited me. Doug Shearer and some of the other lads were going and I was really pleased to have been asked. The party was good fun and I was introduced to one of Mavis’s workmates, who was known as ‘Paddy’. Mavis and Paddy were both Nursery Nurses at a Day Nursery at Allenton. I ended up walking Paddy home, she lived just off Slack Lane. We made a date and started going out together. I realized that the lads and Mavis had set it all up but Paddy was a smasher and I was delighted. Like me, she worked shifts, which made it a bit awkward, but we managed. She didn’t like dancing but loved the cinema and we went two or three times a week. This was a drain on my resources but Paddy ‘chipped in’ occasionally which helped out. One night during winter, it was freezing cold, I was short of cash as usual and Paddy suggested that we go for a walk. We walked along Ashbourne Road to Mackworth Estate and sat together on a stack of house bricks on a building site. What could be more romantic? Needless to say our relationship did not last very long but it was good fun while it did last and I remember Paddy with affection.
A few weeks later Mavis and Ray split up too and we saw a bit more of ‘Rudolph’ until, a few months later, he too was called to do his National Service, in the Army. He was posted to Fayed in Egypt and so he got occasional home leave. Ray lived in Crompton Street and his dad was a G.P.O.Engineer. The last time I saw him he was working in the Ambulance Service. That was many years ago.
Quite a few of the Messengers, including myself, never returned to the Post Office after National Service. I think the main reason for this is that in the forces you were often re-trained for another type of work altogether and you didn’t always get a choice. Also there was a degree of restlessness after being in the ‘mob’ whether it was Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. Some of us had been overseas and felt that we wanted to branch out a bit and try something different. I joined the Police Service and I don’t regret it, but if I could have gone back as a Messenger there would have been no contest. I loved that cold, dirty, uncomfortable job. But then I wouldn’t have had the same mates, not that there was anything wrong with the following generations of Messengers but the disparity of age did make a difference.
In the Early Spring of 1953 I was riding along London Road near St Andrews Church when I saw a couple of my old schoolmates, Mick Trotman who lived in Oxford Street and Norman, (Nobby) Key, who lived in High Street. Both were apprentice toolmakers at the Coronet Tool Company on Alfreton Road. Nobby’s dad, Reg, was in charge of one of the test beds at Rolls Royce and Mick’s dad, Jack Trotman, was an engine driver.The area where we lived was ‘Railway country’, that is to say a lot of the folks in the neighbourhood worked in one branch or another of the railway. To be an engine driver was about the top job for a working class chap and Jack Trotman was held in high esteem. I stopped to pass the time of day with the lads and they talked me into going dancing with them, on the coming Saturday, to the Plaza Ballroom on London Road. This was the start of a new phase in my life. Quite a few of my old pals went to the Plaza, Mick Radford, Roy Clifford known as ‘Click’ and one or two more. I looked forward to seeing them again. Compared to Bosworths the Plaza was a really posh dancehall with a small but very good resident band under the leadership of Jimmy Monk a well-known Derby figure. It was, however, considerably more expensive.
The owner of the Plaza, the celebrated Sammy Ramsden, had been out of town for some weeks, either on business or on an extended holiday, and the dancehall was being managed by Sol Lux, a real gentleman, who owned a Gents Outfitters shop at Allenton. Sol was very poplar, particularly with the younger patrons of the Plaza as he permitted a modern style of dancing known as ‘bop’, which was an abbreviation of the Americanism, ‘bebop’. This dance was loosely based on American ‘jive’ but I always felt that it was a very British version. The ‘Bop’ era didn’t last very long and was eventually replaced by Rock and Roll and the Teddy boy era but by this time I was overseas in the forces I’m not sorry to say. I have nothing against the ‘Teds’ but every youngster reveres his own era best.
Jimmy Monk’s band was ideal for out style of dancing. There were only about six or seven players in the band but they managed to play some very good arrangements of some of the big band standards of the day. Jimmy played alto saxophone and Jim Lyons played tenor. I also recall the drummer whose name was Dennis. One of the popular arrangements was Billy May’s ‘Fat Man Boogie’. Jimmy always had a wry smile when he played it, as he was rather portly himself.
I remember some of the girls we used to dance with, Pat McCartney, Sheila Day and Joan Acres were all great boppers. Joan worked in the office at Joseph Mason’s Paint Works on Nottingham Road. We often had telegrams for Mason’s and you would have to ride across their yard to a small hatch in the office window, where someone would accept the telegram. If Joan saw me at the window she would come to the door and we would have a quick smoke and a chat. The way you evaluated a pal in those days was someone who would share his last couple of ‘fags’ with you. Joan was always a good pal.
. Most of my Post Office pals were a bit older than me and I was losing them fast. National Service had claimed most of them and it was fast approaching for me. Doug Shearer, Arnie Dixon, Nev Porter and quite a few others were in the R.A.F. Pete Sessions was in the Royal Navy. ‘Rudolph’ Argent was in the Army and Ted Page was due to go any time. Some of my mates tried to avoid call up, mostly without success. I found a foolproof way to avoid National Service. I joined the Royal Air Force for three years. I was just seventeen and a half years old, the minimum age for signing on so I could have had another six months of Civvy Street.
I was given three choices for trade training in the R.A.F. My first choice was M.T. Driver, second, M.T. Mechanic, third Postal Clerk. I was mustered in as a Teleprinter Operator.
After basic and trade training I was posted to Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka. I was there for two and a half years and there was no home leave so by the time I got back to ‘Blighty’ things had changed a lot. I did not know any of the current Messengers. I still had a few pals at the Post Office but somehow it wasn’t the same.
On the advice of ‘our kid’ I joined Derby Borough Police and my connections with the Post Office were permanently severed.
I would not have missed my spell as a Messenger for anything and even today, whenever I walk along St James Street I imagine a row of Bantams parked outside the entrance to the old delivery room and envisage a group of laughing messengers standing on the steps. I’m afraid they are just ghosts of a happy, happy past.
I joined the Post Office in 1952 as a Junior Postman. The public usually called us Telegram Boys but we liked to be known as G.P.O. Messengers, I don't really know why, perhaps we thought it sounded more mature.
It was by chance that I became a Messenger because since my dad worked for Rolls Royce I was eligible for a R. R. apprenticeship but as I left school in December and the next apprenticeship course didn’t start until the following spring, I had to find a means of earning a living for the next three or four months.
I was just 15 years old so my mother took me to the Youth Employment Office in Bramble Street, to try and sort me out a temporary job, but as I had no idea what I wanted to do I was told to go home and think about it for a few days, an appointment was made for me to return the following Tuesday.
Tuesday duly arrived and I still did not know what I wanted to do but I had to keep my appointment. As I was walking past the D.R.I. with my mother on our way to the Youth Employment Office I saw a Messenger riding a pushbike along London Road. “That doesn’t look a bad job”, I said and mam, eagerly, repeated this comment to the Youth Employment Officer who immediately arranged for me to have an interview with Miss ‘Dolly’ Birch the Senior Telegrams Supervisor at the Post Office. This interview was successful and after a basic medical examination and a simple intelligence test I was told to report for duty at the Head Post Office in Victoria Street on the first Monday in January.
And so I became a Messenger.
A few weeks later my apprenticeship forms arrived from Rolls Royce but by this time I had made a lot of friends and I did not want to leave the Post Office, so I remained a Messenger for the next two and a half years.
On my first day at work I was, naturally, apprehensive. I arrived at Head Office just before 9am,as instructed but I didn’t know which entrance to use, Victoria Street or St James Street. I saw some B.S.A. Bantam motorcycles parked outside the St James Street door and I assumed that this was where I should report. Whilst I was trying to make up my mind a young, fair-haired postman came out. He asked if I needed any help and when I told him I was a ‘new boy’ He showed me to the Telegram Delivery Room which was where I was to work together with about thirty other messengers of whom about half were motor cyclists. The young postman who had been helpful was a cheerful chap named ‘Sandy’ Powell. He was known as ‘Young’ Sandy because his father ‘Old Sandy’ was also a postman. Young Sandy had been a messenger himself and he was a smashing bloke, full of fun. Over the next couple of years we became good friends.
Nowadays people might wonder what telegrams were all about and why it needed such a large staff to deal with them. Well, in the 1950’s very few people had telephones, in fact I did not know anyone who had one and the quickest way to get an urgent message to anyone in Great Britain or even abroad, without a telephone, was by telegram. A message from Derby to almost anywhere in the U.K. except the most remote regions would be delivered in about two hours, sometimes faster, On the mainland messages were passed by landline teleprinter between main post offices and then delivered to the door by messenger or in some rural areas by sub postmasters. The text had to be fairly brief as the charge was per word. The first 12 words cost 1/6d and you were allowed five words for the address. Each extra word cost three halfpence. There was something of an art in abbreviating texts and both messengers and Post Office counter staff were always helpful in saving the customers a few coppers by showing them how to use fewer words and still give the same information.
There was something of a stigma attached to telegrams as they were the most common form of advising relatives and friends of bereavement, particularly during the war years and people had come to dread the sight of a messenger at their door. The girls in the Instrument room who received the telegrams and were, obviously, privy to their contents would always ‘phone down to the delivery room and let the lads know if a telegram contained bad news so that they would be tactful when they delivered it. In fact, in the 1950’s, only a very few telegrams contained bad news; most were either just routine business or congratulatory messages.
Two Higher Grade Postmen, who were given the courtesy title of Inspector, supervised the messengers. Bobby Towle and Pete Daykin were the two Inspectors when I started. They took it in turn to work mornings or lates. The earliest shift began at 6.30.am but the duty Inspector did not start until 7.am.so the early duty messenger started first and his first job was to go up in the lift in the Telephone Exchange in Colyear Street and get a bunch of keys from the Exchange Supervisor who would usually be a dear lady called Gwen Blackshaw. The early messenger was always a motorcyclist and his next job was to unlock the motorcycle sheds at the rear of the Telephone Exchange and get his motorbike out. He would then let himself into the Head Post Office via the Victoria Street door and telephone down to Branch Office in Midland Road. Any telegrams, which had come in overnight would have been ‘phoned through to Branch Office, that is Midland Road Post Office and the early lad would have to go down and fetch them and deliver them. Another job he had to do before the Boss got in at 7.am was to make sure that the coal fire in the delivery room was lit. Beattie Wood, the morning cleaner, would have seen to that. He would then walk along to the Market Hall and get the morning papers from Poyntons. If the fire wasn’t lit and the papers were not on his desk when the Boss got in there would have to be a pretty good excuse.
I remember the headlines in the papers, which I fetched one morning, were that Roger Bannister had run the first sub four-minute mile.
I did not get to know Bobby Towle very well as he retired a few weeks after I started and was replaced by Alf ‘Fanny’ Radford. The other Inspector, Pete Daykin was a great bloke who understood the old Will Hay adage, ‘Boys will be boys’. He suffered a bit with ulcers and could be a bit of a misery at times but he thought the world of his ‘lads’ and all in all he was very fair-minded and the lads respected him in return. Alf Radford was a good-natured bloke too, if you didn’t upset him, and I think we were a bit lucky that we always seemed to get decent bosses in charge of the Messengers. Some of the Inspectors we had to work for at the Branch Office were not quite so tolerant. The ‘big’ boss was the Chief Inspector, Bill Smith. He was, without doubt, the best boss I have ever had in my life, and I have had some good ones. Mr Smith had a huge responsibility but he always found time to take a special interest in the Messengers. It was through him that we were able to have our own Youth Club and he also organized trips out for us, always on a Sunday or Bank Holiday since we worked a six-day week. He understood that we were young and a bit daft at times but he also appreciated that we worked hard and he always looked after our welfare. His premature death in the 1960’s was a sad loss.
The popular conception of a Telegram Boy was of a snooty young man, not very bright, but full of his own importance. In fact the Messengers were not like that at all. You had to be a bit rugged to brave the winters of the forties and fifties even on a pushbike. On a motorbike it was daunting and the protective gear issued by the G.P.O. in those days, although pretty good for the times, was very primitive by today’s standards. The motorcyclists worked, in shifts, from 6.30am until 8pm, in all weathers. I never knew the bikes to be ‘grounded’ for any reason. I have seen the lads coming in with tears running down their cheeks from the bitter cold but after ten minutes or so in the warmth of the delivery room, where the fire was always burning, winter and summer, they would be ready to go out again. I think that that is why so many of the Messengers smoked. A few puffs on a cigarette between ‘runs’ would just about make it bearable. We used to buy our ‘fags’ from a small cigarette and tobacco kiosk in Victoria Street next to the Post Office. The Post Office is now the Wild Coyote public house and the kiosk belongs to Cresta Gems. In those days a lady named Mrs. Pimm ran the kiosk. Decent cigarettes were still hard to come by after the war but Mrs Pimm always had a few popular Woodbines or Park Drive for the Messengers. These were the cheaper brands of cigs, 1/4d for a packet of ten. The larger, better quality cigarettes, Players, Capstan, Senior Service etc were 1/9d for ten and we could only afford them if we were a bit flush, maybe on payday or if we had had a good tip. We also drank plenty of tea, which was a great comfort in bad weather or good. We had a huge teapot, which must have held about a dozen cups. We would carry it along the Wardwick to the café, which in those days was known as a ‘Milk Bar’, opposite the library where they would fill it with tea for 4d. If you went into the milk bar to buy a cup of tea it would cost 3d so we were onto a good thing. I had not been on the job very long when the price of filling the pot went up to 6d. Pete Daykin blew his top but he was only kidding. He knew as well as we did that we were getting a good deal. When I left the job, two and a half years later, I think the price had gone up to a shilling, yes, we had inflation even then.
The Messengers were a boisterous but friendly bunch and when I first joined them they did their best to make me feel at home. I recall some of the conversation on my first day, it went something like this.
“Do you smoke?” “No.” “You will”. “Do you drink?” “No.” “You will”. “Have you got a girlfriend?” “No.” “You will”.
They were mostly right.
You couldn’t get a provisional driving licence until you were 16 so until then I had to ride a G.P.O. pushbike. There were about twenty bikes in a rack just inside the St James St entrance, which was the entrance we used as Messengers. These bikes were heavy old ‘boneshakers’ with no gears. An old Postman named Bert Hallows was responsible for maintenance of the pushbikes and although he did his best he was fighting a losing battle. Not only were the bikes worn out but also the lads subjected them to hard usage and it was always difficult to find one in decent working order. Bert’s stepson, Colin East, was a Messenger. He was a motorcyclist when I first started. Colin left the Post Office when he was 18, to do his National Service in the Horse Guards and when he was demobilized he did not return to the G.P.O. but joined Derby Borough Police Force where a few years later he and I became colleagues again.
On my first day, Bobby Towle, the duty Inspector, put me ‘under the wing’ of a more experienced Messenger to show me the ropes. I was fortunate in getting Keith Hoult as my mentor. Keith was an ex Derby Grammar Schoolboy who lived in Leicester Street. He was very friendly and gave me plenty of useful advice. His first task was to take me to the Post Office Stores at Branch Office where I was immediately issued with a leather belt and pouch and a Post Office peaked cap with a badge bearing my number, 741, on the front. I was also measured for a uniform, which was ready after a few days. It was a disciplinary offence to be outside without your cap on. A few years earlier Messengers had worn the ‘pillbox’ or ‘kepi’ type headgear but now they were not classed just as Telegram Boys but as trainee postmen and they were issued with the same basic uniform as postmen but with the addition of motorbike driving gear There was not much to learn about delivering telegrams but they had to be delivered personally if possible. In those days fewer married women went out to work and there was usually someone at home to accept delivery. If there was no one in, enquiries had to be made of neighbours to ascertain if the addressee was in fact living there and if they were expected home that day. If so the telegram could be either left with the neighbour or put through the letterbox with a printed card explaining why this action had been taken.
When I first started I was amazed by the local knowledge of the Messengers. If I was to ask for the location of a particular street the experienced lads would not only tell me where it was but they would also indicate which side of the street the number I was looking for was on and even how far up the street it was. I like to think that I developed some of this expertise after a while but I doubt if I ever got to be as good as some of those chaps. There was also great pride in the speed with which they completed their ‘runs’. A group of telegrams for a particular area, say, Alvaston & Allenton, Littleover & Mickleover, etc, was known as a ‘run’. Obviously the motorcyclists took the bigger ‘runs’ but some of the pushbike lads took pride in being able to complete big runs almost as fast as the motorcyclists. The longest run we had was to Sudbury, some 13 miles. The average ‘run’ took about 30 to 40 minutes. A lad usually got a 10 to 20 minute respite between ‘runs’ but if it was very busy he might have to go straight out again It was not particularly hard work but in bad weather it could be quite arduous and when the traffic was heavy, yes we did have heavy traffic in those days, it could be stressful although we did not talk about stress in the 1950’s, it was just a normal part of the job. What we now call the ‘work ethic’ was just standard practice in those days. Perhaps we would not have admitted it but we had pride in ourselves, in each other and in the way we did the job. I personally felt that I was privileged to work with these lads and proud to be one of them. This does not mean that we did not get up to mischief or fall out occasionally but what would you expect from a bunch of young lads. We were all the best of mates most of the time.
During my first week on the job some of the older lads, whom I was already beginning to admire asked me if I could dance. Having had three visits to Amber Valley Camp during my school days I was quite a proficient hoofer but I was a bit shy and I told a white lie and said no and that I had no interest in dancing. The following week some of these lads invited me to go to the pictures with them and I thought this was great. We arranged to meet in the Messengers Delivery Room at 6.30pm.There were 17 cinemas in Derby at that time and the last complete performance at most of them started at 6.45pm, so when 7.00pm came and some of the lads had only just turned up I began to get suspicious. When I asked what was going on I was grabbed firmly by the arms and frog marched along the Wardwick to Friargate, into a yard at the rear of Simpsons the Printers and up a flight of wooden stairs into a large room which turned out to be the Bosworth School of dancing. The lads paid the shilling for my admission and told me that if I wanted to be one of them I had to join in. Although I was embarrassed I was secretly pleased that they had gone to this trouble to break the ice and include me in their company. We had a smashing evening and I spent many of my evenings at the Bosworth School of Dancing during the next few months.
As far as I can remember the lads who press ganged me, all older lads, were Nev Porter, who came from Aston on Trent and who in years to come would be Head of Nursing at Aston Hall Hospital, Doug Shearer who lived in Leman Street, Arnie ‘Dickie’ Dixon from Marlborough Road and Ken ‘Ritchie’ Richardson from Stanton Street. They all became very special friends over the next few months. The Bosworth School of Dancing was not really a dancing school at all. Mr and Mrs Bosworth, who also ran a small café on Railway Terrace opposite to the Midland Railway Station, ran the school, which served a useful function, as it was a kind of social club for young people. It was open every day of the week including bank holidays from 7.00 pm, until 10.30pm (11.00pm on Saturdays), and it was cheaper than the cinema, one shilling on weekdays, two shillings on Saturday. Dancing was to gramophone records and a small part of the dance floor at one end was curtained off. Behind this curtain Mr or Mrs Bosworth would teach novices the basic steps of the waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. There was no drinks bar nor even a cafeteria at Bosworths but you could get a ‘pass out’ to leave the dance and go outside to another of those ‘milk bars’ which was on Friargate almost next door to the dancehall. If you didn’t get a pass out, which was a written chit, you might have to pay to get in again but Mrs Bosworth, who was usually in the pay kiosk, knew most of the regulars and often dispensed with this formality. Bosworths was ideal for the Messengers. Even on lates when you finished at 8.00pm you still had time for a quick wash and change into civvies and it was only a five-minute walk along the Wardwick. It was also very cheap, which was not an unimportant factor.
Many of my old school pals had taken apprenticeships, as I was supposed to have done. The pay for an apprentice working a 40-hour week was between 25 and 30 shillings per week. I well remember my very first wage packet from the Post Office. I took it home and gave it, unopened, to my mother. It contained £2.5.0. (Two pounds five shillings). I knew that I was now required to ‘pay my way’ or contribute to the family income, We agreed that I should have the five shillings as pocket money and that Mam should keep the two pounds to cover my board. This might seem a bit harsh today but in those times it was standard practice and anyway, five shillings seemed to be a fortune to a recent school leaver, after all I didn’t smoke or drink and I didn’t anticipate going dancing so I thought I was well off. Things were to change fairly rapidly once I started socializing with the Messengers. I was beginning to grow up. A Messengers pay was relatively good but it meant working all day on Saturday, (a 48 hour week.) Most of my old pals who were engineering apprentices were appalled at the thought of working on a Saturday and said that they would not want to do it even for the extra cash.
We occasionally got tips. Not a lot, just a few coppers but it helped. It was not that people were mean in fact folks were really quite generous and would often try to scrape a few coppers together to reward the Messenger provided that he had not been the bearer of bad news. There just was not a lot of money about in those days. On Saturdays there were usually one or two wedding receptions, often at Ramsdens Restaurant in the Cornmarket. It was customary in those days to send congratulations to the Bride and Groom by ‘greetings’ telegram. Ramsdens staff would offer to take the telegrams into the banquet room but we always insisted that they had to be delivered personally. The trick was to hand the telegrams to the Best Man in front of the Bride and Groom and all the guests. The Best Man would then try to impress everyone by putting his had in his pocket. You might even get a shilling on such an occasion but it didn’t always work. Some Best Men could be thick skinned.
Greetings telegrams were larger than ordinary telegrams and were quite fancy they were about the size of the standard greetings card which you might buy in the shops nowadays for someone’s birthday or suchlike. They were more expensive than an ordinary telegram, half a crown (2/6d) for twelve words and three pence per word for each extra word. The Instrument Room where the girls who operated the teleprinters worked was on the first floor at the front of the Head Post Office. The Telegram Delivery Room, from which the Messengers operated, was on the ground floor at the rear of the same building. Standard telegrams were passed from the Instrument Room to the Delivery Room by a weird pneumatic tube system. A brass tube about two and a half inches in diameter wound its way through the building from one room to the other. Two or three telegrams could be rolled up and placed in a small container, similar to an oversized shotgun cartridge case, and pushed into this brass tube. The pneumatic pressure would then pull the container through the tube and it would fall out into a wire tray in the Inspectors cubicle in the Delivery Room. The empty container would then be returned to the Instrument Room by the same method. Greetings Telegrams could not be sent down the tube as they were too large and they had to be kept in a presentable condition. The supervisor in the Instrument Room, Miss Greensmith, would advise the Inspector by telephone that a greetings telegram required collecting and one of the lads would be sent up the stairs to fetch it. There was no shortage of volunteers for this job as the teleprinter operators were all attractive young ladies. I remember the names of a few of them, Pat Palfrey, whose father Dick Palfrey was a Policeman whom I had the pleasure to work with some years later, Fay Gadsby, Grace Brown, Jill Osbourne, Joan Davies and quite a few more.
The duties and shifts were operated on a three weekly rota system known as a section. This involved two weeks of telegram delivery and one week training for general postal duties at Branch Office. A Junior Postman was required to learn all aspects of postal work including letter sorting and delivery and parcel sorting and delivery. My first week of training in postal duties was in the letter sorting office where I was under the guidance of an old tutor postman named Albert ‘Albie’ Bound. He taught me how to sort letters into the pigeon holed sorting frame known as Derbyshire Road. This covered all the villages within about a ten-mile radius of Derby town centre and I learned a lot about local geography from Albie.
At that time a two and a halfpenny stamp was the standard charge for delivery of a letter on the mainland. There was no first or second-class and if a letter was posted in the afternoon it was almost certain to be delivered the following morning. Monday to Saturday there were two deliveries each morning. There were no delivery on Sunday. The postal service was very cheap and very reliable.
I eventually got to work in the parcel office where the loading bay was in Nelson Street. I lived in Barlow Street, which was less that five minutes walk away. The Inspector in charge of the parcel office was ‘Teddy’ Watson, a large, bald headed man who always referred to me as ‘master’. On a Saturday my shift was 7.00am. ‘til 3.00pm, but it was not very busy in the afternoon. Around 11.00am, after I had tidied up the parcel office and swept the floor, Teddy, who knew where I lived, would start sniffing the air. “What’s that smell master”, he would say. “I bet it’s your dinner burning. You’d better get off home before I have your mam round here with the rolling pin”. That was Teddy’s way of telling me I could go home early. He was a very kind man at times. Many years later when Teddy had retired I would often see him, with some of his other retired pals, sitting on a bench on Newdigate Street near the top of Sinfin Lane. He still called me master and I still called him Sir
I didn’t mind postal duties until I started on motorbikes. Motorcyclists got an extra 15 shillings a week driving allowance but you only got this when you were actually driving and you didn’t drive on postal duties
I made some good friends among the postmen. I joined the Post Office Angling Club where Stan Walker was the Secretary and the Chief Inspector; Bill Smith was a keen member. My mate Arnie Dixon was the only other Messenger who was a member. The Club had a lease on the old disused Lime Pits at Ticknall and a bus was hired to take us there most Sundays during the fishing season. We each put two bob in the kitty and had a bit of a match. I seem to remember that a postman named Reg Humpstone frequently used to win, he was a really good angler. I never won anything myself but it was good fun and I wouldn’t have missed it. There are five ponds at Ticknall and the water is very still as it is in a sheltered spot. It is one of the most tranquil spots I have ever known and many years later I would often fish there, with my son Andrew, until in the late 1990’s I gave up fishing. The Club was a family affair and some of the wives and daughters formed a ladies section. One of the postal Inspectors, George Pountain, used to bring his family. His son, Brian, later became a Messenger. His daughter, Val, worked at Greens Cobblers, (now Horizon Blinds), on the corner of London Road and Nelson Street. If we had a few minutes to spare, some of us would pop in for a smoke and chat with Val
Some of the Postmen were a bit miserable and did not approve of youngsters although to some extent this was understandable as we could be somewhat trying to say the least. Most of the men were O.K. though and whilst we were subjected to quite a lot of leg pulling we usually gave as good as we got. I well remember some of the characters. ‘Ace’ Hickman, who always wore a bow tie,’Sandy’ Powell who I have already mentioned, Charlie Laysell (I’m not sure of the spelling, sorry Charlie) and Doug Manning were a couple of good sports too. Doug spoke with a slow, sonorous voice and I remember someone once saying,”It’s raining”.” What do you mean, “It’s raining”, said Doug “It” doesn’t rain. The atmospheric condition is some times such that rain falls, but “it” doesn’t rain”. I don’t know why I have always remembered that sage remark but it was typical of Doug’s dry sense of humour. There were a lot of good blokes and I cannot possibly mention them all but I am grateful to them for helping me to grow up.
Getting back to the Messengers, we worked hard but had a lot of fun together. The Telegram Delivery Room was a general meeting place for off duty Messengers. It might seem strange that after finishing work we would want to go back but it was almost like a club. That was where our mates were, either on duty or off. Even ex-Messengers on leave from the forces made a beeline for the Delivery Room as soon as they got home. The two Inspectors didn’t mind too much as long as we behaved, which was not always the case and they were always pleased to see the old lads home on leave. I know that that is the first place I made for on my first leave from the R.A.F. a couple of years later. Pete Gibson, a good looking, fair haired Messenger from Little Eaton did not work on telegram delivery but he was the Office Boy in a small department known as the Writing Room. This was a small office, just off the main Sorting Office at Branch Office (Midland Road), manned by about seven or eight clerks under the supervision of ‘Jack’ Warner. Pete was a very good footballer and played for Little Eaton, but this is by the way. Each Thursday Pete had to go to Normanton Road Technical College, on day release, All Messengers between the ages of 15 and 17 years had to do this but on different days of the week. He was asked to find a suitable temporary replacement to cover his duties on Thursdays and it had to be a non-motorcyclist. Since I was not yet old enough for motorbike duties, Pete nominated me and I got the job. The staff of this office were pleasant enough but dead silence was maintained during working periods and only essential, whispered, conversation was allowed. To this day I do not know what they were writing about, probably duty and leave rosters and such like. Pete had specific duties but as I was only a stand-in there was not much for me to do but walk round the various departments about once every hour, pick up the paperwork from the ‘Out’ trays and bring them back to Mr Warner who sorted them and allocated them out.
There was a female typist in the office, a young girl named Pam Plant, whose parents kept an ‘Off Licence’ at the bottom of Stockbrook Street. Pam had not been qualified very long and had a habit of ‘plonking’ the keyboard with one finger. There was a popular song in the Hit Parade at the time called, Plink, Plank, Plonk, and Pam got the nickname of ‘Plonk’. She was very good-natured and took it in good part. I only worked with Pam one day a week and I got to like her a lot so it’s not surprising that Pete, who worked with her all week, soon started taking her out. They eventually married and when I last spoke to Pete on the telephone in the mid 1970’s they were still happily together. After National Service Pete joined the Prison Service and when I last spoke to him he was working in Aylesbury.
One day, around early autumn I think, in 1952 I was sitting in the Writing Room when Mr Smith, The Chief Inspector came in. He glanced at me and I noticed a very grave expression on his face. He whispered something to Mr Warner and turned to leave. He glanced at me again, hesitated, and then came over to me. ”There’s been an accident”, he said. Ken Richardson…” his voice trailed off. “Is he badly hurt”, I asked.” I’m afraid he’s dead,” Mr Smith said. I was totally dumbfounded. Bill Smith knew that Ken and I had been close friends and he asked if I wanted to go up to the canteen for a bit. I thanked him but declined. Shortly afterwards Mr Warner came over to me. “Did you know Richardson well”, he asked. I told him that I had been out with Ken the previous weekend and he also asked me if I would like to go out of the office for a bit. Again I declined. I was too shocked to know what I wanted to do. I just sat there, miserable, for the rest of the day and the staff were all very kind and did not bother me.
Most of us experienced brief periods of depression at that age, it was just adolescence. National Service soon cured it. Drill Instructors in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines had no use for such a condition. ‘Ritchie’ had been going through such a phase. He was almost eighteen and looking forward to joining the Royal Navy and he had been a bit hard to get on with for a few weeks but he was still a good mate and he and I went out together a lot, usually to Bosworths. I had been there with him the weekend prior to his accident. We used to have some very bad fogs in those days, real ‘pea soupers’. Even on a motorbike you couldn’t see a yard in front of you. It was, apparently, in such a fog that Ken was riding down Sinfin Lane when he ran into the back of a stationary lorry. He was killed instantly.
Ken’s funeral was held at St Augustine’s Church on Upper Dale Road. All of the Messengers were given time off to attend with the exception of Doug Shearer who volunteered to stay on duty to deal with any urgent telegrams. Doug and Ken were close friends and the three of us often used to go out together. Ken came from a Post Office family. His dad was a G.P.O. Engineer and his older brother, John; also an ex-Messenger, was a Postman. I will always remember ‘Ritchie’, he was one of my first pals on the Post Office and he helped me no end.
The motorcycle Messengers had a reputation for being a bit reckless and I must make it clear that Ken was THE most careful driver on the job without question. He rarely exceeded the speed limit, always gave the correct signals and he gave me lots of advice on how to ride carefully when my time came. The Messengers reputation was probably well founded but in fact they very quickly became experienced riders. They would knock up between 15 and 20 thousand miles per year in all weather and 99.9% of the time in urban traffic conditions. In order to get the telegrams delivered as quickly as possible they ‘nipped about’ a bit and they became very good at it. There were in fact, very few accidents involving Messengers. Of course we had our spills and ‘came off’ occasionally in the bad weather and road conditions but provided no one else was involved and the ‘bike wasn’t ‘bent’ too badly we didn’t bother a great deal. I can only remember two other accidents besides Ken’s tragic incident. One of these involved, guess who? Me. But I was only slightly hurt and no one else was injured. My ‘bike, K.G.O. 15, needed some attention though and my crash helmet was a write off. The other spill involved Keith Hoult, the lad who had shown me the ropes when I first started. I don’t know what happened but Keith ended up with some scarring on his chin. It wasn’t too serious though and he must have had a private insurance because he made a few quid out of it and guess what he did with the cash? Of course, he bought a motorbike. A brand new B.S.A. 250. Boy, were we all jealous.
Doug Shearer and I went everywhere together. Doug lived in Leman Street and I often called at his home and sometimes stayed for tea, his mum always put on a good spread. One of my sons now lives in Leman Street and whenever I visit him I always recall those happy times in the early 1950’s when I used to call for Doug. His house has been knocked down now and replaced with a new, more modern house, which seems a bit sad but I suppose that’s progress.
I had only been a Messenger for a few weeks when Doug and I were at Bosworths. He had met a girl called Di’, short for Diana, who lived at Alvaston. He said that he was ‘walking’ her home and since they had to pass the bottom of Barlow Street, where I lived I said I would walk some of the way with them.
It was customary in those days, if you had been dancing with a particular girl, to offer to escort her home. The Pubs’ closed at 10.00.pm, the cinemas would have all turned out by then, there were no nightclubs and the dancehalls would all be closing. During the week the buses stopped running between 10.30 and 11.00 pm. People couldn’t afford taxies so most people just walked. Derby was a pretty safe place then and after 10.30.pm, you could walk from town to Alvaston and back without seeing a soul. There was no great problem for a girl walking alone, but you got the occasional drunk wandering about and it was polite to offer to escort the girl you had been dancing with home and, anyway, it was a good way of starting a relationship. I wonder how many lasting relationships began with a lad offering to ‘walk’ a girl home. Very often it would mean a girl walking home in her high heeled shoes and a lad walking miles out of his way but I am sure it was more fun than riding everywhere and a great opportunity for young people to get to know each other. I have known girls who had the chance of transport home turn it down, to walk home with a boy they fancied.
On the occasion I was speaking of, Doug, Di and I started walking, through town and along London Road, towards Alvaston. We were all getting on fine, chatting away, so when we got to the bottom of my street I volunteered to walk a little further with them. I ended up walking all the way and then walking back with Doug .We walked all the way to Boyer Street before we said goodnight and both went home. This set the pattern for the next few months. Doug and Di were together for about a year, I believe they even got engaged. I was something of a ‘gooseberry’ and went everywhere with them. I suggested that they would be happier if I did not spend so much time with them but they wouldn’t hear of it. They tried to ‘fix me up’ with a girlfriend so that we could make a foursome but this didn’t work mainly due to cash shortage. Anyway I got on well with Di,’ and Doug liked some company on the long walk home from Alvaston so I always tagged along. After about a year, to my great sorrow, Doug and Di’ split up. I think that I was more upset about it than either of them. I don’t know the reason, it just happened. There was no unpleasantness, they just ended the relationship. I didn’t see much of Di’ after that but Doug and I were still best mates. In early November of 1952 I was returning to the Delivery Room after a run when ‘Dolly’ Birch the Senior Telegrams Supervisor stopped me in the corridor. She said, ”You’ll be 16 in a couple of weeks, do you intend to apply for motorcycle training”. I said that I did and she told me to get the application form filled in and signed by both my parents as soon as possible. This presented a problem. I couldn’t see my mother signing the form, which would mean me riding a ‘dangerous’ motorbike. As it happened, it was my dad who was the stumbling block. He wouldn’t sign and that night I went to bed feeling totally miserable. It wasn’t compulsory to go onto motorbikes but I felt that if I couldn’t do the job that my mates were doing I would have to pack up and find another job. Next morning, to my great joy, the form was on the table, signed by both my parents. Mam had talked my dad round. She was just as concerned as he was but she knew that I wanted to be like the other lads and she convinced dad. I sent in the form to Miss Birch and was instructed to get a provisional driving licence from the Council House. In those days the local authority dealt with vehicle licensing and it was just a matter of going to the Council House, filling in a form and paying your five bob, which was the cost of a licence. This could later be claimed back from the pay office. I started motorcycle training on the first Monday after my 16th birthday, which was the 19th of November.
Pete Sessions, known as Sesh, had one fault. He thought he was ‘Jack the lad’. This was ridiculous because everybody knew that I was. Sesh and I were to train together. We were good mates but there was a bit of rivalry between us. Motorcycle training took two weeks. We were trained by a grand chap named Bill Farmer who came over each day from the G.P.O. Engineers Dept at Nottingham in a little Morris 8 G.P.O. Engineers van. Pete Daykin could only afford to let us have one ‘bike so we had to take it in turns, one of us riding, the other sitting in the van with Bill. The weather was mixed, we had some fine days but quite a bit of fog and ice too. On the first day, we went up to Markeaton Park with the ‘bike in the back of the van. During the war part of Markeaton Park had been an army camp and the G.P.O. Engineers had taken over some of the old disused buildings as workshops and stores. The old parade ground was where we practiced starting, stopping and changing gear, etc on that first morning. At lunchtime we were going back to the canteen in the Telephone Exchange in Colyear Street and Bill said he considered us both fit to ride on the road. We tossed a coin to see who would be first to ride in traffic and Sesh won. He rode back to Colyear Street without mishap. For the next two weeks we practiced roadwork, under Bills tuition, in all kinds of weather and traffic conditions. Sesh was a bit more confident than me and seemed to be progressing better, but he had a couple of slight spills, which blotted his copybook. After the fortnight was up one of Bill’s colleagues came over from Nottingham to examine us. He took Sesh out first and when he passed him Sesh was, naturally, overjoyed.
I was chuffed for Pete too. Despite the rivalry we were still pals and I would have hated to see him fail it would have broken his heart.
Now it was my turn. On instruction from the examiner I started off from Nelson Street and rode up to London Road, turned right and rode down to Traffic Street, turned right again down to Siddalls Road, right again and back to the Post Office garage in Carrington Street. (The road system was somewhat different then, the Ice Factory island had not been built at that time and there was just a small roundabout at the junction of Traffic Street and Siddalls Road). The examiner was to follow me in his van. However, when I got to the top of Midland Road the traffic lights were about to change and whilst I got safely across the examiner was held up. I arrived back at the garage about five minutes before him. The examiner asked me a couple of questions from the Highway Code and then told me I had passed. I asked him if he had actually seen me driving after the Midland Road traffic lights and he admitted that he had been too far behind. He explained that he and Bill worked together and trusted each other He tested Bill’s trainees and Bill tested his. “Bill told me that you are both competent drivers and that’s good enough for me”, he said. This was perhaps wrong but I honestly believe that Bill Farmer would not have allowed us to take the test, let alone pass it, if he didn’t think we were good enough. Sesh asked Bill which, one of us was the best driver. “You’re both about the same he said, rubbish”. He grinned and we then embarrassed him by giving him the packet of fags we had clubbed together to buy him, whether we had passed or not for being such a good sport.
Pete and I congratulated each other. We were overjoyed for more reasons than one. No more of those ancient tanks they called pushbikes and we would now get the15 bob driving allowance two weeks out of three. This would be a big help. I had already had a small pay rise since I started and my pocket money had risen from the five shillings I got at the start and now, with this driving allowance I would get about a pound a week when I was driving. There was a bit of glamour attached to motorbikes too. Although I didn’t know it at the time some of my old school mates were a bit envious when they saw me whizzing around on a little red Bantam and the girls at Bosworths always let us know if they had seen us out and about. It made us feel quite important.
We got extra kit too, A ‘Bone Dome’ type crash helmet and goggles, a pair of awful waterproofs, which we would rather get wet than wear, a pair of overalls, a beautiful, sleeveless, soft-leather jerkin and a pair of lovely but quite impractical bright yellow gauntlets. These gloves looked great for about five minutes, then they were covered in oil stains. They were not warm enough in winter either and we wore woolen gloves inside of them, which split the seams on the fingers and made it even worse. We managed though and in spite of the bitter cold and discomfort we would not have gone back to push biking for a pension.
The B.S.A. 125 cc, Bantam was a great little workhorse. It was the poor relation to the other popular two strokes of the time such as the James Captain, the Francis Barnett, etc but I doubt if any of them could have taken the punishment and rough handling that our bikes did, day in and day out. The Bantams, we had seven of them, painted in the beautiful bright red Post Office livery, were re-fuelled and serviced at the Post Office garage on Carrington Street. The Garage Supervisor was Cyril Rushbrook but we did not see much of him, as he was usually in his little office. I believe that when Cyril retired he took over his own garage at Mickleover. There were a number of mechanics who worked, mainly, on the vans but Bill Dearman and Ted Griffiths were the two motorcycle mechanics. Ken Fletcher also did some work on the Bantams. Bill and Ted were a couple of devout two stroke fanatics and were both keen on trials and competition riding. They threatened us with dire consequences if we didn’t look after our bikes but we had tremendous respect for both of them. The sound of the Bantams engine was often likened to a ball bearing rattling round in a co-coa tin but it could ‘zip’ along at well over 60 mph. We would never have admitted to the garage staff that we ever went over 40 mph though. We weren’t fooling anybody; they all knew what fibbers we were.
We did not have to understand much about the workings of the internal combustion engine but it was essential to carry a spark plug spanner. The bikes ran on a mixture of half a pint of oil to one gallon of petrol. There was a petrol pump in the garage and we would put a gallon of ‘juice’ into a funneled can, add the half pint of oil, stir it up with a metal rod and pour it into the bike’s petrol tank. This mixture used to cause the spark plug to ‘whisker’, that is build up a deposit of carbon in the ‘gap’ which prevented the plug from firing. The plug had to be removed with a plug spanner or a three-eighths ring spanner, cleaned, and replaced. The gap should really have been re-set with a feeler gauge but this was far too technical for us. We just used a Players cigarette packet. I suppose a Capstan or Senior Service packet would have done just as well. If you could just slide a piece of the cardboard through the gap the setting was correct. If a bike’s plug was ‘whiskering up’ too frequently this was a sure sign that a de-coke was about due
I remember on one occasion I was in Littleover Lane and I couldn’t get the bike to start. I didn’t have a spanner with me and I asked a couple of chaps who were working nearby if I could borrow one. They were ‘chippies’ and didn’t have the right sort of tools but one of them, very gently, tapped the plug out with a hammer and chisel. I cleaned the plug and we replaced it the same way. My bike started first kick. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone and I never said a word about it to the garage staff. Bill Dearman would have strangled me.
About once a week a Messenger would be instructed to report to the Chief Inspector in his office on Midland Road. This was merely to do a personal errand for Mr Smith. He smoked a pipe and he would give you his tobacco pouch which you had to take to Josiah Brown’s tobacconist shop just round the corner on London Road. You never had to say anything, the shopkeeper knew the pouch and he would fill it, from a jar, with the foulest smelling tobacco imaginable. About once every two or thee months this job would fall to me and when it did Bill would give me a ten shilling note and tell me to buy some gramophone records for the Messengers Youth Club. We had a record player in the club, which would only play the old 78 rpm singles. I would go to Dixon’s record shop in the Strand Arcade where they had a really good stock of all kinds of music. Records cost about 1/6d each so I could buy half a dozen plus a packet of gramophone needles with the change.
I bought mainly the pop artists of the day, Johnnie Ray, Frankie Lane, Guy Mitchell, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Kay Starr, I could go on forever and still not name them all. I would also slip in a couple of my favourite Jazz numbers, The Saints, Freddie Randall, Sid Phillips, Ted Heath, etc. We ended up with quite a good record collection at the Youth Club.
Club night was Thursday. The Messengers Youth Club was right at the top of the old post office building in Midland Road. It has been knocked down now and replaced with a more modern structure. To get to the club you had to go through the Postmen’s delivery room and up about eight flights of stairs. There was a quite large room with a small annex at one end where you could play cards or board games. In the larger room there was a table tennis table, a half sized snooker table, a dartboard and the record player. Most of the Messengers used the club regularly and a few of the girls from the Instrument Room and one or two telephonists from the G.P.O. exchange might occasionally visit.There was not really enough room for dancing though so the girls were not all that keen
There were no subscriptions, the club was free, thanks to Bill Smith. I spent many happy hours there, as did the other Messengers. Thursday was the evening before payday and we were all usually broke so the club was a godsend.
When Ted Page became a Messenger he thrashed everybody at table tennis. He had been a member of St Andrews Church Youth Club, on London Road, for some years and they had a great table tennis team with players like Tom Howie and Laurence (Lodge) Locket who were both top class at Regional if not National level. Ted reckoned that compared to them he wasn’t very good, but he certainly walloped all the Messengers.
I have known Terry (Ted) Page since I was about five years old. We had both attended Reginald Street Infants School, St James Church Junior School, (Now the Community Centre on Dairyhouse Road). And Reginald Street Secondary Modern School, (Now St James School). Shortly after I moved to the Secondary School the name was changed to Rosehill Secondary Modern, but its pupils always knew it as Reggo. This might be a bit confusing but, once again, that’s progress. Ted and I also played in the same school football and cricket teams, he was a really good all round sportsman.
I was living in Oxford Street but in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, my two older brothers came home from overseas and my family, needing a larger house, moved to live in Barlow Street just a few doors away from Ted. In spite of all this, Ted and I were not close friends at the time, just old schoolmates. He left school a term before me and took a job in the office of a local business. Sometime in early 1953 Ted knocked on my front door and said he was fed up with his job. He asked me whom he should write to, to join the Post Office. I told him to write to the Head Postmaster at Victoria Street Post Office and advised him of the correct protocol, heading his letter, The Head Postmaster, Sir and closing with, I am, Sir, Your obedient servant. I suppose subsequent generations would baulk at this obsequious jargon but it was the common form in those days and I never had any problem with being courteous nor respectful, especially to people who were paying my wages. Shortly afterwards Ted became a Messenger and because he was already 16 years old he was very soon a motorcyclist. From that moment on, Ted Page and I became the best of friends and, some years later, I was proud to be Best Man when he married his smashing wife Janet. Sadly, we lost touch for a number of years and have only recently got together again. We meet up occasionally for a pint and a chat about old times.
Spring and summer of 1953 were good times for me. I was experiencing the joy of riding a motorbike in good weather. I loved my job. I had some great pals and although cash was not abundant I was enjoying life immensely. Then, that summer, my family was dealt a blow when my father passed away after a short illness. Dad was a veteran of the First World War and carried a silver plate in his head as a result of a gunshot wound in France in 1917. A Canadian Field Surgeon had riveted the plate into dad’s fractured skull as a temporary measure but when he was examined in hospital he was told that this surgeon had performed a miracle and that as long as he lived he must never let anyone interfere with this surgery. Although he could no longer serve as an infantryman with his regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders, he finished the war in a Labour (Agricultural) Battalion. Mam always said that he was living on ‘borrowed time’ since then so I suppose he did well to live through another world war and last out until 1953. Dad loved cricket and it was at a cricket match, with my two older brothers, that he collapsed. He had coronary thrombosis and died two weeks later. The family had adopted me when I was six weeks old but my dad was the only father I had ever known. I loved him very much. One of my older brothers, Jim, was a Policeman. He was very well known about town as he sported a luxuriant moustache, the biggest in the Force and so was easily recognizable. When Jim was on traffic control at the junction of the Cornmarket and St James Street, (No 1 point in Police parlance), he always gave precedence to the Messengers. Favouritism? Perhaps, but just a harmless bit of fun. All the lads knew Jim by sight and they would say,”Your kid’s on the point”. Even to this day I still call Jim ‘our kid’.
Another ‘Copper’ well known to the lads was Les Oliver. The old ‘Borough’ Police only had one motorcycle in those days and it only came out in fine weather. P.C.Oliver was usually the rider when it did. He used to delight in trying to catch the lads speeding. He never ever did, which leads me to suspect that he wasn’t really trying all that hard. Someone would say, “Olivers’ out”. And we had to watch our tails. We didn’t have rear view mirrors, they experimented with them once but we kept managing to break them, so they took them off. We weren’t worried either way. It was no hardship to look over your shoulder and we always knew if we were being followed.
At 7.00.pm the last push-biker went off duty and there were usually three motorcyclists on until 8.00.pm. When the teleprinters closed down, about 7.50.pm, the Supervisor in the Instrument Room would send a note down the pneumatic tube, to let the Inspector know. It was then a ‘mad dash’ to the rear of the Telephone Exchange to garage our ‘bikes. We had to lock up the garage and take the key back to the duty Inspector and then we could go off duty. One evening a Police Officer had witnessed our ‘mad dash’ and he was waiting for us when we got back to the delivery room. He gave us a real telling off and made us all feel about two inches tall but he did not take any further action. The Inspector was Pete Daykin and he gave us a ‘rocket’ too, but this was a bit milder. He wanted to get off duty as well.
The Policeman who had cut us down to size was Mick Brennan. A few years later I worked with Mick and found him to be a really nice bloke. He could not recall the incident in question but he knew the Messengers only too well but was too polite to make further comment. Les Oliver had retired when I joined the Force but he was a part time steward in the Police Social Club and I got to know him quite well. We had many a laugh over old times.
I cannot recall any Messenger being reported by the Police during my time on the job but before I joined, Colin East is said to have been reported for speeding on a pedal cycle. ‘Riding furiously’, is the correct wording of this offence. This story is probably apocryphal as Colin’s exploits are almost legendary.
We saw day release to the Tech, (Normanton Road Technical College) as something of a skive since it was a 9am to 5pm day, we could wear civvies and we were not subjected to the usual Post Office discipline. We took the normal school subjects, English, History, Geography. Maths and Handicraft. We didn’t actually use the Normanton Road premises but in the mornings and first half of the afternoon we used a classroom in the Art School in Green Lane where our teacher was Mr ‘Jack’ Robinson. For our final period of the day we moved up to a house, a little higher up Green Lane, where a really nice chap named Mr Hopwood taught us to make simple items of jewelry.
All Messengers between 15 and 17 years of age and G.P.O. Telephonists of the same age group had to attend Tech so the classes were mixed. Ted Page and I both went on Friday, which created a small problem. Friday was payday and we would normally have been handed our wage packet when we reported for duty but since we were at Tech arrangements were made to send our pay, by postal draft, through the post. With a bit of luck Ted and I could ‘waylay’ the postman, on our way to the College, and get our postal drafts, which we could then cash at Babington Lane Sub Post Office during morning break. This was strictly illegal but all the postmen knew us and they were usually good sports.
The classes were quite small, about six boys and six girls. Besides Ted and I the boys were Keith Hoult, Ken Mansfield, Pete Kirkman and ‘Tex’ Hooley. The girls who I can remember were Edna Radford, Jill Poat, Ann Tipper, Janet Goldsmith and Janet Legge. We all got on well together in spite of a little friendly banter. The Telephonists had to be well spoken and have good diction. This was a requirement of the job but it could give the impression that they were snobs. No so. They were all nice, friendly girls, not too bad to look at either.
Poor old ‘Jack’ Robinson, the teacher, had something on his plate. We all tried to ‘show off’ a bit and it could make life difficult for him. On the other hand we felt that we were not school children and sometimes thought we were being treated as such. He always called the girls by their Christian names and the boys by their surnames. This didn’t bother us much but it didn’t really help his case. Jack and I were always at loggerheads over something or other. He was sometimes scornful of the fact that I was a jazz lover but when he found that I was a classical music fan too he eased off a bit. We were all a bit rebellious but I think we all respected Jack. I will always be grateful to him for one thing. To encourage us to read he would lend us books from his little classroom library. I liked reading and one Friday he handed me a copy of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ by Sir H. Rider Haggard. I had heard this story as a serialized play on the radio but when I read the book I was hooked. I carried a copy with me throughout my R.A.F. service overseas and I must have read it a couple of dozen times over the years. I have read most of Rider Haggard’s other work too and if it had not been for Jack I might have missed out on one of my greatest pleasures. . When we were on normal duty our lunch break was 40 minutes. There were no other official breaks but we always found time for a ‘cuppa’ and the Inspectors were pretty good about it, as long as we paid for the pot of tea. At Tech we got 15 minutes break in the morning and the afternoon and an hour for lunch. Wow, that was living. There was a small cafeteria at the Art School but the tea left a lot to be desired so Ted and I used to nip down to a little café in Macklin Street. One day two of the girls, Jill and Edna, asked us where we kept disappearing to at break time. When we told them they asked if they could join us, they did not think much of the school tea either. We took them down to the café and they both declared that it was much better. It was not the done thing to let a lady pay in those days, unless you were courting steady, so Ted and I took it in turns to pay for the girl’s drinks, ignoring their protests. A cup of tea cost 3d, coffee 4d, so it didn’t break the bank, although if it hadn’t been payday even this might have been beyond our means. It was our last term at Tech as all four of us had reached the age of 17, or were approaching it, and on the final day the girls insisted on paying for the drinks. They bought us the biggest, most expensive milk shake the café sold. Nice people.
At lunchtime we used the canteen in the Telephone Exchange, which we shared with the telephonists and the Engineering staff. The Messengers meals were subsidized, each Monday the Inspector would issue you with six white tickets. Each one entitled you to a main meal and a pudding in the canteen. These were free until you were 16, then the tickets were blue coloured and you had to pay half price, 9d, for each one. After 17 you had to pay for your meals in the canteen and, although the prices were still reasonable, we often went without to save the cash. On Tech days I always went to Poyntons in the Market Hall, during lunch break, to get my copy of the Melody Maker and a new music magazine, which had just come out, called The New Musical Express.
I started my career with the Post Office on the 28 March 1953 at the age of 15 years, after being on the waiting list for 3 months. Those days the working week started on Saturdays, I had the official letter to report to South Western District Office in Victoria Street London SW1 also to bring my own cutlery and a cup! In the same letter I was informed my office was to be South Kensington BO SW7 my wage was £3.50. My uniform would take six weeks to arrive, and there were free dinners up to the age of 16, then I had to pay 9d until I was 18 years old. The office had a compliment of 25 lads, as the delivery area was quite large covering South Kensington and Chelsea. The officers in charge were known as PSM’S (Postmen Supervising Messengers). I had one early and one late duty. At the start of the duty standing in a line, we were given an inspection by the Postmaster, or another official, peaks of caps and belt and pouch all had to be clean plus footwear, also cycles. My cycle was number 7 out of a total of 20, and the senior boy was the bicycle repairer, it was a full time job in keeping them all roadworthy. South Kensington and Chelsea was a very busy and interesting delivery area in those days, what with films being shot in the Chelsea streets, and famous film and radio stars in the area like: Terry Thomas, Ava Gardner, and Diana Dors who used to stop all the traffic in the Kings Road, when she came along in her blue Cadillac car with the hood down. Some messenger boys used to carry autograph books in their pouch, this just in case of the unexpected celebrity. As my first year was 1953 when the coronation was held in June, the troops from all over the world were billeted in tents in Kensington Gardens which came into our delivery area, also on the first of June came news that Mount Everest was conquered, hundreds of telegrams came into the office from around the world, we delivered them in bundles of fifty to the Geological Society in Exhibition Road. 2nd June was Coronation Day, and we were all given the day off because it was declared a public holiday. While waiting to be sent out of delivery, us boys used to talk about what’s on at the local cinema, or what was heard on the wireless, the top shows for us were ‘The Goon Show’ or ‘Take It From Here’. Some of us did not have television, and there was only one channel in 1953. As for the top twenty records, we could only hear them on Radio Luxembourg from 11-12 midnight on a Sunday, then the radio station was fading in and out, so we had to press our ears to listen to what was number one, which may have been Bill Hayley and his Comets singing ‘Rock around the Clock’ As I was junior with little seniority, my first summer holidays were in October, there was no rotation of annual leave those days. The General Post Office offered three types of service at that time, the telegram at one shilling and sixpence for twenty words, Rail Express Letter (Railex) that was taken to the main line station and put on the train of the letters destination, then collected by Messenger or Postman at the other end and delivered to the address, and then there was the Telegraph Express Service which was sixpence a mile all the way by Messenger, and if one was lucky would be sent on a twenty mile run which took up most of one’s duty, including a ride on a train.
I don’t think the GPO made much of a profit with this service, taking in the lads wage and train fare. Sunday duty was compulsory, unless a substitute could be found, we worked four hours duty for two shillings an hour, out of that the same amount was taken for tax! Discipline, small offences could result in being awarded two hours pay stopped, and a serious matter would mean the loss of increment over a few weeks or months. Overall they were happy care free days for most of us, politics, cost of living and marriage came after National Service. In December of 1953 I was notified by the Civil Service Commission that my Certificate of Qualification for postmen has been granted, and sent to the authorities of the General Post Office. In 1957 I moved to Clapham Sorting Office London SW4 for a while, and then in 1960 I was promoted to a PHG at South Western District Office in Howick Place, I covered all duties on this grade including sub – office work taking in the SW2 -10 area’s from 1963 – 1970, I spent 9 years at Brixton (SW2) on the same grade. 1970 brought about another promotion for me, this time to Assistant Inspector at South Eastern District Office SE1, and also took in sub offices 2 – 28. In 1984 I transferred to South Eastern Parcel Office for seven years, and was promoted to PEC in 1985, around 1991 I took Early Voluntary Retirement, to date I’ve now enjoyed 18 years of retirement, and have enjoyed what I have wanted to do. Listed here are some of the lads I worked with, and they were Les (Simmo) Simmons C W Tye L R Tye Bob Mitchell, Gordon Fenwick John Robinson Charlie Brooker Frank Wilson and Dave Stock and Eddie Elliott. PSM’s were Erney Lott, Ted Coverley, Fred Rouse Perse Martin and a great Yorkshire man Mr Pepper also one of our PSM’s.
Austin Albert Gobby
Last Edit: Oct 29, 2009 19:26:55 GMT by rogergreen
I commenced as a messenger aged 14 ½ years old after having stayed on six months at school.
I attened S.W.D.O. London office for training, stayed one month and was transferred to S.W.7 South Kensington .
There were no bicycles at S.W.D.O., it was an all walking office.S.W.7 delivered south Kensington and Chelsea S.W.3 split into three groups.Queengate,left Chelsea and right Chelsea.
The inspector would ‘hide’ around a corner in order to intercept a messenger not wearing his hat An inspection was held each day in the messengers room in order to check correct uniform and especially shoes.
As far as I can remember, I was only sent home once in order to polish my shoes,you then had to make the time up.
If you got a puncture you would phone the office and a replacement cycle would arrive by van, you would ask the operator for a service message.
Freddie Welsh was our bicycle repairer, out of interest there is a G.P.O., film about a letter posted in the North East of England to South Kensington, and Freddie Welsh clearly recogisied as the bag opener (he was a postman by then of course), we cleaned our bikes once a week , my one had a huge brass bell.
On Sundays and all holidays we would have postmen from S.W.D.O. with three vans and deliver telegrams with them, in those days there was only drivers seats,so we sat passengers on mail bags .
When we were with the postmaen they would buy us a tea down in a café’ in Kings Road Chelsea, opposite Duke Of Yorks Barracks and occasionally you would get a lift home with your own bike on the postmans way back to S.W.D.O.
Additionally on Sundays and holidays, we cover Kensington W8 we went down to Paddington D.O. this was on bicycle often wondered what the W8 boys thought of no ovetime those days .I was placed on a special duty day about with a coleage 7am – 2pm where I would take a packet up to E.C.D.O. Room 7 c,the packet would contain certain letters to be checked and returned for G.P.delivery.
Age sixteen I applied for motor cycle duty and moved to Wimbleton SW19, with an attractive driving allowance was paid.all this of course was bliss, for a boy of sixteen on a motorcycle and being paid !. The delivery covered SW19 and SW20 again the area was split into three,Wimbleton main,Parkside and West Wimbleton. The duty times were 8am – 3pm or 10-30am -7-30pm , day about Monday to Saturday.
Plenty of incidents in the two years,two most embarrassing, were getting stuck in a tramline and wedged to the ground (the great british public came to help) other was around a corner on a icy road and my bicycle falling away while I with momentum,did a low crouching position running toward a department store window and ended up next to the window, looking across the road as I returned to retrieve my bike, I realised the cinema there and being a Saturday evening, a very long queue! I was ok and scurried away very quickly.
The bonus at Wimbleton being a little older, were the instrument room girls ! The library was opposite our retiring room which was on the first floor, with the Branch Office below ,there was always plenty to see
When 18 years old I did National Service and was put in the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) this involved sorting mail, courier work around stations and sorting offices in London.
I was posted to Germany where I was despatched to six towns and in three was I/C of the F.P.O.,Also the three months , I was my own Mobile T.P.O. between Bad Oyenhousen and the Hook of Holland by train
On return to Great Britain I became Postman / Postman Higher Grade and worked on the T.P.O. the rest is another story !!!!!!!
I was also a postman in Australia and New Zealand .
All the best
I'm the one in the glasses
Last Edit: Oct 13, 2009 18:35:56 GMT by Matt James
Iam Pleased to attach a copy of the notice which I hold. Many years ago an ex colleague managed to save it when the old cycle shed was being taken down . He sent me a copy , not very well down I am afraid, but you can certainly have a laugh when you read it.
I see it was dated 1914, but even in the early 1940’s it was referred to. It is also headed-Postmaster no 28 which may help to find out if a better copy is available
Last Edit: Oct 12, 2009 19:33:09 GMT by Matt James
I started as a messenger boy at the age of 15 in 1960, I began by delivering telegrams in Birmingham City Centre on foot from the head post office in Pinfold Street. After a short while I was transferred to cable and wireless in Newhall Street delivering telegrams on a bicyle. I stayed there until I was 16 when I was able to start training to become a messenger boy on the GPO bantams. We did our training at Sutton Park for 3 weeks. I remember one of the chaps was called Chris Sullivan who later took up acting. When we all passed our test I was transferred to different offices in Birmingham covering sick leave and holidays and after about 3 months I was then transferred to Erdington where I stayed until I went into the Postmans Office.
While I was at Erdington I remember Jimmy Knight who was tragically killed at the age of 21 in a cliff accident at Tenby in Wales. Also I remember Dave Buxton I don't know what happed to him when he left. Also there was somebody called Moody unfortunately I have forgotton the names of the others. The Gaffer at Erdington was Tommy Jenks and also Pat Hart was in the teleprint office.
In 1972 when I was a PHG and was unable to get a transfer to Cornwall as a Postman so I left and went to Cornwall where I took a 4 year training course with British Gas and later became a service technician. I lived in Cornwall for 32 years and when retiring from British Gas my wife and I decided to emigrate to France, we have been here now for 6 years and we like it very much.
I would like to go on the say that while I was a messenger with the GPO it was one of the most enjoyable parts of my life, something I will never forget and I have many good memories of it. I hope one day that I will be able to come to one of your reunions. So please keep me in touch with everything and you will find enclosed a picture of my pride and joy which I take to shows in France.
Last Edit: Oct 18, 2009 15:51:37 GMT by Matt James
I came across your site whilst surfing the net this morning.
I am originally from Edinburgh .
The mentor of our family in my formative years was my Uncle Charlie (Barrie).
He was the oldest son of my Grandmother and someone who made her very proud.
Charlie was the original local lad made good..............His first job when he left school in Corstorphine Edinburgh was as a GPO telegram messenger.
He was also in a protected profession which exempted him from call up for WW2.
He rose to the giddy heights of the manager of a telephone exchange in Edinburgh.
All the family looked to him for advice and he was the expert at composing job application letters and other things important.
It is a pity that the Edinburgh District GPO employees do not have a similar site as I would enjoy reading of the exploits of the boys from that very early era .
A number of years ago I was introduced to a chap here in Aus by a mutual friend. This chap had migrated to Aus from Edinburgh and worked in Telstra our local Telco.
He told me that he had worked for the telephones part of the GPO since he was lad. I enquired if he had come across my Uncle Charlie . Well he told me in no uncertain terms
what he thought of his Manager from many years ago and I can assure you it was not at all complimentary . Uncle Charlie would have turned in his grave at such profanities being used to describe him but I’m sure he would have been proud to know that the same young lad put this learning to good use for the rest of his life both in UK and in Aus.
I had 4 years with the G.P.O before the war came . which included many aspects of work including driving mail vans . But at 20 years old , the war came and I was sent off to France with the 51st Highlands Div , simply ‘Chaos’ but I escaped . 12th June 1940 and 3 month troopship and in June 1942 The new 51st were with ‘Monty’ at El Alamein, long journey to Tripoli , on a about 1500 miles to Tunis and Sicily and ‘Monty’ said home to the UK for the big one ,and four years after escape from France June again we were back again.
I enjoyed the English pals in the 51st Highlanders but time moves on and my last contact up here has now gone !
I was now 27 years old ,and back at the post office and wanted a change so I sat an exam with counters, as a P.E.C. grade level, time flew and suddenly it was 1979 and at the age of 60years oldthe power to be said it was time to retire with 46 years service including the war years
Iam now 90 years old and my wife jenny is 89 years old , we were 15 & 14 when we meet and I married her on embarkation leave in 1942
Jack Lawson 1935- 1936 Coatbridge & Airddrie Scotland
Last Edit: Sept 18, 2009 10:39:51 GMT by Matt James
I was a Telegram Messenger Girl ,I started at Romford Essex sorting office in June 1978. I think I was the first girl in the Messengers and was working with seven Messenger Boys , we used to ride mopeds , they were constantly breaking down .
The area we covered was quite large Romford , Dagenham,Hornchurch,Harold Hill, Harold Wood , Gidea Park and the rural areas .
I also enjoyed taking the wedding telegrams out , but now one enjoyed taking the bad news one’s out .
I remember wearing my heavy black overcoat and grey trousers and going out in the snow, I came back frozen and white.
We also done indoor duties helping out on the switchboard. Most of the people who were in charge of us were friendly and kind and didn’t moan too much when we got lost and took longer than you should .
It was the best time I ‘ve ever had , I met my first husband in the messengers , Ive worked for the royal Mail now for thirty one years but nothing will ever beat working in the telegrams
My service started in 1943 at Petworth Sussex where I remained until I retired as P.E.C.Postmaster after 44 years
This area was occupied by thousands of troops leading up to D-Day, being a rural area the boundries were 3 – 4miles and on a bad day it was likely that we could cycle 100 miles .One could get very fed up if after having been to one of the distant addresses another message was waiting at the office for the same address – great on a wet day !
Travelling around after dark with ½ the cycle lamp blacked out was difficult although I believe we regarded it as fun. I only remember two “I regret to inform you “ telegrams but was warned what the reception might be .
Petworth being a Head Office any spare time was occupied with an addressogragh machine heading up forms for sub offices and printing bag labels I was not allowed in the sorting office ,telegrams were put through a hatch to the messenger room. My hours were from 8am to 1pm and 5pm to 8 pm Monday to Saturday plus 2 hours on Sunday , on one occasion I was hauled before the Head Postmaster for damaging a cycle this I denied but others knew better , this resulted in the loss of 1/- cleaning allowance and 1/- from my 11/- weekly wage
On the subject of handstamps I remember a small oval stamp with the office code 144, this was used on unsealed printed paper items in excess of 20 ,which I believed were 1/2d cheaper than the normal rate .
I do have an ordinary message form and 3 different greetings forms , a reminder of our wedding in 1952.
In 1947 I was on a clerical course at Bletchley Park , at that time a Post office training centre , I vaguely remember seeing the Enigma Machine although at the time not realising its importance
I joined the G.P.O. as a junior Postman on the 29th December 1955 at 15 years old and 8 months at Derby. It was a thrsday after my initial starting & uniform measuring etc , I was assigned to another lad for instruction this lasted 2 days and then I was on my own
We worked a 48 hour week and a 2nd delivery on Saturday
The National service was in full swing & 2 lads left for R.A.F. same week I started this went on until 1956
Telegrams were sent out by a PHG i/c with the messages coming down a tube from the instrument room . the two P.H.G’s were withdrawn at Christmas 1956 and the lads were under the i/c supervisors of the instrument room
There were mainly motor cycles duties with only one or two on push bikes , other duties included an indoor writing room messenger ( a selected job ) also another attached to the engineers now B.T. adminand they had to cycle to Mayheaton Park , the home of the engineers workshops . there were 2 or 3 duties in the sorting office and 1 in the Parcel Office and another one attached to Mickleover about 2 -3 miles out of Derby to deliver the rural any one with out a job was spare in the delivery office ie splitting a walk with a colleague all prepared by a full postman
On or near my sixteenth birthday I was released for motor cycle training with another lad from Nottingham , before I could do this I had to have written permission from my parents and a medical . After a weeks trainging a few hours solo I had my test and passed.
I loved it I was on my motor cycle full time until Christmas 1958 because as lads left there were no replacements I was on them until I was 21 years old when two of us then got married and the assistant Head Postmaster then had us in the Postmans Section
We went to technical colledge one day a week with telegrahist & Sainsbury Girls
Some of the things that we got up to was a plastic bugie was put up the shut which blocked the system which resulted in major repairs also the youngest always had to fetch the teas from the milk bar
p.s. 6 out of our 7 bikes had no springs at rear
Last Edit: Sept 17, 2009 19:36:09 GMT by rogergreen
I was a telegram messenger boy in Wrexham on 24th March 1965 age 15 years old straight from school and now aged 60 years .I am still in the post office and performed & covered numerous duties in between a counter clerk in th the sub post offices in Wrexham
The article in 'The Courier' prompts me to let you have some details that comes to mind of my days as a Telegraph Boy Messenger at Kendal in 1941 -42.
(a) A copy (not very clear because it is a copy of a copy) of the instructions of "How to use and take care of Post Office cycles" which I could pass on to anyone interested.I think we got about 4 pence a week for keeping the cycle repaired and cleaned
(b) Being caught looking in a shop window whilst on delivery by the Inspector on patrol. My punishment was 2 hours extra unpaid duty, and my duty (work) was untying and knotting together the used letter bundle string. In todays world recycling for the War Effort.By the way the window I was looking at was a display by National Savings for 'Spitfire Week'.
(c) Whilst waiting for my appointment to SC&T I also did a Part-time Rural Post,about a 8 mile walk across fields to call at various farms. The perk was the odd breakfast of home cured bacon and a slice of bread.
(d) Dispite the dreaded War Office Telegrams, the strict discipline,I have very pleasant and fullfilled memories as a messenger. Even the dreaded Inspector was not all bad, he was the person who made sure I did some studying to get my Civil Service Certificate to qualify to become an SC&T. (Sorting clerk and Telegraphist), and everything that followed.
I suppose I could go on, but that is enough for today.