Helping with the Christmas Post

 

The Mansfield Post Office was under enormous pressure during the years of the great war. Not only did they have a great volume of letters and parcels being delivered to, and sent from Clipstone Camp, but they had also lost male employees who had joined the colours and were fighting for King and Country.

The article below taken from the Brunts School Magazine 1914 – 1917

 reveals how in a time of need, especially at Christmas, young women helped out.

‘Some Experiences of Postwomen’

The only dread of a would-be postwoman is that she will not be equal to the early-rising. Undaunted by impending bad weather or heavy post-bags, she is haunted by the awful fear of putting in a late appearance for her first duties.  It is rumoured that some stayed up all night! However, the deafening whirr of the alarm clock seldom fails to do its work, and, with fumbling fingers a match is struck and the watch consulted.  On this first morning plenty of time is allowed to prepare for going out.  Most of this is dawdled away, and a promise is made that henceforth half-an-hour longer can be spent in bed.

 The journey from home to the Post Office is fraught with perils in this time of lighting restrictions.  To walk on the footpath means collisions with walls and railings, or the feeling of treading the brink of a precipice, expecting every second the jar of a stumble in the gutter.  A queer sensation!  But there comes the good feeling which is the reward of the early-riser, and this is quite exhilarating.  We listen in vain for the sound of other footsteps and wonder if after all we have mistaken the hour.  It is really very dark for 5.45 a.m., the buildings rear up their silhouettes to the dark grey sky, and not a single light is visible. 

Suddenly we hear a tram, and it glides into view crammed with miners going to work.  

Then we are merged into a stream of scurrying people, mostly young girls finishing their hurried morsel of food as they speed along, and chattering sixteen words to the dozen.  At last we see the Town Hall clock, and it is a relief to find it registers a few minutes to six.

We tread on fresh ground on the way to the back of the Post Office, and see a huge mail van being emptied by a number of men who stagger through a doorway with the heavy sacks.  Seizing our chance we follow in and are directed to our place by a genial inspector.      

Soon we find familiar faces and exchange congratulations on our punctual arrival.  Here are to be seen Florrie Brooks, Dorothy Freeman and Kathleen Winfield discussing the weather, and Dorothy Bingham and Marjorie Dugdale talking to Doris Silcock and Jennie Mitchell.

The ‘walks’ are shared by two postwomen, and we find our colleague at her place. Already there is a large stack of letters and ‘big stuff’, which consists of the smaller parcels, large calendars, business circulars, etc.  We idly speculate on the contents of a neat little package, when up comes ‘our’ postman with an armful of letters. He drags stools from somewhere for us and squats on the swinging seat attached to the sorting table.  Then he deftly deals out the letters into various packs, explaining the while how he divides his ‘walk’ into districts.  This finished, the letters of each pack are sorted into the order of delivery, and tied into bundles.  The big stuff is treated in the same way, and packed into the post-bag, last-needed bundles being placed at the bottom. 

A voice is bellowing from a cage-like office, “Come along for your registers.”  We come, and signing for the letters, take them and the accompanying slips and add them to our bulging bag.  Quite a lot of signing is done. We sign on our arrival, time of departure for our delivery, and again when duty is finished. 

Now lamps are fetched and lighted.  These are tricky things to manage without becoming daubed with oil, so we dispense with them whenever possible.  It is raining :  we don the serviceable waterproof capes provided, and are ready to sally forth and commence the adventurous part of the work.

What fashions there are in letter boxes! We never noticed this before. Many sore-trapped finger-ends exist after the first delivery.  The postman-in-charge is a cheery man, and chats all the way.  He has to put up with a great deal of chaff from passers-by, to which he responds good-naturedly and tells us he is more noticed now than ever before!

We are always pleased to slip an “On Active Service” letter into the boxes. Often were we able, we would spirit a letter from a soldier or sailor to his waiting women folk.  Here we see the pathos of the postman’s work.  We see a woman who has been standing at the door of her little home since we entered the street, looking expectantly for the post, turn away disappointedly with a great sigh and with tears in her eyes. It makes us sad to have to pass by, and we hold out hopes for the next delivery “For men must work and women must weep.” How true it seems sometimes.

We feel most important when we are taught how to empty a pillar box and  change the plates, showing the time of the next clearance. As a rule few letters have accumulated during the night, and we make our way back to the Post Office with light bags and lighter hearts.  Our first delivery is over.

On Christmas morning work commenced at five, and at six a grand breakfast was provided for all at the Bentinck Cafe.

Helping with the Christmas work was a happy experience for all the girls who ventured on it.  Several of them are now on the regular staff.  The work is easy and healthy, and takes place in congenial surroundings.  We hear nothing but praise for all the postal servants with whom the girls came in contact. And we must not forget to say that the Brunts girls fulfilled the highest expectations of the officials. MBD

A 2009 photo of the Mansfield Post Office, which opened in 1913.
M Marples
Private collection
M Marples

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