During the First World War, 75,000 Post Office employees served in the British Army. 8,500 lost their lives. Following the launch of the first set of Post Office commemorative stamps on the 28 July, Robert Stebbings shares more about the Post Office men who went to war.
The Post Office Rifles
The Post Office Rifles regiment had been formed in 1868 as the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers Corps under first commanding officer Major JL du Plat Taylor.
It was a regiment comprised almost entirely of Post Office staff, many of whom were deployed to Egypt and South Africa before the war.
Three battalions of the Post Office Rifles were formed during the First World War. They were active in major battles including Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele.
- The Post Office Rifles regiment was made up of 12,000 men.
- 1,800 soldiers perished from the regiment during World War One and a further 4,500 were wounded.
- In one battle alone near Longueval in 1918, the Post Office Rifles lost 300 men.
Sergeant Alfred Knight
The Battle for Wurst Farm Ridge in Ypres in 1917 also resulted in significant loss of life for the Post Office Rifles. More than half of the regiment perished, despite the bravery of soldiers such as Sergeant Alfred Knight.
Alfred Knight was the only member of the Post Office Rifles to win the Victoria Cross.
Before the war, Alfred Knight worked as a clerical assistant for the Post Office in the North Midland Engineering District. He was the only member of the Post Office Rifles to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
According to documentation, his courage at Wurst Farm Ridge led to German soldiers retreating as he captured an enemy gun position. A Post Office circular noted that ‘his several single-handed actions showed exceptional bravery, and saved a great number of casualties in the Company. They were performed under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, and without regard to personal risk, and were the direct cause of the objectives being captured.’
Sergeant Knight returned to his career at the Post Office after the war.
First World War remembrance at Post Offices
In memory of Post Office employees who served during the First World War, Post Office branches around the UK will be showing displays to illustrate the role they played and highlight more about their life stories.