First World War connections Main index

Grandfathers' War
These are my grandfathers Edward Williams (in his 50s left) and Leonard Brind (Len) aged about 20. They both volunteered to serve in the army in the First World War.Neither had a good war.

Edward Williams suffered ptomaine poisoning and was out of the army within a few weeks. Ptomaine poisoning, as they called it at the time, was extremely serious, probably caused by eating rotten meat supplied to the army by crooked businessmen. Doctors said he would not live to be 21. He fooled them and survived until his mid 70s, but he was never a well man and almost every winter he was seriously ill and unable to work. As a teenager he'd been a sportsman.

Len Brind, who looked almost identical to my brother Christopher (and I've heard my grandmother call Chris 'Len'), had if anything an even worse war. He was working for the Post Office so he joined the Post Office Rifles. In 1916 he was at Sutton Veny (near Salisbury) training. In August 1917 he won a scouts race organised at Simoncourt (close to Arras). At the time he was a Lance Corporal with the 2/8 London Regiment. Some time later he was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. When he returned he was emaciated.

Cap badge belonging to unknown member of Post Office Rifles.
My grandfather, Leonard Charles Brind when he was in the Post Office Rifles.
Leonard Charles was a skilled musician. During the First World War, he seems to have served in the same regiment as a piano tuner called George Brind who was a cousin. Leonard's father John said all the Brinds were related and possibly he knew of the other Brind. Perhaps the cousins even knew each other and joined up together!

Leonard Charles Brind was secretary/ agent for Norwood Labour Party after the war. He was the apple of his mother's eye. A cigarette smoker (roll ups), his fingers were always yellowed with nicotine. His health also suffered when he was captured by the Germans during the First World War and was presumably placed in a Prisoner of War Camp. According to family legend he was captured in the latrines. These things happen in real life.

I believe he was a left handed sniper (or a sniper who used his left eye to fire his gun) , rare in the First World War, so he might have been a crack shot.

Leonard Charles was awarded several medals,
"For voluntary service overseas 1914-19, territorial war medal", which is inscribed "1823 Priv L C Brind 8 London R"

, and "Great War for Civilisation, 1914-19" "1823 Cpl L C Brind 8/London. R".

These were the usual campaign medals. More telling is a silver medal inscribed: "174th Inf Bde, Scouts Race, Lance Cpl L C Brind 2/8 London. Regt." This race happened in August 1917.

A second copper or bronze medal says "174th Inf. Bde Cross Country Sutton Veny 1916".. R".

This picture is captioned Sutton Veny so it is possible it shows the PO Rifles when they were there in 1916... equally perhaps it is something else!

The First World War

To accommodate the swell of recruits in the First World War, a second Post Office Rifles Battalion was formed in September 1914. They were titled the 2nd/8th Battalions, London Regiment. The picture shows an 8th battalion City of London Regimental Cap Badge.

The 2nd Battalion initially served as a reserve regiment, supplying reinforcements for the 1st Battalion but in January 1917 the battalion also moved to the front line in France. They first saw action in the Second Battle of Bullecourt in May 1917.

Post Office Riflemen fought at Ypres and at Passchendaele and suffered tremendous losses. More than half of their fighting force was lost at the Battle of Wurst Farm Ridge in September 1917. They lost 1,800 and 4,500 men were wounded by the end of the War. Alfred Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during this battle.
Although unique in its composition, the experiences of the PORs were entirely representative of life on the Western Front. The 1st Battalion embarked from Southampton on 17 March 1915 and after a period of training and acclimatisation, entered the trenches to fight in the battle for Festubert on 11 May that year.

The Post Office Rifles fought resiliently to secure and reinforce the British position there but the experience was traumatic.

Loos and the Somme

The regiment saw further action at Loos in the same year and in 1916, POR battalions were involved in some of the worst carnage of the war at the Battle of the Somme. For their part, the PORs entered the hostilities late in the day (October) but still sustained forty dead, 160 wounded and some 200 missing.

However, the Post Office Rifles were in the thick of the fighting through 1917, at Ypres from the start of the campaign. Many POR descriptions of fighting on the front vividly articulate the grim realities of trench warfare.

Those that survived were commended for the Battalion's achievements. "I thought" said the Divisional General, on parade after an aforementioned attack, "you were a lot of stamp lickers, but the way you fought. . ., you went over like a lot of bloody savages".

The Post Office Rifles received 145 awards for gallantry including one Victoria Cross for Sgt. A.J. Knight.

Second Lieutenant Thomas Edward Smith
8th Bn. London Regiment (Post Office Rifles)
Killed in action 05/09/1918, aged 21.
Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension
Defending Britain from within and withoutThe Post Office Rifles had its origins in the Fenianscare of 1867 when explosions in London andManchester and disturbances elsewhere were stagedin the name of Irish independence. In response,1,600 Post Office employees were enrolled asSpecial Constables under Major J.L. Du Plat Taylorof the 21st Middlesex Civil Service Volunteers (PostOffice Company).

Once the Fenian threat had passed it was proposedthat the Special Constables who were willing shouldform the basis of a permanent volunteer regiment.The Postmaster General (whom Du Plat Taylorserved as Private Secretary) gave his approval to thescheme. On 13 February 1868 the War Officesanctioned the formation of a regiment of 1,000men. On 2 March that year Du Plat Taylor wasgazetted Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding the 49thMiddlesex Rifle Volunteers (Post Office Rifles).Nine years later, in 1877, Du Plat Taylor suggestedthat an Army Postal Corps be formed in the RegularArmy. The idea was not taken up at the time,apparently because of a lack of funds. A nationalreorganisation of the Volunteer corps in 1880 led toanother name change - with the Regimentrenumbered the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers(Post Office Rifles).

Egyptian Campaign

By 1882 the War Office was ready to reviveLieutenant-Colonel Du Plat Taylor's proposal for anArmy Postal Corps when hostilities broke out inEgypt. Unrest threatened the security of the SuezCanal, the British lifeline to India.Du Plat Taylor called for 100 men of the 24thMiddlesex Rifle Volunteers to serve abroad and theArmy Post Office Corps was born. The party set offfrom Portsmouth on 8 August 1882, commanded byCaptain Sturgeon, who in later years went on tobecome the Postmaster of Norwich. By 23 October1882 they were back in England. During this shortcampaign they became the first British Volunteers tocome under fire - at the Battle of Kassassin -fortunately without any losses. Sadly the EgyptianCampaign eventually resulted in the Post OfficeRifles' first fatality - when Corporal F.G. Stockerdied subsequent to his return to England from illnesscontracted in Egypt.

Sir Garnet Wolseley, commander of the EgyptianCampaign, praised the work of the Army PostalCorps: "Their services have been so valuable that Ihope a similar corps may be employed on any futureoccasion on which it may be necessary to despatch anexpeditionary force from this country." Perhaps withthis in mind, the Secretary of State for War ensuredthat, upon its return from Egypt, the Army PostOffice Corps was embodied in the reserve of theRoyal Engineers, although attached to the 24thMiddlesex for drill and discipline.

South African Campaign

In October 1899 the Army Post Office Corps wascalled upon to serve in the South African War. As theJanuary 1900 issue of the Post Office staff magazine,St-Martin's-Le-Grand, reported: "From 1885 till thepresent year the Army Post Office Corps has lived inthe easy obscurity of peace, and now again hasanswered the summons to the field. . ."

The men quickly established an efficient postalservice under difficult conditions. However, theservice eventually was criticised by a young warreporter named Winston Churchill. Writing in theMorning Post he complained about the number ofletters which had been delayed, mis-delivered or lost.Post Office volunteers from other companies of the24th Middlesex also elected to fight abroad asriflemen. The contribution made by the 24th wassaid to be the largest by any Volunteer RegimentArchive Information Sheet

The Post Office Rifles

© Postal Heritage Trust 2005. Information Sheet last updated January 2005totalling 16 officers and 1,000 men. Two men werekilled in action with 44 fatalities resulting fromdisease. In recognition of its bravery and uniquestatus, the 24th Middlesex was the only Volunteerregiment entitled to the Honours 'Egypt 1882' and

'South Africa 1899-1902'.Restructuring continues in 'Civvy Street'More changes came about as a result of theTerritorial and Reserve Forces Bill of 1907. The Actbrought the part-time Volunteer (rifleman) andYeomanry (mounted) regiments from across thecountry together into a single Territorial Army in1908.

The 24th Middlesex, as a result, were redesignatedthe 8th Battalion, City of London Regiment (PostOffice Rifles).

Distinguished service in The Great WarThe Post Office Rifles served with distinction fromthe moment they arrived in France on 18 March1915. By 11 November 1918 - Armistice Day -1,800 men would be dead and 4,500 wounded. Afterthe outbreak of war the numbers of recruits was sogreat that a second Post Office Rifles battalion - the2nd/8th Londons - was formed in September 1914.Between them the two battalions earned theLondon Regiment 27 Battle Honours. At the Battleof Wurst Farm Ridge in September 1917, the2nd/8th lost over half of its fighting strength, deador wounded, but its men were awarded 40 gallantrymedals. These included a Victoria Cross won bySergeant A.J. Knight - the only one awarded to aPost Office Rifleman.

Keeping the bombers at bay

Further reorganisations took place after the GreatWar, which many saw as a dilution of the battalion'sPost Office identity. The 8th Battalion wasamalgamated with the 'non-Post Office' 7thBattalion in 1921. In 1935 it was converted frominfantry to the 32nd (7th City of London) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers. In 1940 it wastransferred again to the 32nd Searchlight Regiment,Royal Artillery.

In memoriam

Memorials to the Post Office Rifles can be found atSt Lawrence Parish Church, Abbots Langley, at thePaignton War Memorial, and on a plaque outside theUckfield village church. There is also a Book ofRemembrance in the church traditionally associatedwith the Post Office - St Botolphs in Aldersgate,London EC1.

There is no formal memorial to the Post OfficeRifles in France, but many of the fallen from theGreat War have their names recorded on memorialssuch as the Menin Gate at Ypres and Sir EdwardLutyens' memorial to the missing at Thiepval.From the archives: correspondence from the'enemy' during the First World War

Captain Home Peel, the Adjutant of the 1st/8th PostOffice Rifles was killed in action on 24 March 1918.The Royal Mail archive contains a number of lettersand documents relating to his wartime service. Fromthis treasure trove emerges a portrait of a typical Officer - educated at Charterhouse and employed by the India Office prior to 1914.

Most astonishing of these items is a letter written onGerman military stationery, which sought to comfortMrs Peel. This humanitarian gesture was made by E.F. Gayler, who describes himself as; 'late of 45Stainton Road, Entcliffe, Sheffield'.

He writes: "although enemy and sometime deeplyhurt by the ridiculous tone of your home press I feelit a human duty to communicate these sad news.Capt. Peel was killed in action near Longueval anddied, as it seems by the wounds received, withoutsuffering."

The Post Office Rifles (contd.)

© Postal Heritage Trust 2005. Information Sheet last updated January 2005


Post 56: Regimental Records of the 24th Middlesex(formerly 49th Middlesex) Post Office volunteers1868-1896

The Post Office Militant 1899-1902

The Anglo Boer War, A.G.M. Batten, Ed, Woking 1981

Terriers in the trenches: The Post Office Rifles at War 1914-1918, Charles Messenger, Picton 1982ISBN 090 2633821

Post 92: St-Martins-Le-Grand, Post Office staff magazineissues 4/1900, 3/1903

The Post Office Rifles (contd.)

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