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A Post Office Messenger in Wartime Worthing

by West Sussex Library Service

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Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
West Sussex Library Service
People in story: 
John Goodwin
Location of story: 
Worthing ,West Sussex
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 July 2005

In the summer of 1939, I was aged 14 and in my final year at Sussex Road Elementary School, Sussex Road, Worthing. The school was about to close and reopen in a newly constructed building at Rectory Road Worthing and I remember that we senior boys spent several days clearing the site for the new playing fields although with the start of the war these were to be used for growing vegetables.

I was an unofficial volunteer at Beach House, Brighton Road Worthing, which was being used to assemble gas masks. I left school later that year and my father got me a job as a Post Office messenger at Worthing Post Office. The job entailed cycling around the town and delivering telegrams. As few people had telephones, this was the main method of passing urgent messages and as the war progressed there were many from soldiers moving, going on leave, or communicating other family business.

I recall some time after the Battle of the River Plate, in which the German battleship “Von Spee” was disabled and scuttled, I delivered a telegram from Admiral Harwood to where his family were staying in Broadwater Street West. At that time his victory had made him a national hero and his exploit was in all the newspapers.

The teleprinter room in the Post Office was next to the messengers’ rest room and we got a lot of important news from the girls manning the printers. Because of its importance, there was always an LDV (Local Defence Volunteer, later Home Guard) sentry with a rifle and fixed bayonet outside the teleprinter room. He was usually a postman or Post Office worker and one of our larks was to take onother messenger’s pill box shaped hat and ram it on the point of the bayonet. We worked a 48 hour week plus overtime for about 10/6 and got an extra 1/- weekly for cleaning our bikes. The work, with overtime was in shifts from 8am until 9pm at night with a straight hour for lunch for which I cycled home.

I was out and about the town every day. There were always telegrams to be delivered to the various army detachments billeted in the town, manning the gun batteries on the sea front. During the Battle of Britain, the air raid warning was often on all day and the “all clear” came as a surprise when it sounded. I recall after one such raid meeting an army vehicle with dishevelled German airmen in the back, obviously shot down and on their way to the police station. Once going over Goring-By-Sea bridge, I saw a parachutist descending and I hastened to the army encampment at Field Place, who turned out the Guard. Probably a shot down pilot.

I was bombed twice when out and about my duties: Once in Bulkington Avenue when I saw bombs fall from a German bomber and aimed at West Worthing Station; the second time was one stormy day when a raider came in low over the sea and dropped his bombs near the Parade when I was cycling past.

At the age of 17 in 1942, I joined the local Post office Home Guard and after being armed only with a stick, I recall the 1914-18 lease lend rifles arriving from America caked with grease, which we had to take home and clean. I was on duty at the main gate of the Post Office one night with instructions to open it only when the mail van from Brighton arrived at 2am and alert the guard room. Unfortunately there was also a special “Invasion” alarm button, which I pressed by mistake. This set in motion actions, which involved everybody getting up and putting on all their equipment. They were not pleased as sleep was very precious for those who had worked a hard day and were doing duties as soldiers at night.

In 1943 I was conscripted into the Army and sent to Glasgow to undergo training at Maryhill Barracks (now demolished). But I was underweight and was sent to a barracks in Hereford to undergo a 6-week physical fitness programme to improve my health. Subsequently, under an agreement between the Post Office and the War Office, I was posted to Catterick for training in the Royal Signals.

When this was completed, I joined an Air Signals unit, which was going to France after the D-Day invasion. But the orders were changed and I ended up serving as a Sergeant in the Signals HQ in Baghdad and later Basra.

I was lucky because as a Government employee, the Post Office made up my Army pay to what I would have earned if I had remained in the Post Office through the war. Eventually I was to use the money during my four years Army service to get married! In 1947, I returned to the Post office and was subsequently promoted into the Civil Service.

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