This page has a movie from 1937 showing how HM Ship's mail was delivered from the hand of a lovely girl friend back home to the mess-deck on one of His Majesty's warships operating in foreign waters - but - she didn't put the correct amount of stamps on the correspondence ! I have split the movie into six easy to handle [download] sections, each slightly overlapping for continuity. They are shown here for your enjoyment, and each should be opened in turn returning via your back button to this page ready to open the next part. A special filter has been employed to reduce the resolution of the boring parts [fading] to reduce the size of the files and therefore increase the speed of handling. It doesn't detract from the story line which is clear and unencumbered.  Each part is set for continuous running.  Enjoy !

POSTIE RUN - Part One
POSTIE RUN - Part Two
POSTIE RUN - Part Three
POSTIE RUN - Part Four
POSTIE RUN - Part Five
POSTIE RUN - Part Six

 
Time changes all things!

Fortunately for me, I joined the Royal Navy in 1953 when the dreaded 2 year foreign unaccompanied commissions had finished.

Can you imagine what it must have been like not to see or talk to one's family for all that time, with the only method of communicating via an irregular and unpredictable mail run.  Terrible days that is for sure.

The new commissions were to last for 1 years and that was bad enough;  I experienced these which were extant until the navy changed its operating style completely and switched to the General Service Commissions whereby half the 1 years were spent on the home station and the other half foreign.  However, in my time, this did not apply to the Submarine Service which maintained the 1 year commissions and these were to Malta, Canada, Australia and Singapore.

In all periods of the 50's to the 80's, communicating with home and loved ones was virtually impossible {other than by letters} and a great cause for anxiety and concern for both ends of the relationships: however, at least in this period we had mostly airmail and seamail {the norm in 1937}now and again especially if one of our support vessels [replenishment of oil, food, ammunition etc] was due to rendezvous with us on the high seas. For a good overview of this problem at the end of the 60's through into the 70's have a look at this file REMEMBERING.....Beira Patrol

In these years {50's to 80's} the GPO* telegrams, INLAND or RADIO, were still around and the 'telegram system' could be used as follows.  Any member of the general public could enter a GPO on the high street and ask for a telegram to be sent to one of His/Her Majesty's ships. The telegram was then sent to the HQ of the GPO in London and from there to the OIC of Commcen Whitehall.  He would ascertain the part of the world in which the vessel was serving and route the telegram to the Commcen serving that geographical area with relevant passing instructions.

*[General Post Office - it became The Post Office in 1969 and in 1981 it split into being The Post Office and British Telecom with BT taking over the telegrams business]

If the need to communicate with a man {and thus with a vessel} was of an urgent nature on a compassionate or a sensitive subject and by the next of kin [NOK], the procedure was to involve the police who would alert the naval welfare authorities responsible for the Depot according to the man's official service number which was prefixed with a letter responding to one of the home bases, Chatham, Portsmouth, Devonport etc. The man's Depot Welfare Authority would then decide on a course of action and either signal the vessel in plain language for minor cases, or for more severe cases, if the man was known to be a non-communicator or a junior rate communicator, send a coded message which would be handled by the vessels senior communication staff throughout.  If the man was a senior rate communicator or an officer, the coded signal {a different code} was handled by an officer specially appointed by the captain for such duties. It was always regrettable that a signal so coded could affect the officer detailed personally to deal with it when clearly he would have been profoundly distressed during the deciphering process.  When introduced, Central Drafting from HMS Centurion saw the end of Depot Drafting and later on, when Centurion was fully computerised, official numbers lost their prefix Depot letter and the RN Welfare Organisation became centralised based in HMS Nelson, the Portsmouth Barracks. From that time on, all naval cases in this category were dealt with from HMS Nelson.

Sailors serving in RN vessels could send telegrams home although this was always reserved for greetings and not for welfare. An officer or a rating would approach the Main Communications Office [MCO] and ask for the telegram procedure to be put in train. The MCO would ask the commanding officers' permission to send the telegram which was always via commercial radio stations. If the commanding officer approved [out of exercise status for example] and the necessary radio equipments/operator were free from Service duties/requirements, the greetings telegram would be transmitted ashore to preferably a UK station [Portishead Radio near Bristol was the norm] or to a non UK station associated with the International Radio Telegrams Service. The MCO did the cost accounting based on the number of words used, and forwarded the necessary paper work to the pay office who took the necessary action on the man's pay ledger.

In addition to telegrams, the world was well covered with commercial stations able to connect telephone calls.  It was not uncommon that when RN vessels were in harbour, sailors would go to these offices, typically to Cable and Wireless, and book a call to a UK telephone line. These were terribly expensive but often solved nagging domestic problems within a couple of minutes.  The only obvious down side to this desirable product was the time factor - 1000 in Singapore is 0230 in the UK! The call quality was near perfect and excellent value for money despite the fact that it denied one purchasing a few pints of Tiger beer after the call.

Private Radio Telephone calls could also be made from HM naval vessels, assuming, like the telegrams above, that the commanding officer approved. Single Sideband Voice [SSB] on short wave frequencies were used for this facility with the call time required booked well in advance, and throughout the process, commercial sources were used to effect the call, again, through Portishead Radio in Somerset. Having set-up and controlled many tens of these calls from time to time, I can assure you that it was not always successful given the oft times poor signal to noise ratio, but with the right time of day/night and a reduced ships-signature [radars not functioning, wireless reception only and no transmissions on naval circuits etc], things turned out satisfactorily and the man was pleased to pay over his money, albeit it was expensive and hence "many tens" and not low hundreds of calls - the cost was calculated by Portishead Radio and made known to the warship on completion of the call. The man was supposed to be given a card on which some big 'do not's' were printed - like don't mention where the ship is or what the next port of call is etc - but in general, once warned about these 'do not's' and with a threat of me listening in to check for security issues, the rules were generally well obeyed and the man was able to blow some discreet kisses down my microphone.

As far back as the late 50's there had been a facility whereby HM naval vessels could receive private radio telephone calls from shore.  It was a very rare event but it did happen. Because of the expense incurred, it was used for welfare purposes to dot the i's and cross the t's as it were, after the naval welfare system had fielded the 'main event' and things were on the mend, but the man at sea needed that little reassurance direct from the 'horses mouth'. In this following file, dated 1978, you will be able to read the procedure and cost involved RADIO TELEPHONE CALLS TO HM SHIPS.pdf  Once again, the ships operating environment came first and if the equipment required to receive this incoming call [transmitter, receiver, aerials, operators, inter alia] were not available, the call took a rain check which could last for many days.

I wonder what would happen to morale in the 2011 fleet if their emails and mobile telecons were denied to the sailors, and if on top of that, the mail system returned to its antiquated ways that we all experienced for ALL of our careers.

Still, what you haven't got you don't miss - or so they say !