Is it good news? Will there ever be again?
Promise to return.
Knock knock, War.
Creating the Centena
Walking through the First World War Galleries at the Imperial War Museum, one cabinet stood out for me. It was the display of letters, postcards and parcels to and from the trenches.
I started thinking about what it must have been like to receive one of those letters at home – the anticipation, hope and almost unbearable wait each day for the post to come. Then, when reading a book called Women in the First World War by Neil Storey and Molly Housego, I saw a photograph of Violet Jackson, a postwoman from Trunch in Norfolk.
The caption simply said ‘Proud to be doing the rounds’.
From the image, she certainly looks proud. Staring straight into the camera, her expression is confident. Determined. Optimistic, even.
But could that be all she felt? Did she wonder what was inside each of the envelopes in her satchel? Whether it was a love letter or a field postcard? Where it had been written and who it was from?
Neil Storey, who was kind enough to supply his image, told me Violet was a much-loved figure in the village, and that she did a great deal ‘to bring comfort and understanding to those she delivered such terrible news to’.
Trunch was only a small village, but the Norfolk Roll of Honour shows that during the course of the war Violet would have delivered thirteen letters of condolences to families, and no doubt many notifications about injuries too. What’s even more moving is the repetition of surnames within the list – brothers, cousins, sons. All part of a small and tightknit community.
I chose not to explore Violet’s personal life in too much detail beyond this, instead using her proud, professional image as a kind of figurehead for the 35,000 women who joined the postal service during the war.
Having previously only been allowed to sort the post, these women stepped in to fill every role the Post Office offered – from deciphering telegrams to delivering the 2 billion letters and 114 million parcels that were sent during the war.
As well as researching the postal system (thank you to The Postal Museum), I also read books of love letters, many of which brought me to tears.
But what I really wanted to focus on, even more than the letters themselves, was the one moment that mattered. The moment a woman like Violet walked up the garden path, wearing her newly issued uniform, bringing news from across the Channel.
The moment that would change a family, and a community, forever.
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.