Post Office Rifles

Post Office Rifles

The Post Office Rifles was a unit of the British Army, first formed in 1868 from volunteers. The unit evolved several times until 1921, after which the name was lost during one of many reorganisations.[1]



The unit has its origins in 1867 in the recruitment of 1,600 post office staff as special constables under Major John Lowther du Plat Taylor, private secretary to the Postmaster General.[1] This was done in response to explosions in London and Manchester and disturbances elsewhere, in the name of Irish independence.[2]

In 1868 the constables were reorganised as a permanent unit of the Volunteer Force as the 49th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers (Post Office Rifles), with du Plat Taylor becoming the first commanding officer. In 1880 a reorganisation of the volunteer corps under saw the unit renumbered as the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers (Post Office Rifles).[1]

Service in Egypt

In 1882 a detachment of two officers and 102 men volunteered for service in Egypt, where they performed postal and telegraph duties under the command of General Garnet Wolseley.[1] As the Army Post Office Corps (APOC) they came under enemy fire at Kassassin in so doing became the first 'volunteers' to see enemy action. The 24th Battalion was awarded their first battle honour "Egypt 1882".[1]

South Africa

During the Second Boer War the 24th Battalion contributed a large number of volunteers comprising 16 officers and more than 1,000 other ranks. In 1907 they were awarded the battle honour "South Africa 1899-1902" in 1907.[1]

Territorial Force

More changes were introduced upon the creation of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907. This Act brought the part-time Volunteer Force infantry artillery and engineer units and Yeomanry (mounted) regiments from across the country together into a single Territorial Force in 1908. As a result of this, the 24th Middlesex became the 8th Battalion, London Regiment (Post Office Rifles).[1]

World War I

The Post Office Rifles served with distinction in the Great War. They arrived in France on March 18, 1915. By the end of the war, 1,800 men from the Post Office Rifles would be dead and 4,500 more would be wounded.

After the outbreak of the war, the existing units of the Territorial Force each formed duplicate (or "second line") units. The existing Post Office Rifles was redesignated as the 1/8th Battalion, London Regiment when a second Post Office Rifles battalion, the 2/8th Londons, was formed in September 1914.[3] In 1915 a third line battalion, the 3/8th was formed.[3]

Between them, the three battalions earned 19 battle honours.[4]

At the Battle of Wurst Farm Ridge, in September 1917, the 2/8th lost over half its fighting strength, dead or wounded, but its men were awarded a total of 40 gallantry medals. These included a Victoria Cross won by Sergeant A. J. Knight, making him the only Post Office Rifleman to win this honour.[5]

Battle honours

The battle honours awarded to the 8th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment {Post Office Rifles) for the "Great War" were announced in March 1924. Ten honours (shown in bold type) were selected by the regiment to be displayed on the King's Colours:[4]

After the Great War

Further reorganisations took place after World War I. Many saw these changes as a dilution of the battalion's Post Office identity. Included in these reorganisations was the amalgamation of the 8th Battalion with the non-Post Office 7th battalion in 1921, forming the 7th (City of London) Battalion (Post Office) The London Regiment. In 1935, it was converted from infantry to the 32nd (7th City of London) Anti-aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers. In 1939 they expanded from Finsbury Square, into newly built drill-halls at Grove Park and Bexleyheath. Shortly afterward the unit was split, forming a duplicate Battalion at Bexleyheath called 73rd (Kent Fortress) S/Light Battalion, Royal Engineers, with outstations at Greenhithe and Sidcup. In 1940 both units re-badged as Royal Artillery. Successor units still occupy Grove Park and Bexleyheath drill-halls, as 265 (Home Counties) Battery, 106th (Yeomanry) Regiment, Royal Artillery and 265 (Kent and County of London Yeomanry) Support Squadron, Royal Corps of Signals. Both units strive to continue and maintain the traditions and history of their predecessor Regiments.

Memorials to the Post Office Rifles

Memorials to the Post Office Rifles can be found at Paignton War Memorial, at St. Lawrence Parish Church, Abbots Langley, and on a plaque outside the Uckfield village church. A Book of Remembrance is placed in the church traditionally associated with the Post Office Rifles at Church of St Botolph Aldersgate, London EC1.

There is no formal memorial to the Rifles in France, but many of the fallen from the Great War have their names recorded on memorials such as the Menin Gate at Ypres and Sir Edward Lutyens' memorial to the missing at Thiepval.


Captain Home Peel, the Adjutant of the 1st/8th Post Office Rifles was killed in action on March 24, 1918. The Royal Mail archive in London contains some letters and other documents relating to his wartime service. These paint a picture of a typical officer educated at Charterhouse and employed by the India Office prior to World War I.

The most astonishing item is a letter written on German military stationery, the purpose of which was to comfort Mrs. Peel. This humanitarian gesture was made by E.F. Gayler, who describes himself in the letter as 'late of 45 Stainton Road, Entcliffe, Sheffield'. In this letter, he writes: "Although enemy and sometime deeply hurt by the ridiculous tone of your home press, I feel it a human duty to communicate these sad news. Capt. Peel was killed in action near Longueval and died, as it seems by the wounds received, without suffering."

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lord, Cliff; Watson, Graham (2004). Royal Corps of Signals: Unit Histories of the Corps (1920-2001) and Its Antecedents. Helion & Company Limited. pp. 383–385. ISBN 9781874622925. 
  2. ^ "The Post Office Rifles". British Postal Museum & Archive. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Baker, Chris. "The London Regiment". TheThe Long, Long Trail. The British Army of 1914-1918 - for family historians. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Battle Honours. London And Scottish Regiments". 13 March 1924. p. 11. 
  5. ^ "Sergeant Alfred Knight". The British Postal Museum & Archive. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 

Further reading

  • Terriers in the Trenches : The Post Office Rifles at War 1914-1918 by Messenger - ISBN 10: 0902633821 (1982)
  • THE POST OFFICE RIFLES, 8th Battalion City of London Regiment 1914 to 1918 - ISBN: 1901623513 (1919)
  • The Regimental History of the 32nd Searchlight Regiment Royal Artillery (7th City of London TA) - Whittington Press (1943)

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