Newham bookshop launches book about Post Office Rifles in Great War

15:17 25 July 2014

Sergeant Alfred Knight (with pipe) with his comrades

Sergeant Alfred Knight (with pipe) with his comrades


Exactly 100 years after Britain declared war on Germany and Europe’s deadliest conflict began, a book documenting how postmen fought in their own regiment will be launched.

Men of Letter front coverMen of Letter front cover

When the Great War broke out on August 4, 1914, the Post Office was the world’s largest employer and thousands of men who had made their living sorting and delivering mail bravely volunteered to fight for king and country against Germany.

Duncan Barrett’s Men of Letters tells the personal stories of the Post Office Rifles, a 12,000 strong unit of the British Army.

“I was interested in the idea of people who knew each other before the war fighting together,” Duncan said.

“Through the Post Office we get to focus on the nostalgia factor, you can imagine your local post worker going out to war. I felt like with this topic, I’d found something readers could latch onto.”

Duncan BarrettDuncan Barrett

The book launches on the historically significant date, August 4, at Newham Bookshop and offers a glimpse into the ordinary lives of the men who joined the rifles.

One story Duncan tells is of a former postal sorter, Corporal Chilmaid, from Canning Town, Newham.

He belonged to the Post Office Rifles and decided to play a prank on his Sergeant, George Ward - a man despised by many for being tyrannical.

Duncan said: “Because they all hated Ward so much they saw an opportunity for revenge, Chilmaid decided to take advantage of Ward’s drinking habit and one night when Ward was worse for wear, he instructed a group to pelt him with sodden clumps of earth picked from a grassy bank next to a cesspool.”

Sergeant Alfred Knight who won the Post Office Rifle's only Victoria CrossSergeant Alfred Knight who won the Post Office Rifle's only Victoria Cross

He explains the prank evidently had a lasting effect on Ward as from then on he treated his men with more respect.

Duncan’s interest in the Post Office Rifles developed after learning his great great uncle fought in the same battle as them but for another London regiment.

“I found out that The Post Office Rifles fought at Highwood on the same day as my uncle. And it was that battle that day where my uncle was killed,” he said.

“The first big battle [The Post Office Rifles] fought was in May 1915 in Festubert. Not long after they fought in the Battle of Loos in 1915 and then Highwood, which was a later stage of the battle of Somme.”

Field service postcard sent by Duncan Barrett's great-great-uncleField service postcard sent by Duncan Barrett's great-great-uncle

The history enthusiast gathered most of the information for the book from memoirs made by men, letters and diary entries obtained from the Imperial War Museum and the British Postal Museum and Archives.

He launched his first book, The Sugar Girls, at Newham Bookshop and has since developed a large Newham fan-base.

The Sugar Girl’s went on to be the independent bookstore on Barking Road’s biggest ever seller.

Duncan said: “I wanted to launch Men of Letters there too because after The Sugar Girls the local area have been so supportive and the store really helped.”

Men of Letters will be launched on Monday August 4, 2014 from 6:00pm. Free Event. RSVP:

It is published by AA and costs £8.99.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Newham Recorder visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Newham Recorder staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Newham Recorder account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest News Stories

Glasshouse Gardens topping out ceremony

A year and a half on from when construction work began, the tallest block in Glasshouse Gardens has reached its peak.

Elizabeth Olympic
Year 6 pupils in Newham are the fattest in London      Photo: Chris Radburn/PA

Nearly half of all children leaving primary school in the borough are overweight or obese, newly released figures show – the highest proportion in the capital.

Newham Council
The Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales and the Young Mayor of Newham Alex Jarrett donate to the Christmas Toy Appeal

The Christmas Toy Appeal received a boost this week when not just one mayor but two handed over a selection of gifts.

Community Links
Yesterday, 16:00
Papa John's in East Ham is holding a pizza party in aid of Text Santa (file picture: Steve Parsons/PA)

Do you like pizza? Do you like supporting charity appeals?


Most read news


Section Boys, Big Tipper, Big Narstie, Lady Leshurr, Trapstar, and UFest street team members

We’ve got 10 pairs of tickets to give away to watch some of the country’s best and brightest urban music talent at UFest, London’s official youth festival.

Read more
MAC Makeup

MAC are renowned for their flawless, fabulous make up that is used worldwide by the stars. You too can have the chance to have the perfect makeup to suit your needs with £1,000 to spend on all the glam goodies you like!

Read more

You are never far from an Argos, wherever in the country you may be. They are like a magical cavern where whatever you need they seem to have it out the back behind the counter. So why not put them to the test with this great MyOffers competition to win £1000 to spend in-store.

Read more

Digital Edition

Read the Newham Recorder e-edition today E-edition
Family Notices 24

Local business directory

Our trusted business finder