New Zealand Post marks centenary of World War One
The New Zealand Post Group will today pay tribute to the 234 New Zealand Post and Telegraph (P&T) Department staff who died during the First World War.
It will also officially launch a five-year programme of commemorative stamps and coins that tell the story of the war.
New Zealand Post, whose origins are in the P&T Department, has a number of events taking place in Wellington today. August 4 marks one hundred years since war was declared.
New Zealand Post Group chief executive Brian Roche said today is a special and significant day in the history of New Zealand and New Zealand Post.
“Over the next five years we will commemorate the role letters played during the war as a vital link on the battlefield and between those serving overseas and their families back home.
“Letters were the only way most people were able to communicate over distance. Around 6 million items were delivered every week.
“We acknowledge the role of New Zealand Post and its predecessor and pay tribute to the staff who carried those letters and those that died during the war.”
Today’s events include a world-first candle lighting ceremony at Te Papa this evening.
The events are:
5.10pm: Tribute March from Queens Wharf to Te Papa in Wellington
New Zealand Post Group, KiwiRail and Telecom staff from around the country will take part in a march in memory of the people from their predecessor organisations who served in the Post and Telegraph Corps and as engineers during the war and those who never returned home.
The march will start just after 5.00pm at Queens Wharf and end at Te Papa and will be also include members of the Royal New Zealand Engineer Regiment and Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals.
New Zealand Post is pleased to acknowledge KiwiRail and Telecom staff taking part in today’s events.
KiwiRail General Manager External Affairs Deb Hume said she is privileged to lay a wreath in remembrance of the New Zealand’s Railway Corps who played a significant role in WW1.
“The railway engineers were among the first to be drafted and their skill and bravery underpinned the logistics that kept the allied armies in the field.
“More than 5000 railway men served in the corps with 450 killed in action. In the course of the war New Zealand Railways suffered the heaviest losses of any New Zealand employer. It is a legacy we should not forget.”
Telecom General Manager Philip Cryer remembers attending the 50th anniversary of the Post and Telegraph department call up when his grandfather laid a wreath and said it is very special for him to be able to lay a wreath to commemorate the same event 50 years later.
“I’m proud to take part in this march. Both to remember the sacrifice of the men of the old Post and Telegraph department, including my grandfather who worked alongside them in the department and went off to war too.
“After coming back he re-joined the Post Office and became its Director General, so there is a strong link between us and I’m honoured to be here,” Mr Cryer said.
5.45pm: New Zealand Post and Telegraph Ceremony of Remembrance at Te Papa
Following the march, a special sunset ceremony of remembrance will be held at Te Papa.
Wreathes will be laid by representatives from The Government of New Zealand, the Army, KiiwRail, Telecom, New Zealand Post and Te Papa.
The Remembrance Ceremony will include a “world first”. A candle will be lit by the Acting British High Commissioner Patrick Reilly in the Wellington Foyer window. A photo of this candle in the window will be sent out on social media at 11pm as part of the British Government’s Lights Out campaign. Because of New Zealand’s time zone, the High Commission will be the first in the world to send out an 11pm photo.
6.15pm: Launch of WWI commemorative stamps and coins programme
New Zealand Post will officially launch its five-year programme of stamp and coin issue commemorating the First World War at Te Papa following the remembrance ceremony.
The First issue “1914 – For King and Empire” tells the story of the Great War through New Zealand’s eyes. Featured on one of the stamps is serviceman and everyman Melville Mirfin. It pays tribute to him and the thousands of other New Zealanders who left their families behind and answered the call to defend their country, King and Empire.
Melville Mirfin's son and other family members will be at the launch to read some of Melville’s postcards that he wrote during the war.
Post and Telegraph Department – Background
The Defence Act of 1909 required eligible men from the New Zealand Post Office (Post and Telegraph Department) to serve in the specialist Post & Telegraph Corps, and to provide telegraph communications between the forces in the field and base, as well as working wireless stations at base. Telegraph communications within Army Brigades was provided by the Signals Corps. As appropriate the P&T Corps, which had its own distinctive hat and uniform lapel badge, provided required postal services.
Men from the Post & Telegraph provided specialist signals, telegraph and wireless services, both in the field and at base. Sometimes exposed to fire in dugouts or trenches, they sorted mail from home for delivery to the front line, hospitals and prisoners of war. Letters and parcels posted from New Zealand took around seven weeks to be delivered.
The Corps was organised into two battalions, one for each island, with headquarters in the General Post Office, Wellington. On the outbreak of war in 1914 the Corps came under control of the NZ Engineers, and, from 1 June 1921, merged with the NZ Signals.
The Corps motto was Celeritas (Swiftly or Fleet of Foot).