Telegrams: Updated on 12 January 2019
Today, 11 September 2011, one of my young great nephews asked me, as he does regularly, why I make do with a very basic (aka boring) pay-as-you-go mobile phone. “Because,” I tell him patiently, “It serves my purpose. I put £20 into it when I bought it 12 months ago and there’s still more than £13 left.” He, like many of his school friends apparently, has an iPhone 4 with unlimited texts and calls, plus unlimited mobile Internet. It costs his Mum a fortune each month. Curiously, when his Mum needs to contact him, he’s always uncontactable. "No signal", he claims. Strange that when he needs a lift home from sports or detentions and the school buses have long since gone, he always manages to get through to me on his mobile without any trouble.
Everyone seems to think that instant communications are something that we didn’t have in decades long gone. We didn’t, of course, but we managed pretty well on what we did have: the Post Office Telegram Service.
My archives tell me that one day in 1946, one of my uncles living in Nelson, Lancashire, stopped at his local Post Office at about 11am. He sent a telegram to our house in Wakefield to say that 'they' would be arriving for a short visit that afternoon. They were from the ‘posh’ side of the family and had just acquired their first car and presumably wished to show it off. My parents hadn’t seen them or had any contact with them, apart from Christmas cards, since before the War. Normally telegrams would be hand-delivered to the addressee anywhere within the UK inside an hour. We were very surprised, therefore, when a strange car drew up at our front door at 2pm – just before a telegram boy arrived on his official pedal, non-motorised, bicycle to deliver the telegram.
The relations, aunt, uncle and three kids, had taken nearly three hours to cover the 40 miles over the Pennines from Nelson to Wakefield on roads that had probably had no maintenance since before the war. Uncle was very upset when he realised that it was his telegram that was only just being delivered to us. We learned later that when they got back home, he complained to the Nelson Post Office manager, in person, about the late delivery of his telegram – and he got an instant full refund immediately - and an apology from a more senior manager a couple of days later.
Postscript on 12 January 2019. This 1953 image shows the view from my bedroom when we lived in No 4 Windsor Crescent, Wakefield, just about one mile north of Wakefield Westgate station. Just over the horizon there was an extensive marshalling yard where hundreds of goods wagons were juggled backwards and forwards, to get them all in the correct order, connected to the correct locomotive. The work was done mostly at night and the noise was horrendous until you got used to it. In those days, this was, and still is, the main line from Leeds to London Kings Cross, now the Leeds section of the East Coast Main Line. - and is now operated once again by the LNER.
By the way, I still do not have a smart phone! Just thought you would like to know!