In 1881 a rebellion broke out in Egypt which threatened Britain’s passage to India through Suez. In response an expeditionary force under Sir Garnet Wolseley was despatched to quell it. This gave Lieutenant Colonel du Plat Taylor the opportunity to raise the matter of the postal corps again and it was agreed that an Army Post Office Corps (APOC) should be formed. Queen Victoria issued a Royal Warrant to that effect on 22 July 1882. The recruits were drawn from the GPO employees serving with the 24th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers.
Major George Charles Sturgeon.
On 8 August 1882 the new Corps under the command of Major Sturgeon (Army Postmaster) embarked aboard the Black Prince on its first overseas expedition, only 17 days after its formation, and landed at Alexandra on 19 August.
Mails from Britain were despatched 3 times a week via the ‘overland route’ through France to Alexandria. The Army Post Offices offered a letter and parcel service and sold stamps and postal orders. In addition to the mail services, a free parcel service from the Naval docks at Deptford was also set up. These parcels travelled by Government store ships and transports. This service was the forerunner of the Military Forwarding Office (MFO) service which still exists today.
Stationary Army Post Offices were established at Alexandria, Ramleh, Cairo, Port Said and Ismaila, while mobile Field Post Offices were attached to the divisional headquarters and moved when they moved. On 9 September, during the battle of Kassassin, the Army Post Office, under the charge of Sergeant FJ Inwood, attached to HQ 2 Division came under fire, but no one was injured, nevertheless the incident resulted in the Inwood and his men becoming the first volunteers to see shots fired in anger.
Private HF Yardley was mentioned in despatches as was Corporal WT Marchant. Major Sturgeon reported to the General of Communications, as would his successors. He sent telegraph reports of troop movements to assist with the sorting of mail in London. This practice was to be continued and indeed is still done to this day, in particular, tracking the movements of HM ships.
The Expedition was a success. The unit received high praise from the Commander-in-Chief, who wrote:
The formation of a purely military postal department has been a tried for the first time in this war. It has been very successful… I have much pleasure in bringing to the notice of the Secretary of State the admirable manner in which the Post Office Corps discharged its duties in Egypt …Their services have been so valuable that I hope a similar corps may be employed on any future occasion…
That occasion came in 1885 when the Army Post Office Corps accompanied General Wolseley’s expedition to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum.
Submitted by WO1 (RSM) Lou Lister