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9 - ‘The Royal Mail will always get through’: Maintaining Communications on the Home and Military Front during the Second World War

from Part Three - Technology, Danger and Waste on the Home Front

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2017

Mark J. Crowley
Affiliation:
Associate Professor at the School of History, Wuhan University, China.
Mark J. Crowley
Affiliation:
Wuhan University, China
Sandra Trudgen Dawson
Affiliation:
University of Maryland, College Park
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Summary

THE role of technology and the communications network in the prosecution of a war effort is crucial. The growing complexity of warfare has, if only implicitly, given those with access to finer technology a feeling of superiority over their enemies. The major facilitator of the communications network in Britain in war and peace was the Post Office. Arguably one of the Post Office's most important functions during the Second World War was the provision of telephones and telegrams as a communication method for the public and also for the government. Yet a systematic analysis of its importance to the nation has not yet been undertaken. Indeed, the historiography of the American Post Office remains more fruitful, with Richard John's numerous works highlighting the telegraph's importance to and development in American society. As a government department, the Post Office occupied a central part of the British public service. Yet the responsibility bestowed on the Post Office for maintaining the nation's communications put massive strains on the department during wartime. The latest analysis by Duncan Campbell Smith contains some description of its work in wartime, although it is largely contextualized within the post-war debates concerning the impact of war on modernization.

This study builds on David Edgerton's earlier argument that the Second World War was a war of technology. In challenging previous assertions that Germany was technologically superior to its wartime counterparts, Edgerton deftly argues that it was British confidence, and their academic prowess, that helped the nation build a successful defence against Nazi aggression. This was seen with the work of numerous communication workers, including the Bletchley Park code-breakers. Nevertheless, without the academic and practical skills of Post Office engineers (perhaps most famously Tommy Flowers and the development of the code-breaking machine Colossus), much of these and later communication developments would not have been possible. Furthermore, little attention has been afforded to the instrumental role of women in sustaining the nation's communications during the war.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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