As we mark the end of the First World War, a century ago this Sunday, we remember especially those men and women of the Irish Post Office who joined the armed and auxiliary services during the war to end all wars. Throughout the war, the Post Office Circular listed every week those who had died or been wounded and dotted amongst the columns of names are men from every corner of Ireland. While there was an official Post Office battalion, the Post Office Rifles, with which the Department was associated, it was a London-based unit and the majority of Irish staff tended to join local Irish regiments like the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rifles. Staff from all sections of the Post Office volunteered for service – there was no conscription in Ireland unlike the rest of the United Kingdom – and men from the engineering department or those with telegraph experience were especially useful in certain parts of the army. Vacancies were sometimes filled by women whose participation in the postal workforce increased significantly during the war. When it ended, those men who survived took up their positions again and the women were let go.
Worth noting in the context of the war are two other events which involved Irish postal staff. During the 1916 rebellion in Dublin, a small number of GPO staff took the side of the insurgents and cut communication channels while a larger number played a prominent part in maintaining and restoring telephone and telegraph lines. Significant too is the fact that just a month before the end of the war, twenty one of the twenty two postal sorting staff on board the mail boat, RMS Leinster, lost their lives when it was torpedoed off the Kish bank in the Irish sea.