Thursday, 1 September 2011

Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department

Dear Liverpool History Society,

I have found a certificate of my grandmother from 1945 for the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department thanking her for her efforts with them. Do you have any info on this? Or can you reccomend any publications or books that would include the subject. I would love to find out exactly what she did. I believe it was based in Aintree.

Thank you for your time


Katrina  Asbury


  1. Hello,

    The British government established the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department in 1938. During the war it employed as many as 10,000 staff.

    Postal censorship is the inspection or examination of mail, most often by governments. It can include opening, reading and total or selective obliteration of letters and their contents, as well as covers, postcards, parcels and other postal packets. Postal censorship takes place primarily but not exclusively during wartime (even though the nation concerned may not be at war, e.g. Ireland during 1939-1945) and periods of unrest, and occasionally at other times, such as periods of civil disorder or of a state of emergency. Both covert and overt postal censorship have occurred.

    Historically, postal censorship is an ancient practice; it is usually linked to espionage and intelligence gathering. Both civilian mail and military mail may be subject to censorship, and often different organisations perform censorship of these types of mail. In 20th century wars the objectives of postal censorship encompassed economic warfare, security and intelligence.


    Rob Ainsworth

    Web Administrator
    Liverpool History Society

  2. Dozens of Whitehall lines and calls to large armament contractors were eavesdropped for signs of careless talk following a request from MI5 during World War 2.

    But records released under the Freedom of Information Act also offer a portrait of wartime Britain straining under the pressure of the war effort and air raids.

    As well as conversations about shipments and plans, the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information recorded tense conversations between family members as German bombs fell on London.

    On January 20, 1943, the phone tappers recorded worried relatives calling each other during and after a heavy bombing raid.

    One man called a woman in Sanderstead saying: "Hope you are not frightened darling, now the raids have started.

    "They came over the house just now – people dived into shops – frightening business," she replied.

    She also said that a "lorry full" of "invasion food", including bully beef and biscuits, had arrived for the street. Residents were being asked to keep a room empty to store it.

    A mother rang her daughter in Whitehall saying: "I phoned to see if you were alright. We've been in the shelter twice. Mrs Ellis saw them – nine in perfect formation.

    "They are supposed to have bombed a school at Catford. Perhaps Uncle Harold got it. They dropped the bombs before the warning."

    The files record the names of some of those overheard, but other conversations just took place between unidentified men and women.

    One unidentified Government employee told a colleague that security was slack and that people were getting into the department without passes.

    A Dr T R Merton of the Ministry of Production was heard talking to a Dr E G Hill asking for "some phosphorescent powder which did nothing until it came into contact with infa-red" needed for "a particular job".

    An earlier bugging mission had recorded calls from civil servants trying to hurry along orders from Vickers-Armstrong and Rolls Royce.

    One civil servant desperate for more tanks to roll off production lines shouted: "If Armstrong doesn't turn out 23 this week, I'll go down there and I'll bloody well tear him apart. He's got to work tonight and every bloody night."

    The bugging caused tension between Whitehall and MI5, with Sir Edward Bridges of the War Cabinet Office describing the plan in one secret memo as "a most awful waste of time."

    However it discovered no serious security breaches and a report afterwards concluded: "It would appear that in no individual case was any matter of outstanding importance discussed and that from the security standpoint, nearly all the speakers were very guarded in their remarks."

    The Telegraph


    Rob Ainsworth

    Web Administrator
    Liverpool History Society