Archive for ‘Post Office’

May 18, 2017

Fraternising with the enemy: Scots and Germans


The Great War front line Christmas truce of 1914 is well known, specially that game of football. Truth is there were several similar episodes and one involving troops of the Gordon Highlanders was recounted by two men who took part when they were invalided to Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow.

Privates Garden McIntosh and W. Kiloh from Banff near Aberdeen were serving at the front with the 6th Gordon Highlanders on Christmas morning in 1914 when they were startled to see several German soldiers emerge from their trenches and approach them with their hands held up. Speaking in perfect English the Germans wished the young Scottish troops a Merry Christmas.

Once over their surprise the kilted Gordons happily joined in the good wishes and soon Scots and Germans, who were from Bavaria, were exchanging gifts; long German rolls for bully beef and other rations although the dark German bread rolls were not much appreciated by the Scots.

Present too was the regiment’s padre, Aberdonian Rev. J. Esslemont Adams, who addressed men from both sides with a message in keeping with Christmas and in return he received a generous gift of a beautiful melodeon. It struck the two Gordons this was a considerable sacrifice for playing music was one of the few means of keeping up spirits so far from home and in the midst of the horrors of war and tense frustrating stalemates.

This truce lasted for several days before it came to the notice of German officers -goodness knows where they were all this time but when they became aware of the fraternisation between the two sides they moved their men away to a different position. Until then an occasional German voice would call out in the middle of the night to one of the Scots, addressing him as sergeant —-, and inviting him to “come and have your rum.” The sergeant always resisted the offer to ‘stand treat.”

These particular Scots and Bavarians got on well and it emerged that several of the Germans had worked in Scotland as hotel employees before the war and their hearts were not in fighting but soon that was what they were all ordered to do.


At the same time as reading about the 6th Gordons and their Bavarian foe I came across this poignant tale relating to the death of a twenty-one year old soon after he arrived in France from the northeast of Scotland.

In October 1915 Mr and Mrs Merson of 17 Mount St in Aberdeen received word that their son Lawrence, a lance corporal with D Coy., 13 Platoon of the 1/4th Gordon Highlanders, had been killed in action in France.

Lawrence was fourteen when he began work with the post office in Aberdeen and before joining up for war service he was postie at Blairs outside the city. At the age of 21 years he volunteered for the Great War.

A young German soldier came across his corpse in a front line trench and went through Lawrence’s pockets removing his identification disc, papers and letters, including his paybook and sent them all to his (the German’s) sister in Frankfurt asking that she send them on to the Highlander’s family. The sister was happy to oblige and wrote an accompanying letter and forwarded the lot to her uncle in Switzerland that he might send them to Mr and Mrs Merson in Aberdeen. This is her letter.


  It is a very sad matter I am writing you. My brother sent home a letter from the front and begged me to write you.

  He stands in the West, and it was in his first letter since the hard fights there. My eldest brother was killed last year at Ypres, so that I know how glad we were to hear any details of his death.  I think you have already heard that Lawrence B. Merson, whom I believe to be your son, did not come back from the last fight. We were enemies, but pain and mourning are uniting us. So thought my brother, too, for he wrote everything about your son he could find out. I just will translate it to you –

  “We led the way to our position, and found there a dead Highlander, who had a deep wound above the right eye, probably by a thrust of the bayonet. We found the following objects: – Book of payments, mark of distinction, a small sketch, and an instrument against the gases. The dead Englishman had his gun with the bayonet at it (and there were spots of blood on it) on his right side. He was a Highlander with a kilt, and bare knees.”

  My brother sent these photos. I am sure my brother and his comrades did all honour to their enemy who died in their tracks.

The young Germans’ uncle in Geneva also wrote a letter to Lawrence’s parents expressing his feelings:

“My brother is a clergyman for French Protestants in Frankfort, and his son is in the German army, although we are of old Swiss origin, and he sent the intimation to his sister in Frankfort. Your son did his duty for his country, and he will find his reward. God help you in these dark days.”

This was in October of 1915 and Lawrence died in the February that year so it is likely that the Mersons already knew of their son’s death but it is also likely the most affectionate communication wasn’t that of the army but from the ‘enemy’.




Nov 8, 2010

Post Office RIP

The ConDem coalition government is about to hammer another nail into coffin that is the Post Office.  In previous blogs I have highlighted how the governments have been systematically dismantling the Post Office, service by service.   The truth is it’s an easy target  and to hell with the social impact on communities.

The latest sell-out will no doubt come with the tag,  ‘opportunity’.  Sure it’s an opportunity – but not for the people of this country – for the company that will grab another piece of lucrative business from the Post Office along the road – the future  distribution of welfare payments.


Who is it?  None other than our old friend PayPoint, subsidiary of Capita.

PayPoint is Capita’s bill payment processing giant.  PayPoint’s profits are soaring and little wonder.  This initial 5 year contract will be worth £70million.

It was the last Labour government that decided to put benefit payments out to tender  – attractive at  around £15 million a year for handling 400,000 giro payments.

Let’s put this in context.   In 2006 the then Capita Executive chairman, Rod Aldridge OBE, long-time Labour supporter,  resigned during the cash for honours crisis when it was revealed that his company Capita had been awarded several government contracts and he had given the Labour Party a loan of £1million.  He denied any connection but left anyway.

Harriet Harman’s  written answer to a question about the number of contracts Labour had given to Capita  threw up even more questions and precious few answers.   As the lady said – Capita has many subsidiaries –not all known or recognised by the civil service and so  it is not recorded how contracts Capita and its subsidiaries actually have.

Harman: “Records of lists of tenderers are not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. Information is held centrally on the award of some contracts but may not be complete. This is chiefly because the Capita Group plc has many subsidiaries, some of which have no obvious connection to the holding company and it is possible that a relevant contact may not have been identified as such. Confirming the complete list of contracts awarded to the Capita Group plc and its subsidiaries could be achieved only at disproportionate cost. “  (From http://www.TheyWorkFor

We do know that Capita has 21 contracts from the Ministry of Defence

Er, excuse me for asking but how does this tie in with monopolies legislation?  Capital according to its Wiki page is the largest business process outsourcing company in the UK – and with government help will continue to mushroom.  It is not surprising that huge conglomerates such as Capita can afford to bid low to capture lucrative government contracts.   Looks like they’ve done just that.

Governments change but in name only – the pledge from Business Secretary  Vince Cable that his government will not close any more Post Offices is looking frayed against the steady march of the corporate giant.  The ConDems are going ahead with Labour’s plan to privatise Royal Mail and the black propaganda campaign mounted by the Labour government is being continued by this coalition:  the skewing and concealing actual figures for mail handling and distribution.    And so the future privatisation of mail is dished up as essential.

Once Royal Mail goes – and mail deliveries dry up in rural areas – only then will people realise how professional and comprehensive our Post Office/Royal Mail service has been.

When welfare payments join the rush of services being snatched away from the Post Office and add to the profits of Capita’s PayPoint outlets – only then will people realise that the British Post Office is on a hiding to nothing.

In 10 years time it is unlikely there will be any Post Offices left.  Instead we’ll have  a plastic PP sign and there won’t be any use asking questions of the shop assistants at the fag counters where you will find these signs – they are not trained in Post Office duties.  Try querying why there’s been a breakdown in service from the sign on the wall  – good luck.

Sep 16, 2010

Capita, BBC and your TV Licence

The trend within large corporations is now to sub-contract services to other agencies. When the Labour government continued its crusade to destroy the Post Offices in Britain the handling of the BBC licence was passed over to a highly profitable organisation called Capita which operates as TV Licensing for this aspect of its work. Capita has fingers in many profitable pies. It picks up a cool £500 million for TV licences alone. The decision to spend such huge sums by the BBC was partly to chase up licence dodgers. Capita’s success has been less than impressive reducing the loss of revenue from this by a mere 0.5%.

This is not the only contract it holds for the BBC i.e. us the licence payers. Capita also handles its audience research for a nice £54 million.

Alas Capita was accused of heavy-handed dealings with the public and a review of its practises was published by the BBC Trust in 2009. In it were concerns over the tone of letters sent out to the public by Capita and an action plan agreed with BBC executives to rectify the way it handles the corporation’s affairs.

The BBC executive was told it had to :
…continue to work with Capita, who maintain the database, to assess the quality of the information stored on the database. Key performance indicators should be introduced which will allow the BBC to measure how accurately information is being recorded.
…provide an audit report on the work being carried out with Capita on the ongoing programme of development and improvement to the database and the systems surrounding it.

This sounds as though there was some slackness in the BBC’s overseeing of Capita.
…Requirements are detailed on our current letters and we will review all communications which go direct to customers (e.g. our letters and the TV Licensing website)

There were particular concerns over the aggressive tone used by Capita in letters to non-TV households. It was also proposed that cheaper telephone numbers replaced expensive ones for members of the public who had to phone the agency.
…The prominence of messages in letters will be improved for those not requiring a TV Licence (as per previous recommendation).

Now this suggests some tardiness on the part of Capita and given their latest standard reminders for the TV licence, something Capita has yet to implement.

If you do not pay your BBC licence by Direct Debit you will receive a reminder from Capita that is a hard sell for signing up to Direct Debit payments. Over the double-sided letter there is no mention of alternative methods of paying the BBC licence. There is mention of their website, phone number and postal address as well as the handy form at the bottom of the page – so you can set up your Direct Debit.

So what happens if you choose not to pay by DD? Where do you go for information about other methods? Are there other methods? Yes, for those with a computer you will be amazed to discover just how many.

There is, of course, Direct Debit. Sorry, what was that? Direct Debit. And, you can pay at a ‘ PayPoint outlet and pay by cash or debit card. Trouble is you have to have a computer to find out where your nearest PayPoint is because in the good old days that was called a Post Office but they are not allowed to handle BBC licences any more so good luck. You might want to pay by savings card or with a cheque or Postal Order – hey isn’t that from a Post Office?

So, if all these methods of payment are available, why aren’t they included in the reminder sent out by Capita? We should be told because we are paying through the nose for their sub-standard service.

Whatever happened to choice? Capita is pushing and kicking BBC licence payers into signing up for Direct Debits instead of arming us with full information.
More information can be had from Catherine Graves at the BBC Licence Fee Unit, Room 4436, BBC White City, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TS.
And details of the BBC Trust report can be found at :

Sep 12, 2010

Continuing into the future Royal Mail as a universal Postal Service, aye that’ll be right

Royal Mail made a profit of £404 million last year but this, it seems, is not the point.

Over recent years the Post Office has had several of its core services taken from it so and now offers far less to its customers, especially important to the elderly. Human interaction is fast disappearing and being replaced by websites. Most older people beyond their sixties are not familiar with computers but nevertheless ‘progress’ advances in ways which ignore their particular needs.

Picking up the weekly pension used to be a simple process of nipping out to the local Post Office. Alright there were problems of druggies following them out and mugging them but if it’s not druggies it’s the government. Pensioners were ‘persuaded’ to have pensions paid directly into banks. Fine, except the banks have disappeared from most of the streets where people live. Pensioners were forced to key in their account numbers in Post Offices. Now many pensioners, especially the very old, do not have nimble fingers and find it hard to see the numbers and complete this procedure without being observed by people behind them. The same applies to those who are forced to use keypads at cash-points in busy shops. Both remembering pin numbers and shielding your fingers from others is a real problem. Bank spokespeople come on radio and TV and say the elderly have alternatives. No they haven’t. When pressed the alternative is online banking. I use my computer for all kinds of transactions but not for banking. Banking, you’re joking.

The Post Office, and we, its customers, has suffered systematic attack from government. Removing TV licences was an outrage. It’s a tricky matter now to discover where you can pay your licence – all a ploy to get everyone to sign up to Direct Debit.

Car owners are bombarded by propaganda designed to get them to renew car licences online – with additional enticements of winning a car if they do.

Successive governments have determinedly run-down the profitable services that used to be provided by our Post Offices to the extent they can say they handle less business and are an expensive liability so they continue to close at alarming rates.

What has happened to our Post Offices is to happen to Royal Mail. For most of us Royal Mail and the Post Office go hand in hand. But we are old fashioned. There must be progress. For progress read reduction in service.

Just days ago there was a piece on TV about how the PO is handling much more mail – from eBay and online shopping, the trend to send a card for every occasion, postcards, official letters etc.

Then Richard Hooper’s updated report on Royal Mail declared that familiar refrain that mail figures are going down. Something clicked in my head. I looked back at an article written by a postman last year in The London Review of Books . ‘Figures are down’ he wrote … ‘ the joke at the delivery office.’ Posties are being encouraged to carry heavier and heavier bags because of management pressures.

A former postman neighbour of mine packed in the job after putting up with years of poor management, deliberately designed it appeared, to keep employees unsettled and on their toes. Strangely, efficiency is not a term PO management is familiar with. Who picks up the pressure? The posties. Royal Mail management appear to have no idea how to manage according to shop floor workers. Why should this be? Could it be that they are part of the strategy to run down Royal Mail?

The huge costs of the Mail workers pension scheme is another reason given by Vince Cable and Hooper for selling off part of Royal Mail. But we know that no private company will take on this pension scheme and it will be the government, for that read us, who pay. ~So how does that change anything in relations to privatising Royal Mail? What is Hooper saying – take privatisation, sorry de-regulation, and get your pension, don’t and hard luck, pal.

De-regulation is a softly, softly way to the complete privatisation of Royal Mail. The sweetener is a proposed offer of shares to Royal Mail workers. Aye, so they’ll hold them for how long and then what?

Cable talks of reinvesting the money made by selling off the Royal Mail. So the money ‘saved’ will then be paid out to subsidise a semi-private company. What’s the point of this?
And at what cost to the consumer, especially consumers away from the hub of Mail services, SE England? Already there are calls to use post codes to determine how much a posted item will cost. This is already happening with companies in England charging extra to ship goods to ‘the Highlands’. The Highlands now takes in many non-Highland areas such as Aberdeen. All the extra costs are worked out in relation to the London area so just wait until it costs more to get mail sent out to us in Scotland – and utility companies will slap on extra charges to cover this amount.

Utility companies have mainly gone over to private mail operators such as TNT and UK Mail which got the contracts by undercutting Royal Mail. Naturally they have not recruited postmen and women to actually deliver the mail and this falls to Royal Mail which is the expensive part of the process. A lunatic system.

We are all paying for these operators to reap huge profits from this bizarre set-up and this category of mail is not counted as mail handled by Royal Mail as far as the Hooper Report is concerned.

The pressure that results from reducing the profitable end of Royal Mail is a reduction in staff which means the workers remaining have to do more and are under severe strain as can be seen in the ‘running posties’ on our pavements who are answerable to bullying managers for any undelivered mail designated as deliberate withholding of mail and a sackable offence.

According to the men and women who work in Royal Mail – assertion s that the level of mail being handled is down and continuing to drop are not true. The level of mail going through the hands of Royal Mail used to be weighed but now is estimated as an average. This average was calculated through an agreement between the Union and management that each box mail of mail Royal Mail receives for sorting and delivery contains 208 items. This was reduced by management to 150 and so it can say that less mail is coming into Royal Mail. When the Union forced an investigation of these numbers, boxes were shown to contain on average 267 letters. The management and Hopper, however, glibly assert numbers of mailed items are down while the posties know they are increasing.

Any semblance Royal Mail, as with the Post Office, had to public service is disappearing fast. The impact of the total privatisation of our mail service will be hugely damaging to Scotland. There are profits to be made still but these come mainly through handling the mail from big corporations. These, as we know, have already been transferred to Royal Mail competitors with Royal Mail picking up the costly bits of door-to-door deliveries. Do you imagine private companies mail companies will wish to continue delivering mail through our letterboxes? Of course not. They have chosen not to already. TNT and UK Mail could set up their own delivery services to take letters to each house in the UK but don’t.

We in Scotland will be charged more for a mail delivery service that will be much inferior to the one we have now. We will still be paying, through our taxes, to support the private corporations which slink in to slice away bits of Royal Mail for their shareholders. As happened with the railways – it will be privatisation subsidised by the tax payer. Every tax payer. There is the £10+ billion pension deficit to start with.
We are being ripped off.

Stand up and scream against this eradication of a quality service we cannot afford to lose.