In this post, Professor Mark Connelly examines how Western Front battlefields became places to visit – both for tourists and pilgrims – after the Great War.
To coincide with the 100th anniversary of World War 1, a range of collectible coins and stamps have been launched to mark this event. The Post Office Shop blog team has been researching the role of the Post Office during World War One. In this guest blog post, supplied by Voices of War and Peace, Brook Chalmers from the Post Office introduces a solider from Birmingham who their work has uncovered.
The General Post Office as it was known in 1914 had an active involvement throughout the Great War. During our research we learnt that the Post Office had its own military arm called the Post Office Rifles Regiment. This regiment saw active service throughout World War One. A member of this regiment, Sergeant Alfred Knight was awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, for an act of battlefield bravery.
The Post Office Rifles Regiment first saw active combat on 11th May 1915 when the 1st Battalion was introduced into the trenches during the battle for Festubert. The regiment would then go on to be involved in some of the key battles of World War One including the Somme, Passchendaele and Ypres.
Alfred Knight was introduced into World War One in 1917 as part of the Post Office Rifles’ 2nd Battalion. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for an act of gallantry on the battlefield.
Alfred Knight was the son of Joseph and Annie Knight and was born on 24th August 1888 in Ladywell, Birmingham. He was a Post Office employee in the North Midland Engineering District which was based in Birmingham. Knight then relocated with the department when they moved to Nottingham in 1912. Alfred was still with the department when war broke out.
Alfred Knight enlisted on 26th October 1914 and was assigned to the 2nd battalion of the Post Office Rifles Regiment. Although he joined the regiment in 1914, his unit was not stationed in France until 1917 and the first combat that the regiment saw was during the second battle of Bullecourt. During this battle, Knight returned wounded soldiers to the trenches under severe enemy fire and for this act of bravery he was given a battlefield promotion to the rank of Sergeant.
Sergeant Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross for his acts during the battle of Wurst Farm Ridge, Ypres on 20th September 1917. He was awarded the highest military accolade for demonstrating “most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the operation against the enemy positions.” Sergeant Knight single-handedly stormed a German machine gun position and secured it from the enemy.
On 3rd January 1918, Sergeant Alfred Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V in a ceremony held at Buckingham Palace. Knight is the only member from the Post Office Rifles regiment to be awarded with the Victoria Cross. When his award was announced, Knight quickly became a local celebrity in both Birmingham and Nottingham. He was given civic receptions in both cities and adorned with gifts.
Knight continued to serve in the Post Office Rifles until the end of the First World War. In 1919 he was then re-commissioned to serve in the Sherwood Foresters regiment with the rank of Second Lieutenant. When the Sherwood Foresters were then demobilized, Alfred Knight returned to his role within the Post Office.
Alfred Knight passed away on 4th December 1960 aged 72 in Birmingham. He was laid to rest in Oscott Catholic Cemetary, New Oscott.
Voices of War and Peace: the Great War and its Legacy is a First World War Engagement Centre funded by the AHRC and in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund. The University of Birmingham Centre is a joint initiative across the Midlands with Birmingham City University, Newman University, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Worcester, and further afield with the University of Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan University and Cardiff University.The Engagement Centre will support a wide range of community engagement activities, connecting academic and public histories of the First World War.