Southam Post Office Telephone Exchange

Some of the intricate brickwork on Southam Post Office – see if you can spot it, next time you are in town!
Photograph courtesy of the Southam Heritage Collection

Today we are used to instant communication to all parts of the globe and it is difficult for young people to imagine what it was like before telephone use became commonplace. The first telephone link between Britain and India was established on May 1st 1933 – another sign of telephones bringing an era of instant communications to Britain.

Personal memories

Telephone links became very important during the Second World War. At that time Southam’s telephone exchange was staffed by local ladies in the building which is still our Post Office today. Calls had to be put through manually using plugs and wires. Mona Bicknell worked there and remembers that the telephone exchange was upstairs and the Post Office below. There were living quarters at the back for staff who had to work long hours, including overnight. They took it in turns to move in for a week at a time and the shifts were from 10 until 3 or from 2 until 8. Mona remembers that she and her colleague, Joyce Basson, had to wear tin hats during the air raids on Coventry and says that she was very nervous when going home in the dark after her last shift.

200 telephone numbers

About 200 telephone numbers covered Southam and all its surrounding villages, and the staff had to sign a form on joining the Post Office promising not to repeat anything that they might overhear on pain of a £500 fine, or three months in prison. Mona took this very seriously and when she returned home she was so anxious about it that she refused to tell her family any details of what she had been doing.

Mona particularly remembers the sadness of having to deliver telegrams during the war to people being informed of the death of a loved one.

Mona recounts many interesting incidents on her recorded contribution to Southam Heritage Collection‘s Oral History Disc 5 which is entitled ‘Southam Business’. Copies of this disc and others in the series are available from Southam Heritage Collection, email cardallcollection@hotmail.co.uk for more details.

The article is one of the Cardall’s Corner articles, and was originally published in the Southam Advertiser October 2014.

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