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A Miss Phoebe Hayes walked into the post office in a Victorian town - she was a big woman with a large stern face who could yoke up a team and slaughter a sheep with the best of them.
Her arrival in the post office was noted with some unease by the staff. She took out a telegram form and and went through the irritations of composition. She proceeded to the counter and proferred her telegram. The clerk started to read it through but Miss Hayes shouted: 'How dare you read that! It's a private message!'. The counter clerk raised his head wearily. 'I have to read it madam to make sure it's plainly written.' Doubting her writing was just too impudent.
The supervisor arrived and it transpired that Miss Hayes thought that telegrams were never ever read. That in strict privacy they were enveloped, placed on a telegraph line and conveyed to the destination by some kind of giant kickback carrier.
The supervisor queried the address. 'Of course J Brown Goulburn's enough address. Why he's lived there for forty years.' she blurted. When towns of the same name were located in different states, the necessity of paying for another word to signify the state was a reluctant expense.
'But surely it's the job of the P.M.G. to know which town I want.'
The odd shocker sometimes turned up.
One day in an Australian country post office, a telegram form was pushed under the nose of a counter clerk. Turning his head, he glanced idly down at it. He stiffened and read the address again. It said: 'Jesus Christ'.
There was no office of destination and his unbelieving eyes dropped to the text. It was even more awesome. 'Get for your bloody life I'm after you.' The clerk continued to stare at it unwilling to raise his eyes. Then a well-dressed middle-aged man with a pleasant well-modulated voice said" 'I've got two pence to pay for it too.' The counter clerk swallowed. 'There's no charge for this telegram' he said with what cordiality he could muster. 'See that it gets there right away', cautioned the man and departed. That message of course did not find its way into the telegraph office and in any case, an address with no office of destination was not permitted even for the most exalted.
One quite surprised addressee received a telegram that her son was
In 1935, a newspaper editor heard a rumour of an English nurse had been killed in an air-raid during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Evelyn Waugh the novelist was covering events for the newspaper so the editor hurriedly dispatched a telegram reading:
A telegraph messenger was dispatched from the Central Telegraph Office Sydney one night with a telegram for an addressee in a suburban district 11 miles distant.
The street to which the telegram was addressed extends into the scrub and is unlighted. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to effect delivery with inquiries at houses in the street, the messenger returned to the township with a view to making inquiries of the local policeman, finally locating him in the picture theatre.
The constable arranged with the manager of the theatre to exhibit on the screen a request for information as to the addressee's exact address.
A postman among those present immediately supplied the details and the telegram was delivered.
Upon arrival in a capital city in 1944 a young man addressed a telegram to a lady announcing his safe arrival and asking her to marry him.
The lady's telegraphic reply was in the affirmative but unfortunately she addressed the telegram to the transmission number of the original message, followed by the name of the office of origin.
The preamble of a telegram, however, is not much of an address for a man looking for a wife and when reference was made to the original telegram it was found that the sender had not included sufficient endorsement to enable him to be located.
Sympathetic minds got to work on the problem, however, and inquiries eventually revealed a probable address.
The result was that the lady's affirmative was delivered to the prospective bridegroom ten minutes after his arrival at the address.
The town of Gayndah in Queensland was completely isolated by floods for two days in February 1942 and when the floods had subsided a little, the Postmaster and his technician set off by car, taking with them an accumulation of telegraph traffic, in an effort to reach a point from which communication could be re-established with other centres.
After travelling for 14 miles over difficult roads and flooded creeks, they reached a point where the technician was able to climb a telegraph pole and connect a portable telephone to one of the trunk lines.
The Postmaster then established a temporary telegraph office in his car and disposed of over 70 delayed telegrams.
A famous PMG poster was titled The telegram gets there first!
One of the messenger boys in Hobart Tasmania improved on that. He had a telegram to deliver addressed to the Court Magistrate. Court was in session but that did not deter the lad. Evading the outstretched arm of the policemen on court duty, he made his way through to the court and placed the telegram with aplomb on the magistrates table in the middle of a hearing.
One telegram messenger lad was given a 'Please explain' note by his superior as to why he took so long to deliver a telegram. His reply was that he was only told 'to hurry back' and not to hurry there!
The counting of words was cause for much discontentment. The phone started to ring. 'Telegraphs', was the reply.
A gentleman's voice started, 'Ah yes. Now as it happens, I am going to send a telegram and would appreciate some guidance. Perhaps you might inform me if the word "lawn mower" is one or two words? The reply was, 'Two words'.
The gentleman continued, 'Is that so. Well then perhaps you could tell me. If I went to purchase a lawn mower, would I get it in one or two parts?'
The sheer logic of the old gentleman's reasoning was unanswerable.
All communications from British embassies to the Foreign Office used to be written in the first person, as if from the ambassador himself.
Diplomats working for one of the last envoys to insist on this tradition, took revenge by sending a telegram (entirely accurate) to London reading:
Telegram transmitted by Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten at the stroke of
midnight on 1st July 1997 at the moment sovereignty changed after 156 years of British colonial rule:
In 1942, 26,000 telegrams were lodged at Perth GPO off the liner Queen Mary in a bag,
very much like a cattle-feed bag. These had first to be censored, then transmitted to the various states using the Murray
Multiplex system which gave a total of 12 transmitting arms, that is 12 men, one on each arm, they had cleared 20,000
messages by 0900 hours. They had started at 1800 hours and worked through the night.
The telegrams were from departing troops.
Stories from Nico during his time in The Hague Telegraph Office. (31068 RA GV NL)
Two of my colleages were doing their job in the part of the office
where customers could come in and send telegrams or phone internationally.
A gentleman of arabic persuasion entered the office, and started writing a telegram. Suddenly he talked to one of his colleagues, and said
"Can't you sell her (the other colleague) ?. I can give you two camels for her".
"Sorry, you can't have her. I dont know what to do with 2 camels."
In Dutch, "sincere congratulations" is written as "hartelijk gefeliciteerd".
These are normal words, so they were counted according to the normal rule with 15 characters pr word. One day, a customer insisted on writing "hartel gefel".
I informed him that that would cost more, because hartel is not a normal dutch word, and would cost him the price of two words.
He insisted on having it sent as "hartel", so he did pay for the extra word.
A lot of confusion resulted from the fact that we used to say "Telegraafkantoor"
when picking up the phone.
Why? There is also a dutch newpaper called "Telegraaf", so we often had complaints from newpaper subscribers who hadn't received their daily newspaper.
Other people had no idea of what "telegraphing" meant. I once had a woman on the blower, asking when a package sent by telegraph would be arriving.
Once I expedited a telegram to a dutch nick: "Huis van Bewaring, sHertogenbosch."
It said something like "Have a nice stay, I will keep care of the money".
The day after, I saw an A (service message) from the Dutch police, asking where the telegram came from, as they had some unfinished business with the guy who sent the telegram.
The result was an A from some aussie office, saying that the telegram had been radioed in via a ham, and they they had no knowledge of the sender, or where he could be reached.
My colleague, Willem, a quite massive guy, always wanted some food during
the night. In the mid 60's, it was not allowed to cook your own food during
night shifts. However, he insisted on having his sandwiches accompanied by
a sausage or two.
So what did he do? He tapped the warm water from the central heating system, and warmed his sausages in that lovely water.
What must be added to the story, is that he later in life became a representative for .... the same saucage factory (Unox in Holland).
Page update: 12th March 2010.