Cynthia Bell describes sending out casualty telegrams


Cynthia Tohe Bell (1922-1997), Ngati Raukawa, talks about working in the War Records Office sending out telegrams for delivery to the families of  casualties.

Transcript (edited)

There were many times that the casualty lists would come out through the board.  And they were always of course in telegrams.  And you maybe asked to do from A to C of the surnames.  You knew all the boys who'd gone from Otaki.  It was always with slight nervousness that you went through.  Other people from here, surnames may've started with ‘W'.   So you'd find out who was doing the ‘W' telegrams, and you'd say would you please look for so and so.  Your own boys and everybody you knew.  And that was pressure time, because those telegrams had to be sent out to the people. Saying that they were missing, been killed or they were wounded.  They were very trying times.  I suppose not quite so much for myself, because there were a lot of married women stenographers and they were really very very upset when the telegrams used to come in.

Question:  How did the telegrams come?  Did they come by cable or ...?
Well all we got was a sheet.  I would have the sheets from A to C and someone from D to G and that's really how it worked.

Question:  What did the letters consist of, can you remember what...
Well really we only did the telegrams.   I think during the war the telegrams were sent to the postmaster.  Who then delivered them personally to the people involved with their children, or their sons.

Question:  So what was the format?  It said I am sorry or...
It would just say the government regrets to say that your son has been reported missing in action or killed or something like that.  That's why in those days it was very terrifying for mother's to see a postmaster arriving, because they knew it was bad news. 

Question:  Always bad news?
Always bad news





Extract from Interview with Cynthia Bell, interviewer Queenie Rawinia Hyland, recorded 4 November 1991, part of the Women in World War II oral history project by Gaylene Preston Productions.

From the Alexander Turnbull Library Oral History and Sound collection, OHInt-0060-01. All rights reserved. Permission of the Library and Gaylene Preston must be obtained before any re-use of this sound file

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