The Post and Telegraph Department at war

Page 2 – Post and Telegraph timeline

Key events in New Zealand’s Post and Telegraph Department relating to the First World War.

Before the War

1 January 1881 the Post Office and the Telegraph Department are combined as the Post and Telegraph Department

8 June 1898 a Post and Telegraph Rifle Corps is formed in Wellington as a unit of the Volunteer Force

7 October 1911 a Post and Telegraph Corps is created within the new Territorial Force – in which service is compulsory – to provide the nucleus for a specialist unit in any Expeditionary Force sent to fight overseas

20 November 1912 a new General Post Office opens in Auckland; it cost £95,000 (equivalent to $15 million in 2015)

26 November 1912 a new General Post Office opens in Wellington; it cost £97,000 excluding the foundations (equivalent to $15.2 million in 2015)

1912–1914 temporary post offices are operated by Post & Telegraph Department staff at annual military training camps

18 September 1913 a wireless station opens in the Chatham Islands

18 December 1913 wireless stations open at Awanui in the Far North and Awarua in the Deep South

1 June 1914 the telegraph cable station at Wakapuaka, near Nelson, is destroyed by fire

5 July 1914 Post & Telegraph Department Secretary (chief executive) W.R. Morris leaves NZ for the Madrid Postal Congress; he is in Canada when he hears this has been cancelled because of the outbreak of war

3 August 1914 censorship of mail and telecommunications is introduced in NZ



5 August 1914  news of the outbreak of war is received in NZ by cable; military guards are mounted at cable and wireless stations

6 August 1914  Britain asks NZ to seize the wireless station at Apia in German Samoa to safeguard imperial communications

12 August 1914 a six-man Post & Telegraph Detachment leaves Wellington with the Samoan Expeditionary Force

15 August 1914 the Panama Canal opens; this provides an alternative route from New Zealand to the northern hemisphere for mail, complementing the Suez Canal and North American railways

29 August 1914 the Samoan Expeditionary Force lands at Apia and seizes the wireless station, which is soon made operational by the Post & Telegraph Detachment

3 September 1914 the Apia post office reopens under NZ management

8 September 1914 a German warship dynamites the Pacific telegraph cable, which links New Zealand to British Columbia, at Fanning Island (in Kiribati)

23 September 1914 the cable link from Fanning Island south to Suva (Fiji) is restored

16 October 1914  the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force sails for Australia on its way to Egypt; it includes a small postal section and six wireless operators

6 November 1914  the cable link from Fanning Island north to Hawai’i is restored

December 1914 a New Zealand Divisional Postal Unit is established in Egypt

May 1915 public information bureaux are established at chief post offices to disseminate official war information

12 August 1915 Sir Joseph Ward returns to office as Postmaster-General and Minister of Telegraphs in a wartime coalition ministry in which the Reform and Liberal parties are equally represented. He succeeds Reform Party minister Robert Heaton Rhodes

23 September 1915 all postal items except newspapers go up in price by ½d (equivalent to about 50 cents in 2015) to raise war funds

28 December 1915 the Viceroy of India appeals to Australia and New Zealand for wireless telegraphists to serve in an Anglo-Indian force fighting the Ottoman Turks in Mesopotamia (Iraq)

4 March 1916 a 62-man NZ Pack Wireless Troop sails for Mesopotamia

16 March 1916 the National Register of military-age men becomes available, making conscription on the basis of birth date practicable

April 1916 NZ Pack Wireless Troop arrives in Basra, Mesopotamia

4 July 1916 NZ Pack Wireless Troop amalgamates with Australian Squadron

July 1916  F.D. Holdsworth, formerly Chief Postmaster, Auckland, is appointed Director of Postal Services, NZEF, with the temporary rank of major

August 1916 a War Bonus is paid to all public servants in recognition of their increased workload: £7 10s, £3 for juniors; equivalent to $980 and $400 respectively in 2015

January 1917 P & O Line’s Mongolia sinks off Bombay with 925 bags of mail en route to NZ – the largest single loss of NZ mail during the war

23 May 1917 a direct cable link is established between Sydney and Titahi Bay, Wellington, superseding the link via Wakapuaka, Nelson

23 August 1917 Eastern Extension Company cable staff start work in Wellington, having moved there from Cable Bay (Wakapuaka)

7 September 1917 a commission of inquiry finds that allegations by Reverend Howard Elliott of the Protestant Political Association that P&T officials have interfered with PPA mail are unfounded

2 November 1917 SS Tutanekai is transferred back to the Marine Department after working as a cable repair vessel

31 March 1918 NZ has 2036 telephone offices and 335 Morse telegraph offices

April 1918 P&T salaries are now paid twice-monthly rather than monthly to those who prefer this option because of the rising cost of living

1 July 1918 NZ post office opening hours and services are curtailed because of manpower shortages

30 September 1918 P&T cable layer Private James Crichton, 2 Battalion, Auckland Regiment, wins the Victoria Cross at Crevecoeur, northern France for repeatedly risking his life delivering messages to and from his isolated platoon

November 1918 P&T Assistant Secretary G.B. Dall leaves NZ to replace F.D. Holdsworth as Inspector of Army Postal Services, NZEF

After the War

12 November 1918 post offices close for the day after official news of the Armistice with Germany is received

31 December 1918 the total of 590,205 Post Office Savings-Bank accounts represents one for every 1.96 New Zealanders

31 December 1918 P&T Secretary W.R. Morris, already a Companion of the Imperial Service Order, is knighted in the New Year Honours ‘for valuable services rendered to the New Zealand government’

3 February 1919  censorship of wireless messages (except to warships) ceases

1 April 1919 The Post and Telegraph Act 1918 comes into force; the department is no longer covered by the Public Service Act 1912

6–8 May 1919 the draft text of Treaty of Versailles is cabled to NZ – this takes 33 hours

31 May 1919 an automatic rotary Western Electric telephone exchange begins operating in Masterton – the start of an upgrade delayed by the war

23 July 1919  censorship of telegrams is abolished in the British Empire

4 September 1919 following the break-up of the wartime National ministry, dashing young war hero J.G. Coates becomes Postmaster-General and Minister of Telegraphs in the new Reform Party cabinet

October 1919 F.D. Holdsworth, Director of Postal Services NZEF, retires after more than 51 years’ service

1 January 1920 another Cost of Living bonus is paid: £15 ($1330) per annum for married officers, £7 10s ($665) for unmarried officers

10 January 1920 the Treaty of Versailles is formally ratified

27 January 1920 a Victory series of six stamps is issued

c. 1928 staff of the Post and Telegraph Department contribute £105 towards the cost of a bell in the carillon at the National War Memorial. Named ‘Messines’, the bell is dedicated to Wellington’s public service fallen.

How to cite this page

'Post and Telegraph timeline', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Dec-2017