Memories of the Post Office Investigation Branch



Harry Wynne – BTPHG Ambassador for the North East recalls:

I was born in Ryhope in 1931. For the duration of the war I was evacuated to North Yorkshire from 1939 until 1944.

Leaving school at the age of fourteen years I started work on the London & North Eastern Railway until being called up for National Service from 1950 to 1952. I served in the Army and was posted to the British Embassy in Paris for a year and half and then on reserve commitment with the Royal Military Police.

I returned to the railway until the Beeching Report and country-wide closures were forecast.

Eventually I joined the General Post Office in 1964 and started off as a postman for a couple of years in the months following the ‘Great Train Robbery’.

I was selected for the Post Office Investigation Branch following an interview with a Civil Servant and two ‘Deputy Controllers’ from the IB in London. I was appointed as an Assistant Investigation Officer.

I was over-age to apply at the time, being thirty-six years of age, but they took me on. There were 1,200 applications for three vacancies, and I was told in ‘whispered tones’ by my line-manager that I had been successful. No-one talked openly about the IB.

This involved working with police forces and other crime enforcement agencies nationwide.

My duties consisted of six months London duties and then depending on seniority up to two years travelling which was six months at a time at different Postal Regions. On completing the tour, you were unable to return to that region for two years in case anyone remembered you.

Eventually the strain on family life took its toll and I decided to call it a day in 1976 after ten years’ service.

On retirement, I started to work as a Police Historian assisting the Ministry of Defence Police, with the setting up of their Museum and interest with other Service Agencies.

I was responsible for founding the ‘North East Police History Society’ in 1995 to keep alive police history from the ‘Tees’ to the ‘Tweed’ with its permanent venue at Beamish North of England Museum.

Looking back at my service with the Post Office IB. (When it was the General Post Office with a Postmaster General) we were charged with investigating all aspects of crime in respect of the Royal Mail, Post Offices, Bank, Telephones, Giro and all other postal departments.

At times we were working with the British Transport Commission Police especially on surveillance using the ubiquitous ‘red striped tent’. Having carte blanche to use any postal or telephone vehicle was of the utmost value. The green telephone cable van with the sliding doors along with the tent just blended in. On one occasion only the Television Detector van was available and that ended in the arrest of a postman encashing stolen Giro cheques at a post office counter. The following day we received a call that in that part of Manchester they had never sold so many television licences in one day.

Not long after the ‘Great Train Robbery’, I was talking with a Detective Constable who was with the then Buckinghamshire Constabulary. He related ‘early that morning he was at home when he was told to get down to the railway station quickly ‘as we think there’s been a burglary’.

When he got there everyone was walking around in a daze. It wasn’t until later that morning the enormity of what had happened unfolded. The rest is history.

Part of probationary ‘field training’ was in Glasgow, for six weeks. It rained every day, and it was very depressing being in digs at the time. I vowed never to go there again, but later, on circuit in Edinburgh if a mail bag theft happened in Glasgow, I always ended up being called over there.

The Post Office Investigation Department was founded in 1783, when the Postmaster General accepted some responsibility for the detection of domestic crime, making it the oldest recognised criminal investigations force in the world.

For over 225 years it has worked to detect offences against the post and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.

Being proud of once being a member of this little-known force and serving in many roles, may I at this point blow my own trumpet! Many years had passed since leaving the IB and at one of our annual Police Exhibitions, a man approached me and said, ‘Are you Harry Wynne’. I said, ‘Yes’ and he shook my hand telling me that he had just retired from the IB and was glad of the chance to meet me. Over the years he said that my name had often come up and he informed me that I was regarded as something of ‘a living legend’. A proud moment.

I am looking forward to the role of ‘Ambassador’ with the British Transport Police History Group helping to keeping alive the history of ‘Railway Policing.’


Extract from the June 2021 edition of History Lines (No. 132)