Catalogue description Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department, predecessors and successor: Papers

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Details of DEFE 1
Reference: DEFE 1
Title: Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department, predecessors and successor: Papers

Papers selected to illustrate the organization and work on postal and telegraph censorship during the Second World War by the Directorate of Military Intelligence at the War Office and by the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department. The series also contains papers relating to censorship during the First World War and to the compilation of the official history of the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department.

Date: 1914-1959
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department, 1940-1946

War Office, Directorate of Military Intelligence, 1915-1922

War Office, Directorate of Military Intelligence, 1939-1964

Physical description: 448 file(s)
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Administrative / biographical background:

The crown has the right under the prerogative to censor postal packets within its own territories and this was given legislative expression in the Post Office Act 1908. Such mails could be required to be submitted to censors under warrants issued by a secretary of state under the prerogative power (in Great Britain and the Channel Islands the home secretary). The censorship of telephone calls was exercisable by virtue of telephone regulations made by the Post Master General under the Telegraph Act 1885. The censorship of General Post Office operated radio services was exercisable under prerogative powers, and of commercially operated radio under provisions of the Telegraph acts and by the use of supporting clauses in the the landing licences granted by the Post Master General. When appropriate the exercise of these powers was also by means of secretary of state warrant. Under the Wireless Telegraph (Foreign Ships) Regulations 1908 the Admiralty was empowered to issue rules regulating the use of wireless in British territorial waters.

The principles and procedure governing the censorship of naval, military and air force mails were contained in manuals issued by the respective departments. On the outbreak of war in September 1939 responsibility for postal and telegraph censorship was placed on the Army Council operating through the director of military intelligence. In April 1940 responsibility for the postal and cable censorship sections was transferred to the Ministry of Information, though they remained distinct elements within the ministry's organisation. On 6 April 1943, on Treasury authority, the Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department was established as a separate department with its own director general, though the Minister of Information remained responsible to Parliament for its work.

The department undertook all measures in connection with the imposition of postal and telecommunications censorship in the United Kingdom, together with the censorship of documents carried by travellers departing from and arriving in the country. It was also responsible for the co-ordination, through its overseas staff, of censorship measures in the field throughout the Empire and other areas of British interest and in association with Allied postal and telegraph censorship organisation. The broad framework of the department consisted of a central secretariat and other branches serving the whole department; Postal and Telegraph Censorship Branches, each maintaining units in London and other large centres in the United Kingdom; a Regional Organisation in the civil defence regional headquarters throughout Great Britain; and Overseas Organisation consisting of controllers or liaison officers in foreign, dominion and colonial centres; and a number of small specialised sections.

On 30 September 1945 all censorship operations in the United Kingdom ceased, except those in respect of correspondence of enemy prisoners of war. The department was wound up and those residual functions transferred to the charge of the Home Office on 1 April 1946. A Planning Section was established on 7 May 1946, the responsibility for the work of which was transferred to the Ministry of Defence on 26 May 1959.

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