Canadian Postal Corps (CPC) personnel from I Canadian Corps Supply Column in Lingfield, England, 1943.
Front row (left to right): Don Kidd; Joe Tobin; Ed Spencer; Herb Wall; Leon D'Hondt; Bill Botterill.
Back row (left to right): Ed Carson; ? Covey; Paul Steadman; Jack Henderson; Fred Turcotte; Tom Fahey; ? Fiset; Gord Elder; Alf Pelletier.
Movement Order No. 7 (Secret) of June 25, 1943, dispatching Lance Corporal Joe Tobin and comrades from the 1st Canadian Infantry Division Postal Unit, Canadian Postal Corps (CPC) - and others - on what would turn out to be the Sicily invasion (Operation Husky).Joseph P. Tobin
A drawing of Lance Corporal Joe Tobin, Canadian Postal Corps (CPC), made by a friend at the Marble Arch Pub in London, England, August 24, 1945.Joseph P. Tobin
Overseas draft of the Canadian Postal Corps (CPC), September 28, 1941, Lansdowne Park, Ottawa, Ontario. Joe Tobin is on the extreme right of the top row.Joseph P. Tobin
Lance Corporal Joe Tobin (standing) horsing around with a comrade, somewhere in Italy, circa 1943-44.Joseph P. Tobin
"One of the things in the postal service was the fact that the dedication was unbelievable. The thought was that the most important thing that a person would get was the mail."
When the recruiting dried up from the [Canadian] Postal Corps [CPC], which was [originally] comprised all of civil servants, and all the officers were senior political civil servants and then the next were the railroad mail clerks and then the next grade would probably be like the lower government jobs that were say in different services of government, and they were hoping to get seniority. The next line of people were the World War I veterans looking for postal jobs that probably couldn’t pass the civil service test so they would use their seniority to get into the post office after the war. When all the recruiting dried up, then the postmasters were asked to get recruits and the postmaster in Sarnia [Ontario], whom I’d known all my life, asked my dad if I would be interested because they were looking for people and then they thought that this would be something that I could fit into. So that’s how come I joined.
So they had a trade test [for postal administrators] and out of the whole army, I came out number three. So then in 1943, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division was having trouble because they were the only one that weren’t in step with the rest of the army as far as protocol and records and so on. So they sent me there to get them straightened out.
We went up to Scotland and from there, on July 10th, 1943, I went in the invasion of Sicily at Pachino. And we went in with the first wave because the general [Major-General Guy Simonds] in charge of the 1st Infantry Division thought that it would be wise to have the Postal Corps there, so everybody could send home a cable, so they’d know whether they were well, the people back home would know how they were doing. Of course, we didn’t have anything to work with for a week, so we weren’t able to really do anything until our equipment was delivered.
When they moved back from North Africa, like they also moved, they had a base post office in Africa and I don’t remember exactly where it was. It wasn’t at Philippeville [French North Africa; now the Algerian city of Skikda] where I was, and so they had all this mail that had piled up because of everything being in flux and on the move. So they had literally thousands of bags of mail and they had very, very few people to handle it. When we went to Avellino [Italy], then I was put in charge of sorting out all the parcels and we’d have a load of mail that would probably be 15 feet high and was of bags. And one of the fellows I was with said, you know, it’s such a waste of time for everybody to be walking around like they put a bag of mail on the floor and then they look at the address and then they go over to that particular unit bag and they put it in. And this was a big waste of time. He says, why don’t we just stand back and one guy gets them and he just calls out the name and throws it to the guy and have one guy in front of each bag. So anyway, that’s what we did. And I asked about, well, could I do it? And they kind of laughed and said, go ahead and see if it works. So it worked like a charm.
But like we were so short on people so what they did, they got, before we got the civilians in there, they had a group of people that were under the mental group [soldiers suffering from battle exhaustion and other neuropsychiatric injuries] that we had that were going to be returned to Canada and, of course, they were useless. So we got rid of them and then we got a bunch of other recruits and they turned out to be less than desirable. So the British Army vetted all these civilian employees. So we had tons of letters and cables and whatnot so they got about 100 [Italian] women. And most of these were teachers. We had ten of the women that acted as porters that would deliver the mail and dump it and so on.
I had been associating and I’d picked up the Italian language because of my basic Latin and French education. So eventually, they put me in charge of civilian employment. So that took me off the floor and put me into the office. So that was primarily, and I was in charge of them until they sent me back to England.
One of the things in the postal service was the fact that the dedication was unbelievable. The thought was that the most important thing that a person would get was the mail. It was above food, above everything. This is something that, right down the line, to the lowest peon, I mean, everybody was dedicated to getting that mail out and getting it out in good condition and so on. Like it would be raining cats and dogs and you know, like we just had a tent, we had to get out and try to find ways to say like cover the mail so it wouldn’t get wet. But the dedication of everybody was just absolutely fantastic.