Telephonists at Uckfield Telephone Exchange on the day it closed in 1969. Picture: Sussex Express.

Uckfield exchange telephonists plan reunion

Ex-GPO telephonists, engineers, postmen and counter clerks from years leading up to 1969 are invited to a reunion to take place in Uckfield on Saturday, November 16.

It is 50 years since Uckfield Manual Telephone Exchange was closed and an Uckfield GPO “Hello Girls” Reunion Group is attempting to find all staff from that era and from Nutley and Newick Exchanges too.

The reunion is to be held at The Uckfield Club from 2-6pm and there will be plenty of happy times to remember.

uckfield-telephone-exchange-wedding

An Uckfield Telephone Exchange wedding. This picture was shared by Patrick Turner. Front row, from left, are Nina and Linda, supervisors, the bride ?, Yvonne Dancy (later Lloyd), and Joan Power. Back row, from left: Miss Olive Hopkins, chief supervisor, Sylvia Turner, ?, Sue Miller (nee Turner), Betty Batchelor, ?, and Mary Rogers (nee Steer).

Mary Potter who is helping to organise the event can be contacted on 01825 768881 if you would like to be involved.

In the old days telephonists got to know the callers who would be connected manually to numbers they requested, and woe betide those “subscribers” if they made themselves unpopular because that could lead to connection delays.

Other subscribers would send treats for the team. Mary, for example, remembers taking a call from Miss M Raymond-Hawkins, who started Raystede Animal Rescue in the 1930s. She asked how many girls worked at the exchange and after Mary told her 28 or 29, 29 Christmas gifts arrived, one for each of them.

Mary remembers that when the Queen was staying at Uckfield House the exchange would put through calls for all the royal family. That led to chief supervisor Olive Hopkins being awarded an MBE for serving the Queen.

Telephonists would have a bit of fun in quiet times. They were supposed to answer the phone saying “Number please?” but the alternative “Rubber knees?” never seemed to be noticed by callers.

uckfield-telephone-exchange

Uckfield Telephone Exchange carnival float, 1969. Front, from left, are David Siggs, Maureen Steer, and Margaret Stubbs. Middle, from left, Miss Pierpoint, Evelyn Willey, Evelyn Wickerson. Top, from left, Bob Simmonds, Rosemary Chalmers, Brenda Oram, Mary Rogers, Brenda Nicholson, Sylvia Giles, Pat and Penny Power, Joy Evans, Doreen Grainger, Alan Grainger.

Mary, who met her husband Andy at the exchange,  and some of her colleagues started a social club and they would hold dinner dances and car treasure hunts around the area.

Mary said: “It was a just a great job to have, there was a nice atmosphere and they were brilliant employers. The chief supervisor Olive Hopkins was wonderful, anybody with a problem could speak to her.”

Get in touch

She is looking forward to the reunion in November and working through a list of about 50 names of people she is trying to trace in the hope they will be able to attend.

She would be pleased to hear from any ex-GPO telephonists, engineers, postmen and counter clerks who would like to go along.

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