The Post Office in Cheapside became the first focal point of activity at the outbreak of the Great War. Opened on September 29th, 1881, it was already proving inadequate for its job but, in addition to its usual workload, in August 1914 it had to handle all the local telegrams, mobilisation letters and urgent messages involved in the preparations for war.
Special steps were taken to handle the extra workload, including the use of extra messengers to make deliveries and the office staying open all day on Sundays. Call-up letters to naval reservists began to arrive late on Sunday, August 2nd, 1914 - two days before war was officially declared - and were delivered the same night. The Post Office problems were to be compounded by six of its own staff - two Reservists and four Territorials - being among those called up.
Even before the war, the postal authorities were being pressed for a date when a new General Post Office in Upper George Street would be built. In July 1914 the Town Council was told the new building was unlikely to be completed for some two or three years.
During another busy Christmas in 1914, both counter and sorting room staff were praised for doing a creditable job while handicapped by want of up-to-date and larger accommodation.
"To get to the public counter was occasionally almost like getting into a theatre, as the place was packed and people were lined up outside waiting for their turn to go in," reflected The Luton News, of December 31st, 1914. "This helped to impress on the public the inadequacy of the place, and to make them hope that the time will soon come when the new Post Office in Upper George Street will be put in hand."
Despite complaints about the postal service, especially from Luton Chamber of Commerce, the postal authorities in April 1915 said it was not then possible to say when circumstances would enable work to begin at Upper George Street, but the matter would be kept in mind.
"This is in conformity with the Government policy not to undertake schemes which will involve large capital expenditure until after the war, a policy which has the double effect of keeping the money free for war expenditure and saving up employment for a possible period of depression after the war."
The new Post Office and Telephone Exchange on the corner of Upper George Street and Dunstable Place was eventually opened on March 19th, 1923.