There has been a staggering series of achievements during the Royal Mail's long and distinguished history, ever since King Henry VIII appointed Sir Brian Tuke to build a postal network five hundred years ago, in 1516. It really is remarkable how you have grown since then. I have been hugely impressed to learn that Royal Mail now handles more than one billion parcels and a staggering sixteen billion letters a year. At least your workforce has grown to reflect this exponential rise – from forty-five people recorded in 1665 to the 140,000 employees who you are representing today – making Royal Mail one of our largest employers.
Of course, many highlights are well-known, including the launch, in 1840, of the "Penny Black". Quite apart from this seminal event making the postal system more affordable – and thus accessible to all – it also represented British invention and innovation at its best. The adhesive postal stamp, after all, remains the international industry standard to this day…
But there are some other highlights may be less well-known. I have been fascinated to learn, for instance, how Royal Mail has kept itself at the cutting edge of technology as its modes of transport have evolved. There are clearly no prizes for imagining - correctly - that it all began with the horse. Or that trains were introduced in the mid 1800's (indeed, I remember giving a reception back in 2004 for Travelling Post Office Workers, some of whom I have been delighted to see again this afternoon, when finally, and after 156 years of continuous service, the Night Mail Train between Scotland and England came to an end). Motor vehicles appeared in the early 1900's. And no fewer than 22,000 pigeons were in service during the Second World War, in skies that must have resembled a scene from Hitchcock's "The Birds"! But, I am glad to say, you have not followed every fad… In 1934, a German engineer tried and – thankfully! – failed to convince you that the best way to deliver mail would be by… rocket!
If I may say so, your service to our country – and, most importantly – to smaller, remote communities, has not been limited simply to "getting the mail through". At a national level, I know that no fewer than 12,000 of your erstwhile colleagues served in the Post Office Rifles during the First World War (almost half were either killed or injured). Of course, that vital service to country and community continues today. Quite apart from keeping friends and family in touch with one another – and, crucially, children in touch with Father Christmas! – you can be justly proud that in 2014 Royal Mail made the sixth largest contribution to the U.K. economy of all U.K. corporations. And I was so pleased when, last year, you were named global leader in your sector in the prestigious Dow Jones Sustainability Indices.
But Ladies and Gentlemen, perhaps your greatest service is the way that Royal Mail, by its very existence, defends the written word. In these days of texting and various social media "apps", the well-constructed sentence is under mortal threat! As someone who relies on the well-aimed letter - and relishes the ones in return! - I can only say how strongly I feel that the logical ordering of thoughts in proper, grammatically correct prose is in fact rather important at the end of the day.
So on behalf of letter-writers; of isolated communities; of the eager and expectant on Valentine's and other equally special days; and, indeed, on behalf of dear old Santa Claus himself, I can only offer my heartfelt thanks and warmest congratulations on a job conspicuously well done by you all. You are, as they say, a National Treasure.