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The Telegram

Pipi Press, 2019
ISBN 978047346282
Shortlisted for the Children’s and Young Adults Book Awards 2019
Fiction Special Mention, NZ Heritage Book Awards 2019
Storylines list of notable books for 2020

Fourteen-year-old Beatrice Thomas lives with her widowed mother and younger sister, Tilly, in a small New Zealand town overshadowed by the events of World War One. Many of the local boys, including Beaty’s friend Caleb, are away fighting.

When Beaty has to leave school, she gets a job as a telegram girl at the Post and Telegraph Office. The work is tough – she often brings news of sons killed or wounded. She must convince the telegram boys, and herself, that she’s up to the task, at a time when women’s roles are limited.

Meanwhile, Caleb’s letters turn darker as his initial enthusiasm fades and reality takes over.

The war finally ends, but Beaty continues delivering telegrams through the Armistice, the peace celebrations and the dreadful influenza epidemic. Soon she’s running the Post Office almost single-handed.

Then Caleb’s letters stop arriving.

The Telegram


“Well, my dear, it’s been lovely to see you. Such a treat for me. I do hope I haven’t held you up too much. Tell Mr Kendall it was all my fault, if he makes a fuss. And now I’d better take that envelope, hadn’t I? There’s always a chance,” she said brightly, “that it’s something else, or that he might have been wounded or even taken prisoner. They have very good hospitals over there.”

She went over to the bench, pulled open a drawer and drew out a neat little paper knife, then sat down again. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. The envelope made a crisp tearing noise as she slit it open, drew out the telegram and unfolded it.

She sat there, upright, not moving. Silence rang loudly between us.

“I’m sorry,” was all I could manage.

Wanganui Chronicle, 3 November 1916, from Papers Past
On the centenary of the Armistice, 11 November 2018, these beacons were set up at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington, and people were invited to text messages to be displayed on them. The messages kept changing, so I was glad to capture the middle one, which remembers “all the mothers and fathers who received telegrams and letters saying that loved ones would not be returning home.”
Poverty Bay Herald, 11 August 1915, from Papers Past
NZ Post Office, Dunedin, Telegraph boys, 1911. Archives NZ AAME W5603 8106 Box 114

Media interviews

Bookenz with Ruth Todd on Plains FM (also featuring Tina Shaw) 23 April 2019

“Philippa Werry’s Telegram” on Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, 22 April 2019


“During WW1 the last thing the people at home wanted to see was a telegram boy or girl coming to their door. If you had a son, a brother a father or a husband at war then a telegram meant missing in action, dead in battle or taken prisoner … Beaty is a treasure and good role model. Philippa Werry describes life at home with knowledge and accuracy in this very readable novel for primary, secondary and high school students” … read more
Bobs Books Blog by Bob Docherty

“Beaty as a character is extraordinary: Werry has drawn her so expertly that you know her motivations, and her passions as well as you do those of your best friend.” … read more
The Sapling

“A gorgeous book in every way; great characters, a compelling story with a good pace, multiple interesting themes, and beautifully designed; my only complaint is that it ended leaving me wanting more.” … read more

“Beaty is a delightful character, a wonderful heroine who is real and inspiring.” … read more
NZ Booklovers

“Beaty is a wonderful character, full of determination and courage. She is made entirely believable by the relationships that are described with her mother and sister and her friends as well as her work colleagues. The letters from her friend Caleb mean that she knows the awful conditions the soldiers are experiencing. She loves her new job delivering telegrams except for the dread of knowing she will often be delivering bad news. A highly recommended and engrossing read.” … read more
The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop

You can find teacher notes for The Telegram here.

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