This emotional journey will revisit the stories of my Uncle Joe once again. I hope you will enjoy them, and think of your family as you read.
Joseph Henry Thompson (pictured below, left) was born in June 1925 in Birmingham, England. The eldest of 4 children, and brother of my father (dad being the youngest). I never knew him and my father hardly had the time before his tragic demise post-war at 22.
Joe ‘joined up’ to the RAF, along with thousands of other young men, in 1943 at the tender age of 18. He left his widowed Mother, my Nan and 3 siblings and left for training in December, to Regent’s Park, London, which is where these letters begin.
Letter 7 – High jinx and punishing parades, 13th Jan 1944:
“Same. Tuesday, YMCA
Dear Mom and Kids,
I received (after much rigmarole) your very welcome parcel and letter. I would probably have got it on Friday or Saturday but as Sat and Sun are ‘no mail’ days it got held up. I posted that urgent appeal for ‘financial help’ on the Monday morning at 3am after coming off guard.
By the way is that 10/- a present from you or the last of mine? I’m very glad of those ‘Genasprin’ and the corn-plasters as both are very rare around here.
I had some good news this morning, that charge against me was dropped because of good conduct and a near bed space! I’ve still got to do those fatigues on Wed though!!
They’ve sent us all up the pole today, first we had drill for 2 hours then a lecture, then pay-book parade, then dinner. Straight after dinner Gas-Chamber tests at ‘Lords’ then a march back and then Kit inspection by the C.O. in person! Every single thing has to be folded in a special way and placed in a special position! This has to be done in 15 minutes, it sounds a long time I know, but when all shoes and boots have to be polished on the soles and the studs burnished and all webbing equipment taken to pieces and laid out properly it takes a lot of doing! Anyway we managed it, just about, but as soon as the officer had gone we were ordered to parade in full Kit in 10 mins!! I nearly had a pink fit! Nobody said anything and that takes some doing especially after what we’d just had. When eventually we got outside we were dismissed, the parade was cancelled! We’ve had some consolation though as we’ve been told that if we keep up to our present standard our flight will have been one of the best the station has had.
Some of the flights here have had 3 lots of C.B in 19 days. By the way, it’s pretty well definite that we’re being posted on Friday. Tell Joyce that I’ve been over a lot of London since I’ve been here, Whitehall, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly (the Nuffield Club), the new Waterloo Bridge, Harringay Ice Rink (oh Boy!) and dozens of other places, too numerous to mention.
We’re going to get a few laughs later on tonight!! One or two of us have sewn up the blankets of some of the chaps in our room and poured all their webbing and mess-tins into the bed to keep them comfortable! They might find a few springs missing out of their beds aswell!!!
Had my ‘blood group’ in my Pay-Book today, it’s 40, most of us being the same. We’ve been issued with a big lecture book here for reference later on at the I.T.W. It contains such things as Hygiene, Navigation, Elementary Flying and pages on the Mark I and II ‘Browning’ machine guns.
Everybody in our room who knows of our gag is roaring with laughter at the thought of others when they get to bed tonight! Some will get that sinking feeling when they get in bed and most of their springs are missing!!
By the way we are allowed to send a few things to the Laundry:- 1 shirt, 2 collars, 1 vest, 1 pr socks, 3 hankies, 1 towel and 1 pr shorts (pants). You should see some of the attempts at sewing, it’s just like fretwork and camouflage netting crossed with corrugated iron!
I must close now as this place is closing now and I’m stuck for words, so
With love, Joe.”
As I re-read this, my overwhelming feeling is that of instinctive motherhood – ‘I hope he’s not in trouble playing pranks.’ ‘I hope he’s looking after himself ok.’ ‘He must be exhausted, I wish I could make him a cup of tea.’ How those Mothers must have suffered during this awful time, knowing what was ahead for their young boys.
Joe’s full story is beautiful and tragic. He was our family hero. He IS our family hero. If I knew how to complete an effective RAF salute, I would salute you now, Joe. Long may your memory live in our family stories.
I hope to post a new letter from Joe’s correspondence with his Mother here every Friday until they’re done. It will be a turbulent and heart-wrenching journey. Subscribe to the Blog to make sure you don’t miss any of it.
Other posts in this series:-