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, 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, Olive (my Nan) and 3 siblings and left for training in London after Christmas. This letter is from his first posting to the Intake Training Wing (ITW) in Bridlington, just 2 weeks or so later, where he has been sent for 6 weeks of intensive, tough training.
Letter 12 – Pork Pies, Loaded Guns and ‘Dim-Wits’, 27th Jan 1944
“AC/2 THOMPSON J.H
5Flt. 96 Intake
15 I.T.W. R.A.F.
Dear Mom and Kids,
I got your parcel today. I’ve written you three letters up to now. I hope you have got them ok. Things are still about the same here, there’s a LOT to do during the day and at night (that’s when we swott up). The amount of stuff they expect you to absorb is terrific, it’s leaving a lot of the blokes behind in their course already!”
We get home at night and our minds keep repeating “Dah-Ditt-Dah”, “the square of 9 is -”, “the RAF was formed in _”, “the fire and safe mechanism is put on the right side, cocking stud on the left”, “-left wheel, quick march” and so on!!! The cram so much into us that it’s almost impossible to think straight!
On Monday we had a 5 mile RUN in the rain stripped to the waist!! It should have been 7 but it was blowing a gale which reached 50 mph that night. We got back to billets drenched then went and had a hot shower. Later on our way to tea the waves were going right over us at least 20 feet and we were on the main road. The sea was terrifying yet fascinating to watch. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. But today it was as calm as a mill-pond!!
I’ve got to go to the Dentist on Friday! By the way that cake went down alright, it saved some money too, as I didn’t have to go for supper out. Will you thank Mrs Terry for those cigarettes. I shall smoke them but I don’t buy them now so don’t you get sending any will you? I would probably smoke a lot but we just don’t get the time.
We went on the Range today and fired 10 rounds in the rifle and 24 in the .38 revolver. They will give us a lot on the revolver so as to get used to it. A bloke gave me a revolver to unload, (he said he couldn’t do it), I asked him if he’d emptied the chamber of live ammo and he said he had. So I ‘broke’ it and found a live round up the spout!! If I’d picked up the gun in a careless way I would have got one in the leg when I emptied the spent shells out. That shows you what dim wits there are. I’ve just been told that I was 3rd in points on the rifle.
By the way the food here is still jolly good, we had real egg and bacon for breakfast on Sunday, roast beef, cabbage and roast spuds for din’ with stewed apple and custard to follow, and for tea we had half of a pork pie with beetroot and spuds. We get a darn good hunk of butter for tea and breakfast, with cake and jam or treacle with our tea every day! The only trouble is, no supper and the sea breeze gives a hell of an appetite.
Before dinner on Monday I got a letter from Stan which he’d sent to London from Northfield, so Lord knows how long it’s been on the way. Anyway I’ve answered it.
I’ve got a cold in my eyes and they’re giving me hell. They keep getting covered with matter, and it prevents me from seeing. I’m going to report sick in the morning if they don’t stop paining.
We’ve had our Battle dress today, they look very smart and are comfortable to wear as well.
We ‘earholed’ a grocer today and got some wood for a fire so I’ll finish now and go to the billet.
Cheerio. Love to you all, Joe. xxxx
P.S. Excuse the pencil, my pen has ‘gone’.
P.P.S. I hope I’ve not been too long-winded. Let me know!”
What a proud Mother my Nan must have been. Joe is such a level-headed boy, and so thoughtful for his Mum. He writes several times a week and makes sure he does not place demands upon her unnecessarily. What a long way from some of the teenage boys of 2012!!! I feel her pride, tinged with my own melancholy (the hindsight which I possess about Joe’s future was thankfully not present for Olive……)
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:-