Joe’s Letters, WWII: “The Coal Heaving Incident”

family storiesI’m considering the possibility of writing a book about Joe and his time with Bomber Command. I’d love to hear your feedback about this. Please use the comments box to give me your thoughts. Novel, or non-fiction? Do you think it would make a good read?

A bit of background for newcomers

Joe (aka ‘Mac’ to his RAF comrades) was my Uncle, but we never met. His precious letters have come into my possession some near-70 years after they were written. It is my honour to transcribe them, and the poignancy of hindsight about what happened to Joe makes this all the more difficult to write, but all the more important that I do. One letter will be posted to this Blog each and every Friday.

Please see below for a link to Joe’s full story and the other letters in this series so far.

In this letter, Joe has recently arrived at Stranraer in Scotland, where his Air Gunnery School (phase 4 of his training) will commence. There is no envelope with this letter, so I have done my best to index it chronologically, but have no exact date for it.

Letter 28 – approx. 12th April 1944

family storiesfamily storiesLetter transcript:

“Same place. 

Dear Mom and Kids,

I am writing this immediately after phoning you. The operator cut us off and I had such a lot to say too! This time I am making sure that the P.O. is in the envelope!

You did sound poorly over the phone, have you been ill or anything lately? If so let me know as your voice had me scared stiff. Even Joe Lee said you didn’t sound as if you were well. Don’t worry about me as I’m alright, but I know what you are for worrying when any of us are away. Keep that chin up!

I had a nice shock this morning! The Corporal came in and grabbed 5 or 6 of us as ‘volunteers’ for some coal heavin’! Joe Lee was laughing his ‘ead off until the Cpl said that he could come along too if he ‘wanted’ to! We had to load up a lorry six times with bags of coke, then twice with bags of coal! After we’d been and delivered that lot we were put on filling up the bags for a change! Poor old Joe Lee had a face a mile from eyebrow to jaw! 

I’m afraid there’s not much more to scribble about now. I’ll be ringing you up again tomorrow so toodle-oo for now.

Love to you all.

Joe xxxx”

I have no way of knowing whether there was anything significant about Olive’s mystery illness, since the letters which she wrote back during this period have been lost. Joe certainly sounds worried about his Mum, though. It’s great to see that such high spirits prevail and I love the little diagram which Joe has made about the coal carrying!!!

family stories, josephJoe’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.

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Other posts in this series:-

Letter 1 – 29 December 1943, arriving at Recruit Camp

Letter 2 – 31 December 1943, settling in

Letter 3 – 5th January 1944, confined to Barracks!

Letter 4 – 8th January 1944, meeting a boxing champ

Letter 5 – 10th January 1944, theft and wrongful punishment

Letter 6 – 13th January 1944, preparing to leave basic training camp

Letter 7 – 13th January 1944, high jinx and punishing schedules

Letter 8 – 14th January 1944, posted to Bridlington

Letter 9 – 18th January 1944, arrival in ‘the dump’ for 6 weeks training

Letter 10 – 21st January 1944, an introduction to firearms

Letter 11 – 25th January 1944, a fellow cadet in killed

Letter 12 – 27th January 1944, pork pies, live rounds and dimwits

Letter 13 – 29th January 1944, 10 fillings & the Browning machine gun

Letter 14 – 31st January 1944, Don’t worry Mum

Letter 15 – 3rd February 1944, Three ‘Joes’ and top test scores

Letter 16 – 10th February 1944, Meeting ‘Monty’ & Military Secrets

Letter 17 – 15th February 1944, Clay Pigeons and Dirty Washin’

Letter 18 – 17th February 1944, 9 days til leave!

Letter 19 – 21st February 1944, A Date Planned & Condemned Billets

Letter 20 – 6th March 1944, Arrival in 2nd Camp at Bridgnorth

Letter 21 – 13th March 1944, Eatin’, Stealin’ and Flirtin’

Letter 22 – 18th March 1944, Gigalo Joe in his first gun turret

Letter 23 – 26th March 1944, Meeting a war Hero

Letter 24 – 30th March 1944, Reality Bites – A Pal is Killed

Letter 25 – March 1944, Man v the Potato Peeling Machine

Letter 26 – 6th April 1944, Passing Exams & Fending off Girls

Letter 27 – 10th April 1944, Bonnie Scotland here we come!

3 responses to “Joe’s Letters, WWII: “The Coal Heaving Incident”

  1. Pingback: Joe’s Letters, WWII: “‘Mae Wests’ & Smashin’ WAAFs” | SaveEveryStep – family stories past & present·

  2. Pingback: Joe’s Letters, WWII: “‘Bad rain stops play” | SaveEveryStep – family stories past & present·

  3. Pingback: Joe’s Letters, WWII: “Oops. Runaway Guns!” | SaveEveryStep – family stories past & present·

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