Joe’s Letters, WWII: “Funeral Duties”

family stories

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 until they are done.

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

At the time of this letter, he is several months into his RAF experiences and is now at RAF Wratting Common in Cambridgeshire, as part of the crew’s final stretch of training before active operations begin.

Letter 68; 5th October 1944

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Letter transcript:

“Wednesday 7.12

On the train, leaving for London.

Hello Mom,

How are you feeling Mom? OK? I hope so. I’ll bet you’re wondering what that bit I’ve put at the top is all about eh? Well I will try and explain. I got back to WW and the camp at 7.30 last night ok. I travelled with Ivor to London and then we met Alec our Navigator. I was glad of the company I can tell you! Anyway, this morning we all met and fund that Bill our BA is ill at ome and will be so for a MONTH yet. That means we have lost one of our best pals. We will have to have another BA and carry on with the course. We know the name of the new bloke, it is Boot. He’s a Sgt. As you can imagine we are all very sorry to lose Bill, not only as a friend but as a good Bomb Aimer too.

Now I will try to explain how I come to be on a train again! On Sat the 30th Sept a Stirling crashed soon after take off and all except one of the crew were killed. I and the skipper, Ivor and Tom the Engineer are going out to different parts of England to represent 1651 Sqdn at the funerals of the various members of the later crew.

By the greatest of luck, I’m going to Liverpool. That is where the one fellow lives. The skipper is going to Swansea to the Navigator’s funeral and Ivor is going to Cardiff to the Mid-Upper’s home. Tom is going to a place in Northern Yorkshire. The poor devil I’m going to is a rear gunner who lives as I said, in Liverpool. I’m not sure where I’m going to stay yet but as I’ve got ration coupons I may go to Jean’s and follow up Mrs P’s invitation to come whenever I like. I have a feeling you won’t agree on that point but I’m pretty sure I can stay.

I have a lot to do at this funeral which I shall tell you about in time. I’m carrying a letter for the chap’s father, given to me by the C.O. of our station. There are a lot of other details which I can’t write about now. Frankly I don’t feel very keen on the job but I’m to obey orders I suppose, much as I dislike to. I do not even know the chap so you can imagine how I feel.

I will be able to claim for a subsistance allowance when I get back which will be on Sat. I shall sting the RAF for a tidy bit and no fooling.

I am now on my way to London and will have to travel over night. I may get to Liverpool at 4AM! As you know me as noone else, you will know how that goes down with me. But as the Adjutant said to us, “someone has to do the job” and as that is us — well.

I am finding this quite a job to write as the train is lurching all over the show. The skipper is by me trying to write to his fiancee and is swearing something awful at each jolt.

I must close now but will write again from Liverpool if I get a chance. Send your reply to this to Wratting Common. Well cheerio Mom and get better.

God bless,

Love Joe xxxx”  

So, young Joe is on his way to another funeral. This time, for someone he doesn’t even know, to represent the formal Squadron. He sounds less than thrilled about these duties, but we have to remember that he’s a very young man, and reading between the lines, maybe feeling a little bit ‘it will happen to the other guy, but it won’t happen to me’?

At least he has the prospect of a stay with Jean to soften the blow.  More on this funeral in later letters – it proves to be far more of a significant event for Joe than he realises at this point.

family stories, joseph

To read more about Joe’s letters please follow this link. There you will find the full selection of letters to date, as well as more information about his fascinating yet ultimately tragic story.

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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