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, right) 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 London after Christmas. This letter marks his arrival at the Intake Training Wing (ITW) in Bridlington, just 2 weeks or so later.
“3050664 AC/2 THOMPSON
5Flt. 96 Intake
15 I.T.W. R.A.F.
Dear Mom and Kids,
Well, I’m just beginning to settle down to the hectic daily routine of this one-eyed-dump! Already we’ve had 6 lectures and numerous others of practical instruction. The only trouble is, as soon as we finish off one lecture we march, full-pelt to another at the other end of the town!
We’ve had shooting clay pigeons (which is damned hard), instruction on the Browning .303 machine gun, Gas Lectures, Maths, Aircraft Recognitino, Morse code and (too much?) P.T. on the sands, in the rain. I’ve got a lousy cold and a bark to go with it.
By the way, can you send my ‘ABC of the RAF ‘(the new one), and the two small ‘Saville and Sneathe aircraft recognition’ books, the ones with the orange covers. My pyjamas would be useful too, as it’s very cold in the attic at night especially as this place seems to have fog ‘laid on’ Hot and Cold!
We’ve got a four hours Lecture of the ‘Sten’ gun, the .303 rifle, the .3 rifle, the ‘Swift’ training rifle, and the .38 revolver. The day after we get some practice on the range with the .22 rifle! By the way we will get issued the “.38″ when we get to a station. They give us firing practice with all those firearms at this Wing and at every other aswell! Some of our blokes have chucked the course already as they cannot stand the pace.
The ‘Daily Routine Orders’ say that we get a Maths lecture at 8am on Friday. The Sergeant told us today that we will only be paid a weeks money on Friday and we’ll get the 2 weeks money the next week. By the time I’ve settled up I’ll be skint again! By the way that’s not a hint!!
During the next few days we’ll get lectures on ‘Hygiene’, ‘Law and Administration’ of the RAF, (that’s for when we’re Sergeants!) and Ground defence at night and day! We get examinations in all of the subjects I’ve mentioned! In the Ground defence course we are taught such things as the sound of a rifle magazine being unloaded, which is useful when catching an enemy off his guard at night! Yessir, they’re through alright!!!
I must finish now as my mate and I are going downstairs to one of the other’s rooms to try and pinch their precious coal!!
Love to all, Joe xxxx
P.S. How are you off for sweets?!!”
I always find myself reading these letters from the perspective of Joe’s mother. I wonder whether she was reading between the lines here… is Joe seeing this as a great adventure? He is, after all, just an 18 year old boy, learning to ‘play’ with guns, and he certainly sounds excited by the prospects ahead…..Perhaps the reality of it all has not yet kicked in. If either of them had known his fate, I suspect this period would have taken on a deeper significance.
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:-