Joe’s Letters, WWII: “Reality Bites: A Pal is Killed”

family stories There has been a wonderful turn of events this week. After last week’s letter, in which Joe talked about his Gunnery instructor and flying ‘ace’ Norman Williams, I was put in touch with Norman’s family. Amazing! His son and I have been emailing. He was touched to read Joe’s description of his father, who by all accounts was a truly courageous and fascinating man. It has been a humbling and heart-warming experience to ‘meet’ someone whose father had such close connections with Joe, and could add a further depth to my understanding of Joe’s story.

A bit of background for newcomers Joe 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 today’s letter, Joe is at his new barracks/station in Bridgnorth, Shropshire (much closer to home!)

Letter 24 – March 30th 1944

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Letter transcript:



Dear Mom and Kids,

I got your parcel on Monday and was VERY glad of it as I was ‘skint’ and it filled up the gap at night when I usually go to the NAAFI!

I read that letter from Mrs Clarke and I can honestly say that I was shocked beyond speech. It seems as if I only saw him yesterday. He was one of the best guys one could meet, a bit on the wild side but a decent chap all the same. I wrote a letter to his Mom during a break period yesterday. I must write to Stan too but I don’t know what to say to him. He must be feeling awful. I have promised to go to see Mrs Clarke and family as soon as I get a chance. I only ever saw Sid’s wife once but I found her very pleasant to talk to. I saw his baby two or three times, (a little girl named Anne). I wonder how Elsie feels, as she and Sid always stuck together a lot. I think it’s the rottenest luck.  When Sid and Stan were together they were always talking of the things they would do after the war in Canada. All their plans have gone in a puff now. Since I read that letter I’ve felt rotten all over. It will soon be April 21st won’t it?

By the way, about leave, there’s just a chance (and only a chance) that I’ll be home this weekend, probably Sat night. I’ll try to ring you up before hand and let you know for certain. I may bring Joe Lee but I’ll wait for your approval first!

When we have finished our exams we have arranged a bit of a ‘do’ at one of the 57 pubs in Bridgnorth. We have invited “Frosty” our Sgt A.G. Instructor to the affair. He’s one of the best and he’s taught us plenty.

I had a nice letter from Aunt Em and co today with a 5/- P.O. inside as usual, I really can’t thank her enough.

Well, I must finish now as I’ve got some swotting to do on Pyrotechnics damn ’em. Please excuse the busy scrawl.


Love Joe xxxx

P.S. Envelopes? I scrounged this one off Joe Lee

P.P.S. Good luck Den!

Please send me those two photos of Sid and Stan if you can find them”

There is a new tone to this letter. Clearly Joe has heard some tragic news and a pal has been lost. Perhaps the realisation of war is hitting. This is not an adventure, it is training to kill and to potentially be killed. I can feel Joe’s grief with every word.
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

13 responses to “Joe’s Letters, WWII: “Reality Bites: A Pal is Killed”

  1. Isn’t it a great feeling? I have been able to find several families of the men Dad served with. I found a D-Day roster and have found 36 of those men on Find a Grave. I left notes on each of their memorial pages and I have been in touch with about 7 families. It is like the are my family. Now I am trying to find the men Dad speaks about in his letters. Awesome!

    • Oh that’s wonderful! I really need to find out how to do all this stuff. Bit of a novice. I’d really love to find his actual crew members/ families. Is there a start point you’d recommend?

      • Since we are in the US I am not sure about how the RAF was run. Do you have his service record or such that tells you what division he was with? I searched by my fathers regiment number and eventually found someone who was kind enough to find me a roster (names of the men) who Dad served with. From there I found as many as I could on “Find a Grave” (not sure if they are international or not and maybe you might have something similar) It was there where I found some of the men and left messages on their memorial pages. If it were not for The internet, 134th QM Div and Find a Grave I would have found no one. ( I hope this helps. You may also ask the family you found if they have any records. I got a lot of information from the families once I found them.

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