Joe’s Letters, WWII: “Man vs the Potato Peeling Machine”

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 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 still stationed in Bridgnorth, Shropshire where he is in the Air Gunnery School.

Letter 25 – March 1944

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Letter transcript:

“3050664 Thompson AC/2

5 Flight A Squadron

44 Course No1 EAGS

RAF Station



Weds night.

Dear Mom and Kids,

Sorry about the delay between letters but I get a chance to write about 1 letter a night as we get a hell of a lot of fatigues and hardly any spare time. Things will get a little better soon when we are accustomed to the routine of this camp.

Well, we’re all cheesed off as you can guess, what with the rotten food, 5 mile route marches and 7.30am parades. Things are a bit of a bind but when we get a leisure hour we appreciate it the more. Today we took our flying kit to the Stores and had a reissue. We now have:- 1 electrically heated, outer flying suit, 1 inner, quilted, silk covered suit, 4 pairs of gloves (chamois, wool, silk and leather gauntlets), 1 leather helmet, 1 pair of suede, fleece-lined flying boots, 1 pair of goggles with tropical lenses as well, 1 oxygen mask, 2 pairs of socks to put in flying boots, 2 pairs of woollen long socks! That lot fills a Kit Bag the same as before but it’s heavier. When we get to A.G.S (Air Gunnery School) we get another Kit bag full! At this place we get instruction on how to wear the stuff to our advantage.

Tonight we had some cook house fatigues which are, strangely enough, very popular! I came away with 10 sausages, 15 slices od bread, 1/2 lb of margarine, a piece of cheese and some tea in a billy-can! Hald of our room have been flogging / selling their goods all night including me! Some get away with loaves, rashers of bacon (fried), tins of evaporated milk and Lord knows what! It’s about the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been at this dump!

Last night I was assigned to Camp Fire Patrol with 24 others. We were supposed to be on all night but as soon as we got in the room the Corporal told us to ‘Scram’ in no uncertain terms! That’s the type of guard I like!

While in the cookhouse, my mate Joe Lyons and I were on a spud peeling machine. The spuds are put in a revolving drum with lots of little things like combs inside, with water in jets at both ends. Well we put 1cwt of spuds in, left ’em for 10 mins, took ’em out and they were OK! We then had a Cpl tell us off because we didn’t take out the eyes! The next cwt went in for 20 minutes! When the trap at the bottom is opened they shoot out like a machine gun. Well, when. at the end of 20 mins we open the trap, about 20 white peas trickled out!! Blimey, I roared! The Corporal was peeved because a cwt of spuds had gone swanny but he didn’t seem unduly worried about it! If Joe and I were left alone for long around here we’d wreck the joint!!!

Joe by the way comes from Liverpool, he’s one of the original set of 6 Joes from London, we’ve been knocking about together since we joined and as you can imagine he’s a bit of a lad!

By the way, I may leave here in 4 weeks instead of 6, but if not, there’s a chance that I’ll get 36 hrs pass in about a month, I hope!

I had a smashing letter from Marie today, I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it! Our Flight Officer D.F.M & Bar D.G.M was in our room today, and like all good(?) airmen, we stood to attention! He promptly told us not to ‘act the goat’!?! He doesn’t care a damn for rigmarole, all he wants to get, is better conditions in the Station and better food, so he says. I hope he means it!

Well I’ll pipe down and fry a few sausages and some bacon for my supper then ‘op it to bed!

Please send me some hankies as soon as possible as I haven’t got any. I’ve written to Aunt ‘Em, but haven’t had any mail from you up to now, it should be here tomorrow though.

Cheerio x God Bless,

Joe. xxxx

P.S. Oh boy, fried bacon!!

P.P.S. Hope you can read this, ‘cos I can’t!”

Joe is back in high spirits again. The girls are still writing to him (!) and he’s baffled by the amount of Kit he will have to manage. I’m doubting whether a career as a potato peeler is on his mind…..!

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

10 responses to “Joe’s Letters, WWII: “Man vs the Potato Peeling Machine”

  1. When my dad was in the air force, he had to peel the potatoes by hand. I imagine that machine didn’t work very well anyways, or they would have kept it around! Poor Joe! It sucks the conditions they lived in sometimes.

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