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Letters Home from WWII—Letter 1: Dec 29, 1943

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I have been working up to writing this long series of transcribed letters for some time. It is to be an emotional journey, revisiting these stories once again. I hope you will enjoy them, and think of your family as you read.

Joseph Henry Thompson was born in June 1925. He was my Uncle, though I never knew him. The eldest of 4 children, and brother of my father (dad being the youngest).
He was born in Birmingham, England’s second largest city, in a relatively poor neighborhood. His father had died in 1941, leaving his Mother a widow and WWII raging.
Joe ‘joined up’, along with thousands of other young men, in 1943 at the tender age of eighteen. The RAF was his chosen destination, and he said goodbye to his family and left for training in December, which is where these letters begin.

Joe arrived at the Air Crew Receiving Centre in Regent’s Park, London, to commence basic training.  It seems clear that the excitement quickly turned to reality once the physical challenges of the training ahead became apparent.

Letter transcript:

“Dear Mom and Kids, 

I got here ok at about three o’clock on Monday.

You must excuse my writing as I’ve first had two of those injections and may have another tomorrow or soon after. The ones I’ve had up to now have made us all feel groggy and our left and right muscles painful and stiff. 

We’ve had all our kit – tunic, cap “with white piece in front”, trousers, great-coat, kit-bag, all webbing (twelve pieces), mess tin, water bottle, gas capes, gas mask, first aid pack, tin hat and net, shaving brush, boot and brass brushes, ‘house-wife’, knife, spoon, fork, one pair of boots, one pair of shoes, one pair of pumps, two pairs of gym shorts and some vests, two ordinary vests, two pairs of Aertex pants, pullover, scarf, four pairs socks, three shirts, six collars, tie, one rain-cape-cum-ground-sheet, and lots more odds and ends. We had to march TWO miles with that lot at 140 paces per minute!

The grub is a bit rough but it’s all right. We’re in some very ‘posh’ flats in Maida Vale. There are ELEVEN blokes in our room and they’re all pretty decent fellas. We have arranged a rota for cleaning the room out. We scrubbed the floor and cleaned the windows today! I must pause now to go on parade … and to continue …

We’ve just had our swimming test also a blood-goading Parade. Blimey, my head aches! It’s those injections!

We’ve been told we’ll be here nighteendays or so and then we may be posted to Whitny Bay or some other place I can’t name. We’ve got another injection next week. By the way, I’ve just had a vaccination with the rest. Feel B——— awful!

The tailor is coming tomorrow to check out clothes. We parade each day at 5.30 a.m. and get to bed at 10 p.m. if we’re lucky!

Must leave now.

All my love, 

Joe”

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.

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