RAF Bomber Command - Writing Letters to Next of Kin
Only once do I recall my father getting worked up about his time with the RAF. It must have been in the 1970s sometime, and we were watching some television programme about valuing antiques and collectors items or some such. One member of the public had brought in letters relating to the wartime RAF.
The expert, who was quite young, picked out a few with famous names – they had a letter from Guy Gibson of Dambusters fame I recall – and valued them, then airily waved the rest aside. He said, quite confidently, that many of the letters were not really written by the men whose signatures they carried. He picked one up. “These letters to next of kin about men who were killed or missing,” he said. “They are just standard form letters run up by a secretary or clerk. The squadron leaders never wrote these themselves.”
My father was furious. I don’t think I ever saw him so angry. After ranting at the screen for a few moments, he turned to me.
“Now listen to me,” he said. “That man is talking rubbish. He thinks he is being clever, but he is insulting the memory of my friends who died for this country. I’m going to tell you what really happened because I was there and I saw it. My squadron leaders (I think father served under two, the first being shot down) always wrote these letters themselves. They wouldn’t let anyone else near them. They said that it was the very least that they could do for the poor men who had been killed or were missing – write a personal letter to the relatives telling them what had happened and saying something about how their boy had behaved at the squadron.”
My father lent forward in his chair.
“I recall one raid that went very badly wrong in 1940 when our squadron was out bombing the invasion barges. We lost a lot of aircraft and a lot of men. An hour or two after the survivors got back, I had to take a note about something to the CO. I knocked on the door, but there was no reply. I thought he must be out of his office, so I went in to leave the note on his desk. But he was not out. He was there all right – slumped over the desk in tears writing those letters to next of kin.”
He flicked an angry glance at the television. “And that young fool says they were form letters”. My father glared at the screen for a second or two, then said “All those young men. Those poor young men.” Abruptly he got up and left the room. I think he did not want me to see him cry.
from Heroes of RAF Bomber Command in Lincolnshire by Rupert Matthews