Joe's Letters from WWII: Ten Fillings and the Browning Machine Gun

29/04/2012 20:07 BST | Updated 27/06/2012 10:12 BST

A bit of background

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, here) 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, Olive (my Nan) and 3 siblings and left for training in London after Christmas. This letter is from his first posting to the Intake Training Wing (ITW) in Bridlington, just 2 weeks or so later, where he has been sent for 6 weeks of intensive, tough training.

Letter 12 - 29th Jan 1944.....Letter transcript:

"Same Place, Friday Night.

Dear Mom and Kids,

I received your parcel today and it has relieved me a great deal as I thought there may have been something wrong at home. I've only received the two letters enclosed in the parcel and I've been wondering whether you've written others that I've not yet received. I'm very grateful for the second cake which, although it's been knocked about a bit, it will fill a gap after tea for many a night. I'm glad of the books as well, as 'Aircraft Recognition' is a very important subject here (an Air Gunner CANNOT make a mistake) and if I fail in it I have to have the whole course over again.

EVERYONE in the Billet is envious of my pyjamas! By the way the 'Allowance' people HAVE got a cheek, they must think you can live on fresh air. Let me know what happens and if its possible I'll see the C.O. about the claim if you don't get a suitable reply. I see also by your letter that I've not told you about the Laundry here. We are allowed to have some washing sent every week and it's paid for by the RAF. That's about the only thing you get for nothing'!

I have enquired about photos and I will get some done next (pay?) day! There's only one shop down here that does 'em and that's rather posh!

Tell Joyce* that I've not even heard the news on the radio since I joined this mob! Blimey, it will be a treat to listen to 'Poe' music when I get home! Also tell Brian* that I've only been to the Pictures once since I left home, it's too expensive even at a 'bob' a time!

The course now is getting to an unimaginable pitch! They work and lecture us at such speed and intensity that we don't rest properly even after we finish for the day!! At night we sit up writing out lectures and doing 'homework'! I'm having to write this letter at top speed! The Browning machine gun is the bug-bear, I never knew that such a small thing could contain so many small things in such a small space, each doing 'umpteen' small things!!! If, a few months ago, someone told me the names of al few parts of the Browning, I would have goggled at him in sheer admiration!! But now I feel that I could talk all day on the darn thing and I'm only 1/3 of the way through the course!

I believe I told you in my last letter that I've got to have some of my teeth filled today. Well the dentist told me that I've got to have 10 fillings! I had one today! The fillings are a very expensive type, they will not pain at the cold at high flying altitudes. He puts in a 'lining' first and then the metal. He also told me that when all of the ten have been filled, the cost will be £6!! *(I don't pay!) I go again to the 'torture chamber' next Wednesday!

In your letter you spoke of the discomforts of this dump. Well, three blokes in the ground floor had the greater part of the laths and plaster fall on them when someone in the room above started to chop some wood!! "Home sweet home!"

Let me know when and how Den* gets on when he starts work. He'll be the first 'wallpaper basher' in the ancestral line! Stop me, what a come-down!! While I remember, did Bri write that letter himself, if he did, "well done mate!" Ask Dennis if he can still write!

This morning, by the way, we had our 'Gas Warfare' examination. I'll let you know how I got on. The greatest of importance is attached to Dinghy Drill and other aspects of Air-Sea rescue at this and all other stations*. We get a pile of lectures and practice - practice - practice. That is the main reason why so much fuss is attached to our health and physical fitness. We MUST (so they tell us) be hardened to stand any extra physical and mental strain as in the case of a 'ditched' pilot and crew. We get P.T. every day! If the weather is fine we hae (22 a side!) football on the sands! It's darned good fun!

I must finish now and it's about time too! Some of that cake will go down nice with some NAAFI coffee! So, good night and God Bless,

Love to you all, Joe. xxxx

P.S. I've 'found' a pen or have you noticed!!"

*Joyce is Joe's little sister, and the only girl of 4 children

*Brian is my Dad, the youngest of the 4 kids

*Den is Dennis, the second eldest son

*£6 in 1944 would be approx. £215 today!

*Joe will end up being shot down into the sea on his inaugural operation, so, although he doesn't know it yet, this will be of serious value to him in the near future

It is strange reading a letter that was written when my Father was just a small boy of 9 years old, referring to his writing skills. Hard to imagine a vulnerable little brother, being addressed in such a loving and 'matey' fashion by his grown, older sibling, who must have appeared such a man, such a hero to them all.

Sadly, the letters to which Joe refers, from his Mother and siblings, have been lost over the years for this particular period, although I do have many for later, which I shall introduce to this series in chronological order as they appear. They serve only to enrich the conversation and give us some insight into both Olive's mindset and the family cirumstances, struggling to survive alone during the war, with her 3 youngest children.

You can find other letters from WWII with a different slant, at the marvellous where life in the US Army can be compared with my Uncles British RAF experiences at the same time period in our history.

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:-

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 'dim wits'