Family Magazine

Joe’s Letters, WWII: “Marching Around a Dump”

By Saveeverystep @saveeverystep

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A bit of background for newcomers

Joe (aka ‘Mac’ to his RAF comrades) 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 honor 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 until they are done.

Please see below for a link to Joe’s full story and the other letters in this series so far.

In this letter, Joe is several months into his RAF experiences and has just moved to RAF Stradishall in Suffolk, as part of the crew’s final stretch of training before active operations begin.

Letter 57 – 4th September 1944

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Letter transcript:

“3050664 Sgt Thompson

c/o Sgts Mess

RAF Station


Nr Newmarket



Hello Mom.

Sorry I didn’t write to you yesterday, only we finished at 7.30pm and after having had tea I went to bed and had an early night for a change. 

Well, we HAVE come to a dump!! Gosh! It’s lousy! The food is terrible and the discipline (at least that’s what THEY call it) is ridiculous. We have to march in squads everywhere. As most of the blokes had bikes, we thought there would be the same arrangement as at Barford and Heyford. But no! We must march round and can only use the bikes after 6 o’clock each evening.

The nearest town is Haverhill which is about 5 miles by road. We can get a bus each night at 6 if we are lucky but that comes back at 9.30pm. So altogether this is a pretty grim place. There are lots of other petty things to make life uncomfortable besides but I’m not going to bore you with my ‘cribs’.

So far the lectures we’ve had here are alright but that  isn’t everything. We are due for a day off next sat (if we’re ‘good’). I don’t think I shall try to come home as the trains are so few and far between. I would have to go from Haverhill to Cambridge then to Oxford and then, after God knows how long, get to B’ham. My only chance would be in my being able to get to Leicester but up to now I can’t get any information on that. SHOULD there be a possibility of getting home, I’ll come, but you see what the situation is.

I don’t believe I told you in my note the other day but we are here for a fortnight and then go to a pukka ‘Conversion Unit (heavy)’. We will be there about a month and after that should get leave, after which we go to a “Lancaster Finishing School”. If you ask me it’s a good job we’re only here for the two weeks. This place would drive anybody nuts.

Well now I’ve got some of it off my chest I’ll ask how you and the nibs are? OK I hope. I never realised until going back to Heyford after leave that I never went to see Gran at all. I think I’d better write to her. I don’t suppose you will have gotten my new address until Monday so that means it will be Wednesday before I hear from you. It seems months to me since I last had a letter!

Well, here’s to the next time. Goodnight and God bless. Keep smiling; I am.

Lots of love Joe xxxx

x one for luck

P.S. Envelopes?! No stationery sold in our Mess

Marching and more marching. He’s not a happy boy with Stradishall is he? Bring on the next move!

family stories, joseph

To read more about Joe’s letters please follow this link. There you will find the full selection of letters to date, as well as more information about his fascinating yet ultimately tragic story.

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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Tagged: 1940s, Birmingham, family, genealogy, history, Joe, lancaster bomber, letters, memories, nostalgia, Royal Air Force, stories, World War II, writing home

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