In addition to the usual chit chat about family members and friends, there are a number of interesting things that come up in Hedley’s letters; I found that some are common themes in letters written during war time.
The families back home would be concerned about the health and safety of their loved ones. On May 8, 1944, Hedley wrote, ” … the Carslakes, with whom we stayed, were very nice and want us to come back again. I believe Mrs. Carslake is going to write to you, mom, to let you know just how I looked etc. ” Then on June 27th, ” You know, you needn’t worry about my safety – not for a long while yet. My training is not finished yet. ”
Those spending time in London would write about air raids. On April 26, 1944, Hedley wrote, ” We have had several ‘ nuisance ‘ raids at night here so far. Last night the alarm went twice but only a few bombs were dropped before they were driven away by fighters, and ack-ack batteries. ” In his July 18th letter, Hedley wrote, ” The buzz-bombs were a bit of a nuisance but I did not go to the shelter during any of the raids (very few people do). The buzz-bombs have a new trick now – one passed overhead at 1000 feet or so, continued on 1/2 mile, and then started to turn in a half-circle. Luckily it crashed in before coming back very far – windows were smashed in the house next door tho! ”
The servicemen often asked for favourite and familiar items to be sent from home. Hedley was no different. His list included ” shaving cream, tooth-paste, and black socks and ties once in a while. A box of ice-cream would be most welcome too! The nearest I’ve had of ice-cream was some home-made concoction made for us when we were on leave in Sevenoaks. ”
Of course, many of those signing on with the Air Force wanted to fly! Often, the process took quite a long period of time. This was the case for Hedley. In his letter of April 26, 1944, he wrote, ” … I’ll likely put in time doing physical training, attending lectures etc. until they have an opening for me. By the way, I’ll not be on fighters – it seems that they have plenty of them now; so I’ll be taking a conversion course to the next best thing, the light bombers. ” Then on June 14th, ” I’m having a rather boring time of it right now… I put in the time as well as I can. Yesterday I was ‘ joe’d ‘ for Orderly Officer for the day… ” On July 5th, ” As you know I am supposed to be an instructor sometime in the near future. Of course, I’m not altogether happy about the whole thing but I guess it’s for the best anyway … I suppose I could … take a training for 4-engined bombers but I really don’t think I would like chauffering those big planes around. Rather be on my own so I wouldn’t have to worry about my crew in case of emergency. ” By August 17th, he was ” in the middle of a course now and flying every day weather permitting. The aircraft I fly is a nice kite and pretty trustworthy if handled intelligently… ” About a month later, Hedley informs his parents, ” … the Flight Commander came in and told me there was a place for me if I wanted it and so I went up for an hour and a half doing aerobatics most of the time. There was a bit of haze near the ground but I found it quite clear and smooth at a high height. I’m trying to get as much time as possible on aerobatics ’cause it seems that I shall not be going to instructors school after all … I shall probably be sent to O.T.H. … is an operational training unit and if the rumour that New Canadian Squadrons are being formed is true, we’ll likely be in them … ”
One of the letters in the collection is a personal response to Mr. and Mrs. Hedley, following the death of Lloyd. Written by Ione Jones, who lost her husband, “… How much we have in common at the present moment! And yet even we can’t think of something to say to one another. But how many of the feelings we have shared lately. People have been so good to me, and I know they have been to you too. They mean well with their sympathy and what they say when they tell us they understand. But they really don’t. Death in war is so very hard to bear – no-one understands, even the loved ones left behind. If it was the case of the boys having lived their lives, we could understand better, but it seems so unfair for the finest specimens of manhood to be taken without a chance to ever find even half a lifetime of happiness. War isn’t fair, and I find it very hard to believe it “is God’s Will” that they have been taken. I realize I am young and probably that accounts for the bitterness and hatred which the scar has left. I have done no suffering, it is my husband and your son and millions of other boys that have had to see the horrors and also had to bear the suffering. I should not complain but the feeling is an empty one, being left. But Mr. and Mrs. Hedley as hard as it is for me to express my feelings for your loss and sorrow, believe me I understand. ”
What did I learn from the letters? First, I found it interesting that Hedley wrote about wanting to be on his own rather than worrying about his crew in an emergency ~ that he was actually on his own when the emergency came gave me pause… Second, I gave a great deal of thought to Ione Jones’ letter ~ though written about loss during war time, I think that her words have impact on those of us who have lost friends and family under any circumstances. We struggle for the right words. We sometimes say or hear, ” I understand. ” However, each relationship is unique, each loss is unique, and perhaps there are times when we don’t really understand… So the letters gave me insights into Hedley’s life and times, but also challenged me to think, not only about the past, but also about the present.
Once again, I’d like to personally thank the donor of the letters. Sharing them with all of us was a very special gift!