Yesterday morning I called in to have coffee, cheese & crackers with Dougie and Janet, and to wish Doug a belated Happy Birthday!
While we were catching up, Janet produced a folder marked “RAF”, in which she had kept a number of items relating to Doug’s air force days, and his more recent activities with the Bomber Command Assn and Ian Kuperus’s wonderful 2012 Tax Management group who travelled to London to see the BC Memorial.
Included was a set of original letters and telegrams that Doug’s parents had received when he was reported missing over Germany on the night of the 4th/5th of April 1945. They had been kept by his mother and passed down to Doug’s sister and then back to Dougie by a nephew in 2012.
Amazingly, Doug had never seen them until now.
He was aware that they been passed over but in the excitement of the London trip he hadn’t had time to sit down and read them.
They form a remarkable record of the efforts by the authorities to contact and inform the family when an airman went missing, and they are testimony to the level of administration and detail involved in this sad job. Reading them also reminds us of how the families must have dreaded the prospect of receiving this kind of news.
The first communication was a telegram from RAF Mepal, sent on the 5th of April, the same day that Doug failed to return from the Merseburg op’, addressed to his father. It must have been a terrible shock:
The letter referred to in the telegram was sent the following day, the 6th of April, by 75(NZ) Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander C.H. “Mac” Baigent DFC and Bar:
By the strangest of coincidences, I spent the rest of yesterday afternoon with W/C Mac Baigent’s daughter!!
I showed this letter to her and she asked if she could have a copy – a serious and stressful side to her father’s responsibilities as Commanding Officer that she wasn’t aware of, and one that could easily go un-appreciated. Those letters can’t have been easy to write …
The Williamson family next received a hand-written letter from the squadron’s Chaplain, Squadron Leader Reverend J.C. Harkus mid.:
Next was a letter from the Air Ministry Casualty Branch, dated the 19th of April, with some more detail about the incident:
Then, on the 24th of April, less than three weeks after he went missing, the good news was delivered – Doug was safe!
And last, and best of all for his parents, a telegram from Dougie himself:
Doug had made it safely back to England before the month ended, and even though he had only spent five nights in captivity (in a Police Station cell), was being processed as a POW, along with hundreds of others. Offered two weeks’ leave, it was suggested that he should go home and see his family, which is what he did.
They must have been very pleased to see him!
– Thanks to Doug and Janet Williamson for sharing these fascinating letters and telegrams.