An Airman to His Mother

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An Airman to His Mother - Letter Delivered Posthumously

Burra Record (SA : 1878 - 1954), Tuesday 3 September 1940, page 3
(Reprinted from the London "Times" 8/8/40).


Among the personal belongings of a young R.A.F. pilot in a Bomber Squadron, who was recently reported 'missing, believed killed.' was a letter to his mother— to be sent to her if he were killed.

'This letter was perhaps the most amazing one I have ever read simple and direct in its wording but splendid and uplifting in its outlook," says the young officers station commander.

"It was inevitable that I should read it - in fact he must have intended this, for it was left open in order that I might be certain that no prohibitive information was disclosed.

I sent the letter to the bereaved Mother, and asked her whether I might publish it anonymously, as l feel its contents may bring comfort to other mothers, and that everyone in the country may feel proud to read of the sentiments which support 'an average airman' in the execution of his present arduous duties.

I have received the mother's permission and I hope this letter may be read by the greatest possible number of our countrymen at home and abroad.

Dearest Mother

Though I feel no premonition at all, events are moving rapidly, and I have instructed that this letter be forwarded to you should I fail to return from one of the raids which we shall shortly be called upon to undertake. You must hope on for a month, but at the end of that time you must accept the fact that I handed my task over to the extremely capable hands of my comrades of the Royal Air Force, as so many splendid fellows have already done.

First, it will comfort you to know that my role in this war has been one of the greatest importance. Our patrols far out over the North Sea have helped to keep the trade routes clear for our convoys and supply ships, and one occasion our information was instrumental in saving the lives of the men in a crippled lighthouse relief ship. Though it will be difficult for you, you will disappoint me if you do not at least try to accept the facts dispassionately, for I shall have done my duty to the utmost of my ability. No man can do more, and no man calling himself a man, can do less.

I have always admired your amazing courage in the face of continual setbacks, in the way you have given me as good an education, and background as anyone in the country; and always keep up appearances without ever losing faith in the future. My death would not mean that your struggle would have been in vain. Far from it. It means that your sacrifice is as great as mine. Those who serve England must expect nothing from her; we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep.

History resounds with illustrious names who have given all, and yet their sacrifice has resulted in the British Empire, where there is a measure of peace, justice and freedom for all, and where a higher standard of civilisation and evolved, and is still evolving than anywhere else. But this is not only concerning our own land. To-day we are faced with the greatest organised challenge to Christianity and civilisation that the world has ever seen, and I count myself lucky and honoured to be the right age and fully trained to throw my full weight into the scale. For this I have to thank you. Yet there is more work for you to do. The home front will still have to stand for years after the war is won. For all that can be said against it, I still maintain that this war is a very good thing; every individual is having the chance to give and dare all for his principles like the martyrs of old. However long the time may be, one thing can never be altered — I shall have lived and died an Englishman. Nothing else matters one jot, nor can anything ever change it.

You must not grieve for me, for if you really believe in religion and all that it entails, that would be hypocrisy. I have no fear of death; only a queer elation — I would have it no other way. The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice. We are sent to this world to acquire a personality and a character to take with us that can never be taken from us. Those who just eat and sleep and prosper and procreate, are no better than animals if all their lives are at peace.

I firmly and absolutely believe that evil things are sent into the world to try us; they are sent deliberately by our Creator to test our metal, because He knows what is good for us. The Bible is full of cases where the easy way out has been discarded for moral principles.

I count myself fortunate in that I have seen the whole country and known men of every calling. But with the final test of war I consider my character fully developed. Thus at my early age my earthly mission is already fulfilled, and I am prepared to die with just one regret, and one only—that I could not devote myself to make your declining years more happy by being with you; but you will live in peace and freedom, and I shall have directly contributed to that, so here again my life will not have been in vain.

Your loving son.

Two days after the above letter was published in "The Times" the following letter was received by the Editor.

Sir - All who read it have been deeply moved by the letter of an airman, 'missing, believed killed,' which you published two days ago. This last testament of a young Briton, who has laid down his life for his country, will surely live on amongst the greatest utterances of recorded time, in its nobility, its courage, and its clarity of thought. We may not seek to know the name of the bereaved mother, who with such gracious generosity of spirit has allowed this document, precious to her, to go forth to comfort and strengthen his countrymen; but we must all pay homage to one who has clearly imbued her son with great qualities of mind and heart. She herself will draw comfort from the thought that she has given to the world a message of such rare power and beauty.

There are many like myself who, in the evening of their days find it imperative to call upon their reserves of fortitude: who wish with the strength that remains to share once again the perils and trials with which the motherland — beloved land of peace and happiness and goodwill — is confronted, but who can, perforce, do little. They know full well the bitter price of victory the heart-rending sacrifice which our youth so freely pays, and their country so sorrowfully must accept.

To such, this boy with the mind of a saint and the soul of a hero, speaks in words which have for them a poignant significance. They constitute the final and irrefutable justification of the struggle in which this nation and commonwealth are united in comradeship. They give a renewal of faith and courage. None but a noble cause could inspire so gallant a spirit. We can even bring ourselves to pity an enemy whose poverty in the realms of faith and inspiration is by contrast revealed in all its nakedness.

At this moment, when the full weight of pitiless total warfare is about to be visited upon us, we shall remember with pride and thankfulness, and emulate with all our courage this young man, who had 'no fear of death,' who will live for ever in the hearts of men.

Yours faithfully, Wakefield of Hythe

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