Lest we forget: “Your uncle Bernard is missing…”

Bernard 1 smlOne morning, a few weeks ago, I decided to sort out some of my ‘paper piles’ – ALL writers must, surely, have them – and every now and again, they grow out of proportion Anyway, several old letters had strayed into the mini mountain and one was from my Uncle Bernard, written to one of his four brothers, way back in 1941. He was in The Royal Air Force, and wrote how peaceful things were and said they had just been on “Plane diving practice – I wondered what it would be like to go right down to the sea bed.” Prophetic words as it came to pass, as the Blenheim plane he was later in, accompanied by three other airmen, was – not much later – lost at sea.

Coincidentally, later that same, recent day, my brother Bryan, in the UK, telephoned me about a letter he had received from a gentleman in Holland, politely enquiring about “Bernard Mansfield, whose body was washed onto Dutch soil in 1941.” With tears running down my cheeks, I was gobsmacked. That was eight decades ago!

It is not difficult to mentally travel back to meaningful moments in our lives, and – on talking to my brother – I was immediately transported back to the living-room of the house built into the side of Mountain Hare in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, to which I was evacuated in WW11. The fire was crackling in the black-leaded hearth and my mother was weeping. I asked her what was wrong and she said “Your Uncle Bernard is missing…” and wept more tears. I soon joined her, and wet my pillow too that night.At 22, Bernard was the youngest son of my Grandma Rose and Grandad Charles, and much quieter than his four, more gregarious brothers, of whom my Dad, was eldest. A tall, shy, blonde, Nordic-looking man, Bernard spent many leisure hours making model aeroplanes and hooking rugs, and it was said that he had his eyes on a neighbour’s pretty daughter named Biddy.

Despite him being reported missing, Grandma had a cake made for Bernard’s birthday due in the August, and kept it in a tin, but its candles were never lit, or the cake eaten, as he was later reported “Missing, presumed killed.” Gran never wore black in mourning for her son, as she firmly believed he had somehow survived.

Mum & Bernard smlFast forwarding to the year after the war ended, 1946, saw me, accompanied by my Godmother, Aunt Doris, Dad’s youngest sister, on my first trip abroad, namely Merville in France. We were on a visit to Clemence, a friend Dad made, having been billeted near her café/farm-house during the war. She kindly sent us food parcels when the war ended. We received the warmest welcome and I had my first glass of wine, hic – nothing unusual for a 14 year old in France apparently…

The next day saw us painfully pedalling over heavily cobbled roads on borrowed bikes to the local cemetery, where my aunt made enquiries as to the resting places of unknown servicemen. All, it seemed had been identified, and I recall shedding tears at the thought of my poor uncle’s body floating in the channel.

Whoever could have imagined receiving notification, all these years later, that my dear uncle’s body had been washed onto a Dutch shore, and his memory was being honoured. It was almost unbelievable after so long, and very emotional.

My brother, Bryan and I, along with our cousin, Tony Mansfield, naturally wrote to Mr Alexander Tuinhout, who had written on behalf of the Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, and thanked him profusely for all the investigative work involved in tracing Bernard’s family members.

May all the poor souls who gave their lives so that we can live in peace, be ever remembered.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

 

29 thoughts on “Lest we forget: “Your uncle Bernard is missing…”

  1. olganm 08/03/2021 / 11:11 pm

    Thank you for sharing such an emotional moment for your family. It’s so important that their sacrifice is never forgotten.

    • joylennick 09/03/2021 / 9:52 am

      Thank you for reading about my uncle Bernard. He was such a gentle man, and when I watched with my grandma all the other young men going over the channel to fight just before the end of the war (she lived on a main road in Essex leading to the docks,) I wondered how many would return.All wars are, of course, evil and politicians often involved…xx

  2. Miriam Hurdle 08/03/2021 / 11:36 pm

    Did Mr. Alexander Tuinhout tell you what happened to your Uncle Bernard after his body was found? Was there a burial? I’m so thrilled to hear after decades and decades, your Uncle Bernard has a resting place in your family’s hearts. Thank you for sharing, Joy!

    • joylennick 09/03/2021 / 9:59 am

      Thanks for reading, Miriam. It was a bit confusing, but I believe he was put in a temporary grave and several people made more recent enquiries and realized that there were a few mysteries. They were very thorough in our ‘family search.’ I am glad my Uncle’s memory has now been honoured in a Dutch war museum. xx

      • Miriam Hurdle 09/03/2021 / 9:18 pm

        The process of identifying you Uncle and reached out to you must be thorough, Joy. How wonderful he is honored in a Dutch war museum! ❤

  3. quiall 09/03/2021 / 12:46 am

    The universe felt you needed to know. I wept for the child and for the service man. I wept for my father, who survived World War II. And I’m weeping for you. Thank you for sharing such an intimate memory.

    • joylennick 09/03/2021 / 10:04 am

      Thank you so much, Pamela, for reading and for your tears for my dear uncle. He was such a gentle man. I have now also learned his name has been recorded on a memorial roll at Runnymede, UK. x.

  4. tidalscribe 09/03/2021 / 8:42 am

    My father was in the RAF and obviously survived the war otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Because we can see and hear film footage we all have images in our mind of planes diving into the sea. There is a beautiful RAF memorial on a hill above the fields of Runneymead by the River Thames.

  5. joylennick 09/03/2021 / 10:10 am

    Thank you Tidalscribe. I have since learned that my uncle’s name is also on the Runneymead memorial x.

    • tidalscribe 09/03/2021 / 10:45 am

      Oh that is good, it is a lovely place – especially if the sun is shining and very peaceful.

  6. Liz Gauffreau 09/03/2021 / 12:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing this tribute to your Uncle Bernard. What a gift the Dutch gentleman gave your family by making that phone call.

  7. joylennick 09/03/2021 / 12:21 pm

    Thanks, Liz. It was very moving – as if the time in between somehow couldn’t have passed so quickly…xx

  8. ruthlarrea 09/03/2021 / 4:53 pm

    I love reading your memories, Joy. They’re so evocative of those difficult but emotional times. It’s always heartening to hear such examples of human goodness and self-sacrifice, but especially now in the very different world we live in. Thank you for sharing them with us xx

  9. joylennick 09/03/2021 / 5:30 pm

    Hola Ruth, Thank you for reading about my uncle Bernard. The lovely woman in the photo is my darling mother, Lila. The best ever…I do hope your husband’s health is now manageable, I know it’s been difficult for you both. Would you kindly consider reading my last book,Ruth? I’m not sure if it’s good enough and would appreciate your more tutored eye and opinion. I could attach the pdf if it’s a yes…Many thanks. Hugs Joy xx

  10. robbiesinspiration 10/03/2021 / 6:47 pm

    Oh my, Joy, how amazing that this should happen so many years later. I remember your Uncle Bernard from your book. It was so sad that he went missing in action.

  11. joylennick 10/03/2021 / 8:40 pm

    Thanks, Robbie. Fancy you remembering my uncle from my book. Aaah! Take care. Hugs xx

  12. Norah 11/03/2021 / 11:50 am

    That’s an amazing story, Joy. I’m pleased that your family has closure after all these years. I’m sorry that your Grandmother never knew, but maybe it was better she lived with hope.

  13. joylennick 11/03/2021 / 11:52 am

    Thank you. Yes, I really was moved after all those years. He was a gentle, dear man. Hugs xx.

  14. Jennie 11/03/2021 / 1:26 pm

    A lovely tribute to your uncle, Joy! How nice that the Dutch gentleman contacted your family.

  15. joylennick 11/03/2021 / 2:22 pm

    Thanks, Jennie. Life seems full of surprises sometimes and we were very touched. xx.

  16. Annika Perry 11/03/2021 / 4:31 pm

    Joy, a heartfelt and poignant post about your uncle. In a sweep, you took us to the saddest moment of the phone call from your mother to the present day. It is touching how the Dutch sought for his family and filled in the missing details, tragic as it is. Joy, it is evident that your uncle touched everyone deeply with his love and care – a wonderful tribute here to him.

  17. joylennick 11/03/2021 / 7:26 pm

    Thank you so much for your kind comments Annika. Hugs xx

  18. Darlene 13/03/2021 / 8:38 pm

    This is an incredible story, Joy. I am so happy that the family was contacted and you now have closure after all these years. So sad. The Dutch people, I have found, are incredibly grateful for what everyone did to help liberate their country.

  19. joylennick 16/03/2021 / 9:30 am

    Out of the blue, so to speak, it was very moving to receive such a letter from Holland. I was very moved after such a long time…Thanks Darlene.

  20. joylennick 24/03/2021 / 10:48 am

    Yes, Tandy. Coincidence is a very strange thing…When I was researching for my book The Catalyst, I read that a full rehearsal of a terrorist outrage in the UK actually happened within minutes of the various bombings on 7th July 2005 (the one I wrote about took place in Aldgate East, London on an underground train.) It was reported in the newspapers: “A private firm was contracted by the London Metropolitan Police Authority. The ‘test’ scenario of multiple bomb attacks
    on London’s underground was, incredibly, being played out just after the time the actual bomb attacks took place, stretching the meaning of coincidence to its utmost limit.” I went very cold on reading that…Life can be so strange at times.Best wishes. x

  21. D. Wallace Peach 29/03/2021 / 8:31 pm

    What a touching and sad post, Joy. I’m so glad that the search isn’t given up and that questions eventually are answered. Our service men deserve the honor and respect. Thank you for sharing this glimpse into your family

  22. joylennick 29/03/2021 / 10:24 pm

    Thanks Diana. Wars are all evil, aren’t they…I can’t believe I can still vividly recall the time my mother told me about my uncle but, apart from one Grandfather dying, I didn’t appreciate how young one could still be and die. And he was such a sweet, kind man too. Uncle Bernard’s name is now on two memorials.

  23. Jacqui Murray 06/04/2021 / 12:19 am

    That is heartbreaking. It’s good to have closure but in such a difficult way.

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