One 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.
Fast 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