Topic: 15 March 1943: To Hazel from Joan Dorothy McCauley
In which Joan writes Hazel three months after John's disappearance about unofficial reports of tank trouble with converted transport planes of the type that John was aboard.
C/- New Zealand House
15 March 1943
My dear Haze,
You letter just arrived, for which many thanks. I know what an awful shock it must have been to you to hear the news about John. Actually I cabled my people hoping that they would break it gently to you, but I believe Mrs Ladner telephoned you. I can’t tell you how distressed I have been at not being able to wire good news to you, as I’ve felt for you knowing how much each day you would be hoping and praying for good news, as I have been. The first month I thought I should have gone crazy each time I heard the footsteps of the man who delivers mail – it is amazing how one gets to recognise any sounds when one is expecting news at any minute of the day. It seemed unbelievable to me at first that a whole week should go by without news, and then a fortnight, and a month, but now it is almost three months, and I have great faith that even though it may be some time yet, I will hear good news in the end.
You’ve probably received my previous letter by now, telling you exactly what happened as far as is known, Haze, that is that the plane left Cornwall to fly to Gibraltar, first stop to Algeria, North Africa. I see that my cable must have been mutilated or misread as you all appear to have got the idea that John was missing while flying over North Africa, instead of to. I told you in my last letter that we would have heard long ago had they landed in neutral territory, and also had they been picked up by a friendly vessel, which left very little hope. Since then I have heard nothing official, but only a few days ago the mother of one of the crew came to see me, and told me she had heard from her son’s greatest friend that a message had been received from the plane that it was turning back over the Bay if Biscay. The C.O. of the station from which the plane had come from apparently decided to test a similar plane over the Bay and see what happened. They discovered beyond all doubt that the trouble was tank trouble. These old bombers which have been converted to transport planes have had to have an extra tank fitted to enable them to fly long distances, and it was this extra tank that was the trouble. You see John’s particular plane was the first one of these converted bombers that had done such a long flight since their conversion, and apparently the extra tank was the first one to be used. Well when all the petrol was used, the flow from the next tank wouldn’t commence, and so no petrol was being fed through to the engines, which as you probably know is disastrous. The C.O. in the test plane found this trouble over the Bay, went into a dive to see if that action wouldn’t force the petrol through and if a highly skilled mechanic hadn’t had something at a certain time, they wouldn’t have been able to come out of that dive. This news is about as bad as it can be, Haze, and when I first heard it I felt shocked and dazed at the realisation what it meant. However, despite this, I still feel that John is alive. There is just the faintest chance that the pilot of John’s machine didn’t go into a dive, and that they baled out, although everything points to them having done the same as the test plane. Of course the only hope is that any enemy vessel has picked them up.
This information regarding the tank trouble isn’t official, Haze, and was only told this mother by her son's best friend because he thought she should know, but naturally it wasn’t allowed to be passed on as the Air people would never admit such a dreadful thing happening through sheer carelessness on someone’s part in the first instance in not having everything thoroughly tested before such a flight. It makes one very bitter. This poor mother has had not the slightest hope of her son being alive from the first and is reconciled to the fact that he is lost.
Several of us are still hoping, though, even after so long a time. I am sure I would have felt it had John been killed, Haze, and I haven’t all along for one moment felt that he was not alive. The only way I’m carrying on now is believing in this fact above all else, but it is so very hard at times to carry on.
As mentioned in my previous letter I’ll naturally cable immediately I receive any news. I was amazed that my previous cable took so long as I told them to sent it the quickest route – no doubt with it being the Xmas period was responsible for the delay.
Haze, I haven’t written to Mrs. Ladner. I may yet, but until now I have felt as though I couldn’t. You see I never knew her very well, and she thinks so differently from us, although I know in her way she was very fond of John, and so was Mr. Ladner. I should write, so maybe I will make the effort. It is so much easier writing to you. You’ll pass on all the news to the others I know, and Rae and Quit will realise why I don’t write individually to them.
I do hope young Robert is well, Haze [unsigned].
[Note: The Ladner’s referred to are John Glen McCauley’s aunt, Margaret (Maggie) Isabella McCauley (1882-1966), who married Harry Ladner (1877-1962) on 24 April 1911 (reg. 1911/4201).