#WorldPostDay – Newell Letter
It’s #WorldPostDay so we’re highlighting some of the wartime letters mentioned in our oral history collection.
Maurice Newell (W&M79) was interviewed in August 2020. In addition to his interview, he submitted a copy of a letter he wrote shortly after the Easter Tuesday air raid on Belfast in 1941.
Maurice was born in Belfast in October 1927 and was the youngest in a family of three boys. For Easter 1941, Maurice had been sent to stay with some of his cousins at his grandparent’s farm near Ballynahinch, Co. Down. From there he witnessed the raid which he recounted in the letter to mother.
He begins ‘Dear Mammy, I hope you have escaped last night’s raid unharmed. I was just going to bed when I heard the sirens and 20 minutes later, I heard the ‘Jerries’ overhead… Then the fireworks started and flashes brilliantly lit up the room (our room is facing you) and explosions followed the flashes… We saw the “flaming onions” going up and saw parachutes flares being dropped. All the windows shook violently and threatened to break… On hearing the planes leaving, I expected to hear the “all-clear”, but the only noise that broke the silence was another relay of bombers, which bombed and flew away, followed by another, until a good dozen groups had dropped their bombs and flown home… as I am writing, cars with beds on their roofs and crowded buses are moving up the road: a quick evacuation is taking place’.
Maurice put pen to paper the following morningwhen for all he knew a member of his family in Belfast could have been killed. His father was in the Ulster Home Guard, his mother volunteered in the ARP and his older brother Cecil was a Despatch Messenger.
While the letter is upbeat in tone, Maurice’s anxiety from the bombings is evident as he continues his letter. He wrote that he was ‘digging a shelter and am down to about 5 feet and am using a pick now’ in a field belonging to his grandfather.
During his interview Maurice told us that once he had completed the hole for his shelter, he promptly had to fill it back in as there were concerns that one of his grandfather’s cows could fall in and injure itself.
Regardless Maurice was in no rush back to Belfast and he enjoyed his holiday in the country, signing off his letter by asking his mother ‘I wonder if I could stay out here for another week and, if so, kindly send another shilling as I am short on spondulics. I remain, yours truly, Maurice’. Thankfully, all of Maurice’s family survived the Blitz with Maurice returning to his home in Belfast for the rest of the war.
There must have been so many letters written by evacuees who were separated from their parents during the Second World War. Our oral history collection is full of evacuation stories. Some host families became life-long friends while other evacuees were desperate to return home. Do you have memories of the Belfast Blitz? Or perhaps you or a loved one were evacuated to the countryside? If you would like to share your memories, please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07588 634847.