Tuesday, July 8, 2014

WW2 | Willem van Stockum's Last Letter, June 7, 1944

RAF Pilot Willem J. van Stockum 
June 7, 1944

[From RAF 10th Bomber Squadron, Melbourne, Yorkshire, England. To Olga Boissevain van Stockum, 3728 Northampton Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.]

Dear Mother,

I am curious to know whether you have noted the date of my last letter. I cannot tell you how great the satisfaction was to be one of those who dropped the first bombs during the Normandy invasion.

Officially we did not know it was to start on June 5 [the planes providing D-Day support would have taken off from England before midnight], but the instructions we got, the mysterious doings, our route and what we could expect while under way, made us fairly sure that this was The Day.

Crew of the Halifax MZ 684 probably in June 1944.
Back row: R. K. Marshall, A. Mason, G. Daniel, F. Beales.
Front row: A. C. Perkins, W. J. Van Stockum, J. Ellyatt.
(Photo is not of the same crew that flew on June 10.)
We did our job in difficult circumstances, although there was not much resistance from the targets.

I am free tonight and am glad of it, for the pressure is intense and we have not had a moment’s rest in the past few days. Each of our missions requires hours of preparation. The flight operation itself takes six hours and after that there are debriefings etc. Then a meal, to bed, sleep, and again preparations.

Of course we did not know beforehand that it would be rather easy. The strain on the nerves is a real thing - it makes your breathing go faster. It will not be so easy in future, as the Germans get more information.

But I would not want to miss this time for anything, and I am very thankful that I resisted the temptation to go to the other station, where Bierens de Haanals is, for then I would now be between two squadrons and perhaps have missed all this.

My crew is perfect – calm, matter of fact, and one cannot find among them any signs of being nervous. I sometimes have the feeling I am the only one who is – but perhaps they think the same thing of me.

I feel everyone here is experiencing a great upsurge in morale. The B.B. (Body Building) programs are better and more imaginative. The whole station comes to see us off with their thumbs up in the air and this is a pleasant experience.

I know you and Hilda must be feeling the same way and understand how wonderful it is, so invigorating.

May 2011. Families of five of the seven crew members on the Halifax MZ 684
were represented at the Vaufleury Cemetery in Laval. Willem's tombstone is
 the farthest right, rounded at the top, sent from the Dutch Government.
[Page ends. Possibly the hand-written pages that constituted the “Soldier’s Creed”, which is reprinted at the end of Time Bomber,  followed the fragment and were removed. The following concluding fragment was nearby in the folder of Dutch letters left behind by my mother, Willem's brother. The translator from the Dutch thought it “not very probable” that it is the end of the same letter, but it might be.]

My roommate is a Belgian pilot aged 40 who doesn’t speak English. I spend much of my time with him, which is very good for my French. If only you could hear all the fantastic stories people tell here, more interesting than the most terrifying spy thriller!! My friend came here a few months ago and was in the Resistance in Belgium.

Did I write you that in London I saw Aunt Mia quite often? We sympathized with each other about our tastes in literature. We talked about Dostoyevsky and she told me you had written such a wonderful article about him. How nice there are people who remember this article. I would like to see it some time. I long to read it.

Very, very much love from your son,


[Note: His plane, the Halifax MZ 684, was shot down on June 10, 1944. The crew is buried in the Laval Valfleury Cemetery and a monument to them was erected on June 10, 2014 in Entrammes, near Laval. The letter above was written in Dutch, as Willem wrote in Dutch to his mother, Olga Emily Boissevain van Stockum, and in English to his sister, Hilda van Stockum. The letter was translated in 2003 as a favor for me by the late Dr. Engelien de Booy, cousin of HvS and daughter of Hilda Boissevain de Booy. Olga and Hilda Boissevain were very close - the two middle sisters of six. Before they had children, they promised each other they would name their first daughter after the other, and they did so. This seems to be the last letter Willem wrote home. The letter went to Washington, D.C. where Willem’s mother and sister lived. Willem’s praise for the courage of the crew will be fully appreciated by the relatives of the crew members. Four of the seven crew members on the MZ 684 were represented by family members at a reunion in Laval in 2011. See and click on Willem_van_Stockum - JTM]

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