RAF hero’s wartime letter home

RAF wireless operator and air gunner and former Shields Gazette reporter Ronnie Stobbs.
RAF wireless operator and air gunner and former Shields Gazette reporter Ronnie Stobbs.

With the introduction of more and more modern forms of communication, such as texting, few of us, these days, still bother to write letters to one another, which is a great shame.

For it is difficult to imagine those typed messages or words surviving for any length of time, depriving future generations of a personal account of the past.

Take the letters of former Shields Gazette reporter and RAF wireless operator and air gunner Ronnie Stobbs, for example.

Thanks to the words written to his family during the Second World War, his ancestors are now able to get a portrait of the man and the life he led before his untimely death just days before his 20th birthday.

And courtesy of his niece, Alison Jones, we too are able to share something of his wartime experiences, specifically, a weekend leave in the Midlands, as Alison explains.

“I am in the process of transcribing the letters that my late uncle Ronnie Stobbs sent home during 1940 and 1941 after leaving the staff of The Gazette and joining the RAF.

“He had started work with the Gazette aged 15 years old and had worked his way up to be a staff reporter. He loved the job and refers to The Gazette and colleagues frequently in his letters: Ronnie Hogg, Cyril de Gruchy, John Landells and Tommy Hulme particularly. His letter-writing style definitely benefited from his journalistic training.

“He was killed in Egypt just three days after his 20th birthday.

“My father, who was 10 years older, had been in loco parentis during Ronnie’s boyhood and felt his loss terribly. I am finding the letters incredibly poignant and fascinating but have no-one in the North East to share them with. So I send you a copy of your report of his death and of one of his many letters, hoping someone might find them of interest.”

This is part of a copy of one of those letters.

“Dearest Mother, Dad and family. Quite a lot has happened to add to my store of experiences and broaden my outlook since last time I wrote; as you know I spent the weekend with Bill Gallagher in the Midlands” he wrote.

“With small-kit and respirator slung over my shoulder, I left the camp at about 4pm on Friday, the fortunate and only possessor of a long week-end pass in the whole of “A” Squadron.

“Up with the lark on Saturday morning and out into the town to see what was to be seen. The outstanding incident of the morning and afternoon was a real slap-up five course meal in Boots Café, quite a posh place. Grape fruit, lemon sole, cutlets, breast of chicken, vanilla and raspberry ices, coffee and chocolate, followed by a pleasant chat over a fat cigar. Genuine epicures we were that day and even if we were a trifle extravagant allowances must be made – it was a celebration.

“We made nearby Nottingham our destination during the late afternoon and evening and there, family, I had one of the biggest surprises of my life. Since the Nottingham Evening News is one of our group papers Bill and I decided to look around the office and renew old acquaintances.

Strolling through the News dispatch department who should we run into but old Uncle Eric.

“Anyway, we then took a bus to the historic Nottingham Castle and spent a most enjoyable hour or two examining the relics of bygone days. The quantity of swords, armour pieces, pikes, muskets, crossbows etc. made me realise that war is not merely a characteristic of the 20th Century.

“And so our two days passed all too quickly, I’m afraid. Sight-seeing in Derby, Nottingham, Burton-on-Trent and a walk out on the Sunday to Bill’s digs at Egginton, a charming little Midland village.

“The time flew away and it seemed that I had barely been away an hour before stepping onto the train at Burton, bound once again for Yatesbury.

“I had three hours to spare in Bristol and availed myself of the opportunity of looking around this West Country city. Some day I will go through and look up Enid Williams as you suggest.

“I’ll give a more detailed account of this memorable week-end when we all meet once again, probably at Mid Summer. Don’t take this as a promise, but I may be able to get as far as Shields during a long week-end before July leave by hitch hiking.

“Leslie, the lucky blighter, will find his map enclosed. I do hope you can arrange a few days in the Lakes at Whit, Les. Trust a chap who has travelled now through the length and breadth of our island home – there is no more beautiful a place. I’m now waiting to hear of your holiday plans,

“Mother. Dad and you simply must get out into the country this year as in the past. So forget about housework and the war and decide where you are going.

“Your letter and parcels have all arrived safely – thanks again for your kindness and consideration.

“My services are required for the hut football team just at the moment but I’ll write again soon.

“May good health and fortune be granted you all,

Devotedly and affectionately Ronnie.”