Letter to his wife from Herbert Gray



Letter to his wife from Herbert Gray
No. 5


Starts with complaint that phone calls from wife are replacing letters which he does not like, but did enjoy hearing his wife’s voice. Letter is then a long explanation of why he cannot answer her last letter as it is in his locker at the squadron where he had to leave it as he was suddenly called for an operation. He explains that it is standard operating procedure to leave behind any identifying material before departing on operations. Goes on to describe numerous events in the lead up to an eight hour daylight operation to a target near Bordeaux. Notes that crew are concerned that medical officer may prevent them from flying as this exceeds their captain’s permissible flight hours. Continues with description of successful operation and subsequent diversion on return to an airbase near Newark due to fog. Describes poor food, lack of facilities and problems finding sleeping accommodation and beds at diversion base. Rises early to ensure egg for breakfast and returns to base at around midday. Letter concludes with some affectionate domestic chat and a jovial threat about wife not writing.




Temporal Coverage



Eight page handwritten letter


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[underlined] No. 5 [/underlined] Sunday. 6.8.44
8.20 pm.

[inserted] [underlined] 12 [/underlined] [/inserted]

[RAF badge]

My Priceless,
Little Wife,

Remind me sometime to have the phone removed – I might get a letter from my best girl occasionally then!

Of course I have to thank you for one letter – No.4, I think – but I cannot answer it now as it is in my locker in the locker room. How it comes to be there when I am down here sitting outside the billet in the evening sun writing to you is rather a long story but nevertheless I intend to inflict it on you, old girl!.

It certainly was nice to hear your voice again last Thursday – and I didn’t reverse the charges either! I decided that the call counted as equal to a letter so I would write on Saturday.

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So yesterday morning about 10.20 am, being free for the moment, I got out my pad to start a letter to my darling, had not had time to set pen to paper when a bloke came into the crew room and said ops were “on” and briefing was immediately! So away went pen and paper and I dashed round to the Flying Commander’s office to see [deleted] indecipherable word [/deleted] Van and find out if we were on the Battle Order. He said yes [inserted] we [/inserted] were and that there would not be time to take the guns, chutes, harnesses, Mae Wests and other gear out to the kite [aeroplane] as we usually do as soon as we know we are “on” and carry out the various tests and checks that are necessary.

He was waiting for a phone call to say when the briefing was to be. Whilst we waited for this to come through I thought, “another day light with out any dinner, just our luck!” But I was wrong. About five to eleven the message came – ops. meal at 11.00; briefing at 12.00.

Pete had borrowed my bike (another long story!) so I was unable to go down to the billets for my vacuum flask – something I had come to

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[inserted] 12 [/inserted]

[RAF badge]

regret before the day was out.

The cookhouse did their best but of course it was not a proper dinner as their notice had been as short as our own.

So up we went to Briefing thinking, well this will be nice short daylight as otherwise Van would not be on. Imagine our surprise at finding that although it was certanily [sic] a pukka day light it was of over eight hours duration!!! Nevertheless it was a target we wanted to do as it was something of a novelty for us so we were scared stiff that the M.O. would stop Van from going. We tried to prevent him from knowing that Van was going. He found out eventually but I think he turned a blind eye to it for we took off OK. First kite from our squadron to leave the deck.

We were to attack a target not very far from Bordeaux (that’s not spelt right, I’m sure) which as you know, is on the French coast in the Bay of Biscay. In order to do this we flew many miles out into the Atlantic before turning round and heading for our

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target. All this time, and in fact for the whole trip, we flew in boiling hot sunshine although sometimes the air outside was below freezing point. Van had to keep opening a window to let a breath of fresh air into our little oven. A surprising thing about this trip was that we crossed the coast eight times altogether.

Pete had the satisfaction of seeing our bombs all land in the target which was only a very small one although important. We took off a few minutes before two o’clock and did not bomb until 7pm! Five hours, and we still had to go home. Shortly after we had crossed the English coast on the way home Ben received a wireless message telling us to land at a drome near Newark – a sea fog had come in and made our [inserted] drome [/inserted] drome u/s for the night. It was turned 10pm when we landed at our diversion – tired, hungry and feeling very dirty and sticky! But what a drome it was! We were jolly thankful we were not stationed there. We had a very poor meal after interrogation. There was
[inserted] u/s = unserviceable [/inserted]

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[inserted] 12 [/inserted]

[RAF badge]

no one to tell us where the Sgt’s Mess was – but we found it and soon had a pint apiece but they had only Woodbine cigarettes. This was just a few minutes before midnight so it was quite dark when we tried to find out where we were supposed to sleep. Of course there was no one who could tell us anything. Eventually we found a truck and got the driver to take us to one of the sites (RAF camps are often split up into several small sites of billets scattered about all over the place). Here we found the picket who provided us with three blankets apiece and then found us some empty beds in one of the huts. Mind you, no one thought of providing us with either soap or towel. So I had to wash without soap and dry myself on my handky. [sic] Believe me it did not take me long to get to sleep but Paul must have been off first

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for the last thing I remember was Paul (who often talks in his sleep) shouting, “Look out, Skipper, they’re coming in line astern!”

Believe it or not but Ben and I were first up this morning about 8.30. Of course, there was [inserted] method [/inserted] method in our madness. We knew we stood a better chance of flanneling an egg for breakfast if we were first in the cookhouse! Virtue had its due reward – we got our egg alright. It was just a few minutes to twelve this morning when we took off to return to base. Both Pete and Paul went without their eggs or any breakfast – they just would not get up till the tannoy message came telling us to report to Flying Control at 10am.

And that is why I havent [sic] got your letter with me at the moment, darling. What? Do I hear you say that it does not explain how it got in

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[inserted] 12 [/inserted]

[RAF badge]

the locker? Well that is a small detail. We are not allowed to take anything with us at all on ops. Any little bit of paper might give the enemy just the clue they need (I fancy they will need much more than clues right now!) so I always empty my pockets and leave everything in my locker. I could leave everything with the intelligence officer but my way is quicker. Anyway, when we finally landed here this afternoon we were in such a hurry to get down to the mess for dinner that I forgot the things I’d left in my locker.

Incidentally the Sports were held yesterday – without me! You are lucky – your husband will not return a physical wreck on his next leave. All being well that should be three weeks on Tuesday. And we have done 17 ops now – good show.

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[inserted] [circled 12] [/inserted]

Don’t forget, darling, that if you should ever feel like writing me another love letter I shall be more than pleased to receive it. You know without my telling you again that you are the only woman for me. You love me and thrill me as much as ever I could wish and much more than I deserve.

Isn’t the war news simply marvellous – it cannot last much longer at this rate.

It is 11 o’clock now and time this little boy was in bed – it’s too bad he cannot sleep with you, my darling. So, good night, my [symbol] love. God bless and keep you.

adore you.

Yours own
[underlined] Bertie [/underlined]

P.S. There had better be a letter from you tomorrow – or else …. !!!



Bertie Gray, “Letter to his wife from Herbert Gray,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/1047.

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