Lost wartime letter reaches family after 75 years

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It remained lost for over three quarters of a century. Now the family of a schoolgirl who knitted clothes for troops has received a letter written by a grateful soldier.

The find was made by the World of Books Group, the largest retailer of used books in the UK, who subsequently launched an appeal to return it to its rightful recipient.

The letter in which soldier John Wheldon-Williams expressed his gratitude to teenager Pat Moore, although it has only just been reunited with her family.
The letter in which soldier John Wheldon-Williams expressed his gratitude to teenager Pat Moore (below). It has only just been reunited with her family.

This was Pat Moore, a schoolgirl from High Wycombe who, during the Second World War, knitted clothing for troops serving abroad. One beneficiary of her contribution was Lance Corporal John Wheldon-Williams, who served in the Italian Campaign in 1944. From Pat, he received a pair of mittens, a small but useful gesture given the freezing conditions he faced.

In his letter to Pat, Wheldon Williams said: ‘It may seem of no great importance to you, knitting comforts for “someone” in the forces, but you are performing a great service, a service that breathes the spirit of England.’

Images: Pressat/World of Books
Images: Pressat/World of Books

He signed off promising to return as part of a ‘victorious army’. However, Pat never received the letter, having moved from the correspondence address by the time it arrived. She died in the 1960s, aged just 36.

After finding the letter tucked inside a volume that came into their possession, the World of Books Group launched an appeal. This was spotted by amateur historian Dave Thacker, who in turn contacted one Lynn Cook from Surrey. Through his research, Thacker had identified Cook as Pat’s daughter.

Although Lynn had researched her mother’s history, she knew nothing of her wartime contribution. ‘I have early memories of watching my mother knit at home – it’s something she always enjoyed,’ Lynn said. ‘She would have been overjoyed with this, and I’ll treasure it forever.’

Together, Lynn and Dave have subsequently researched the letter’s author, John Wheldon Williams, who survived the war and lived in London until his death in 1970.

His son Brian, who he referred to in his message to Pat, became a stage actor under the name of David Wheldon-Williams, enjoying a successful career in the West End, including in a production of Cabaret alongside Judi Dench. Brian died in 2017, also unaware of the letter’s existence.

Commenting on the discovery, Graham Bell, CEO of the World of Books Group, said: ‘This find was particularly poignant, and we knew we had to do something to return it to its rightful owner. We’re delighted to have found Lynn and learnt more about the incredible story behind the letter.’

This is an article from the April/May 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

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