The following is printed with permission from (and appreciation to) Joan Riggs, a niece of Francis Peckford of Change Islands. Mr. Peckford lost his life in World War II when the vessel he was serving on, HMS Penzance, was torpedoed in August of 1940. Ms. Riggs was a young girl at the time, but her uncle would write to her mother and father quite frequently and often sent her gifts from overseas.
Following are six of the letters Mr. Peckford sent home with some of his thoughts on the war, descriptions of his surroundings, and his longing to return home to Change Islands. Please look to pages 8A and 9A for the continuation of the letters; an account of what happened the day of the sinking from fellow Change Islander and survivor Harry Hyde (the Harry that Mr. Peckford refers to in his letters) from 1986; and lists of just some of those lost in different battles. Lest we forget.
Please note that these were handwritten letters, and while transcribed to the best of our ability, there were a couple of instances where the handwriting could not be deciphered and you will find question marks in some places. Some names or details have also been removed when in direct reference to individuals and not bearing on the flow of the letters.
Thank you as well to Barry Porter of By the Bay Museum for supplying information for this feature and obtaining permission for The Pilot to print it.
Sept. 20, 1939
Dear Ches & Mab:
I received your delightful letter today, you can’t imagine how glad I was to get it, thanks very much. Glad to know all things are going well at home, everybody well and so on. Thank you very much for remembering us in your prayers, but we are not in any grave danger, in fact we have known nothing about the war so far, in regards to fighting. But of course it may be very important to us before it is over.
Roy and Eddie are going to school again I suppose. Did you have Bruce to Twillingate and is he going to school too? How is Nita Joan, alright I hope?
No we did not expect a war upon us so soon when we left home. Hitler thought the time had come for him to Germanize Europe. He is like Napoleon in one sense, he has no love for his people just a lust for power. This is his sole aim and he cares not what sacrifices he causes to gain his ends. Napoleon conquered nearly the whole of Europe, Britain alone stood fast. Hitler hasn’t got half the resources that he had, even if Russia comes in with him, (and it’s doubtful if she’ll hang on to the end) but with all this where did Napoleon end up? Where will Hitler end up? The day will come as sure as eggs are birds when he will fly from his high roost. The Poles will be overrun no doubt and scattered to the four winds, so were the Belgians in 1914-18, but they have been living peacefully in their own country ever since. So will the Poles after 1939…
Don’t get alarmed about Ches having to go to war Mab. Canada will very soon have about 50,000 reserve troops ready for the field, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa has thousands more, but none of them are wanted yet. Only Canadian air men has gone and will be going yet I dare say. There’s plenty of single men willing to go, and if it comes bad enough for married men to go to Hitler’s plans will be working out better than the world thinks.
The Germans are a crowd that tries to strike quick and hard, and they plays havoc for a while like they are now on British merchant ships, but they will soon get exhausted. John Bull on the other hand is slow and sure and is able to fight a long war.
All this (???) I’ve had to put down to fill out the letters because nobody is allowed to tell anything about the ships or her doings. All I can say is our trip to England is cancelled for the present and we are on board here as part of the ships company. We are at sea nearly all the time keeping watches day and night, having to get up and 12 and 4 o’clock at morning which is disagreeable to some of us (Ha! Ha!) We have not seen as many places as we expected and things do not differ much from day to day. But we are having a marvelous time for wartime. No hard work to do and gets a very good amount of food. Of course our training is cut and the only things we have been instructed in of late is rifles, how to use them and rifle drill.
There’s not much chance of working ahead now while the war is on, for we won’t be rated A.B’s without the training in Barracks. But of course we don’t know how things will turn out, we may be sent to England which I think only fair.
You said you would miss my keeping house for you this winter. Well you won’t miss it any more than myself, for I never enjoyed anything so well in all my life than sitting in your quiet kitchen doing my lessons. Another thing which Harry and I both would love and enjoy, that is the usual game of cards on Friday and Saturday night at your place. There has been a steady noise in my ears ever since we came on board, for you can’t imagine what it is like among nearly 800 men with the buzzing of the ventilation engines and all sorts of other things. This sometimes makes me think of the quietness of your place nighttime and how I would enjoy another night there.
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I’m sending you a snap of our ship, that is all I could get to send now. Later on Harry and I are having some taken together and I’ll send one of them.
This is all for now as it is turn in time. I’m stood alongside of a locker writing this which makes my writing look like a lot of capelin spread out, so please excuse the scribbling.
Remember me to Stan, Frank, Lora your mother (I mean your mother Mab) and the girls (Ha! Ha!)
Write the both of you as soon as you get time and address your letter:
c/o British Consul General
Port of Spain, Trinidad
Jan. 20, (19)40
I received your letter the last time we were in also the pair of mitts. Boy I was glad to get a letter from you, thanks very much and for the mitt’s also. I’d like to be able to give them back to you again for as you know things like that are not usually worn around these parts. Ha! Ha!
How did you enjoy Xmas and the new year? Hope you all had a good time. We did not have much of a time, for we were at sea and Xmas wasn’t much different from any other time. In fact we spend a great deal of time at sea and when we come in it is merely a matter of refueling and supplying. So you see I’m not seeing much of the places we visit. Whenever Harry and I get ashore we go to the pictures, I’ve seen a lot of them since we’ve been gone you may be sure.
Unfortunately the war broke out before we drew our full kit, and so we haven’t got any white drill suits. I had some photographs taken the other day in a duck suit which don’t look nearly as good as the others. But I’m sending you one any way, later on may be I’ll be able to send a better one.
Yes boy you may be sure I’d like to be able to come over to your place some Saturday nights, and to be able to look after the house for you two while your out, having it all to myself. Harry and I often talk about it and wonder when we’ll get back there again.
What do you think will be the outcome of Russia’s war on Finland Ches? Stalin thought it was about time for him to have a dig at some harmless and weaker country. All the same the Fins are hanging out bravely and probably big Joe is up against a harder task than he thought.
Nearly every night there’s some thrilling news bulletins and I know you are very eager to hear it. I’m not nearly as interested in the war news as I would be home, nobody seems to be. Of course we hear it nearly every night, but it’s not the same some how.
Have there been many birds and seals home this fall? I suppose you and Claude still goes in punt together and did either wave come in over and flop down over his poll when going around and around High Head? Ha! Ha! It would be great fun to be out for a day turring when there’s a lot of them in the water don’t you think?
Because of so many ships being with a lot of senior hands now in commission will have to go back to England to man them and so the juniors will have to step in their places. I don’t know how many Newfoundlanders will be promoted but I think it’s definite we’ve got to have some sort of training and pass on for something. We haven’t had much so far, but we still do rifle drill and things like that when in harbour.
When I got your letter Mab’s was enclosed too of course which I should have said at first. But you know this is her’s as well. Tell her when either of you writes again she wish send some snaps of you all especially Nita Joan. I went away without a photo of any of the family, don’t know what kind of a fool I was. Please try and do this if possible at all and I’ll be very grateful.
This is about all for now. Haven’t seen Fritz yet, may later but you know what buzz news is like.
So now I’ll quit with sincere regards from bro,