Continuing our mini-series of letters written by a 21-year-old Fusilier Douglas William John Harmer, known as Billy, was posted to the Isle of Wight during WWII.
2019 is the 79th anniversary of his Fus. Harmer’s death by an enemy bomb just days before he was due to go on leave (read about his background).
As Billy writes to his family describing his time posted to the Isle of Wight during the Second World War, his letters give a great unfiltered insight into the life, thoughts, concerns and day-to-day duties of an everyman as he is moved around the Island to protect it.
Transcribed by uncle
Billy’s letters have been shared with us and transcribed by his nephew, Ray Gaines, who says,
“In transcribing the letters I have kept the prose and grammatical errors in, to maintain the authenticity. As can be imagined Billy wrote his letters hurriedly and in not particularly favourable conditions.”
Fus. Harmer 465127
W Company (8 Platoon)
2 Batt. Royal Fusiliers
Isle of Wight
Hope you are all well at home. I have received the second parcel of books ok.
We have moved from the needles to Freshwater Bay, where we are on the road block on the coast road. Where we are now there is a pub, café and one or two shops.
About two days before we left the needles there was an air raid there and several bombs were dropped in the sea.
I am sending you some postcards of some of the places we have been to. If you look at the Alum Bay postcard you will see a small motor boat pier, part of it is falling away, we did sentry-go and slept on there before we dug our positions.
We had a bath last week at a hotel at Freshwater Bay, that was when we were at the Needles, they brought us down by motor coach.
I was wondering if you could get me a new side hat, only I lost mine last week and there’s not much chance of getting one on the island. Perhaps you could get one in Hounslow, size 7 3/8.
Well dear Mum that’s about all I can say for now, except that if you have anything to eat spare, send it on.
Love to all, your loving son Bill.
Address torn off
Dear Joan (sister)
Hope this letter finds you all well at home. Thank you very much for the letter and the parcel, it was ok.
I liked the cakes so much I have nearly eaten them all, but am saving the rolls to last, the chocolate and sweets will come in handy at night.
I am sorry to ask you about the side hat, but we have no stores here. If they had any I would have been issued with one, only we wear steel hats all night and it is nice to walk out in the daytime wearing a side hat.
I went to the pictures Thursday, in the town of Freshwater, which is a 2d bus ride, and saw 10 Days In Paris, It was a very good spy picture, only if we go further than the pub we have to wear our equipment and gas mask, and carry our tin hat.
Thank Mum for the 5s, I meant to have replied before now. I have not got a new overcoat yet, but have been issued with a pullover, razor and holdall and housewife, and a new set of brushes.
We are still at Freshwater Bay, I don’t know how long we are staying there. Thursday, we saw about 10 planes coming over at a great length, then followed by some more, I think they were ours.
The air raid warning was given and the planes started looping around, then we heard a burst of machine gun fire, then clouds of black smoke came out of one plane and as it dived to the ground it burst into flames. The pilot jumped out in his parachute and the plane, I think, crashed on the mainland. Afterwards we learnt it was one of ours.
I have heard a story that the plane attacked the Germans on its own, I don’t know whether it’s true though.
I hope the photos came out alright and you will send me some. I did hear a rumour that we might go back to the mainland and then we will get leave, but we hear so many rumours.
I wonder if that pair of gaiters I left at home are still about. If they are would you like to send them along.
Well Joan I must close now, thank you for your letter. Love to Mum, Dad and the cats. Your loving brother, Bill.
PS. The cider is good here, I managed to drink three pints one night and it made me a bit funny.
Fus. Harmer 6465127
W Company (8 Platoon)
2 Batt. Royal Fusiliers
Isle of Wight
I hope you are all well at home. We were told there was a 48 hour leave coming off, so I put my application form in for it, but now it has been altered to seven days.
I don’t know how long the leave will take as they only let about one a day go, but I will let you know when it is my turn.
You mentioned that you put in a claim for the 10s, but I received that when I was on the mainland. I thought I had told you in one of my letters. I did not sign for it so I don’t know whether they can trace it.
Nell and Ron seem to be lucky with their pigeons. I am glad that Uncle Tom is well again and that he has been fixed up with a job. I expect he’ll find it better working indoors during the winter.
Last week I was issued with another pair of boots and a new overcoat, double breasted type and it fits ok. I have written to Auntie Mabel and posted it yesterday.
Since last Monday we have been staying about a mile and a half from Frensham Bay, we sleep in wooden holiday huts, in beds. We have been working at night putting up barbed wire entanglements. I would like you to send my other pullover down if you don’t mind as it is pretty cold at night.
I wonder if you have any old wrist watch straps at home, only one of mine has broken and the other is not too good. I think there is an old watch of mine about with some on.
Well dear Mum I must close now, I wonder if you have any more sausage rolls or those jam tarts to spare, as I get pretty hungry and we don’t always get a lot of grub. I am always eating chocolate so the boys call me the chocolate king.
Well cheerio Mum, hoping to be home soon.
Love to all. Your loving son, Bill
Look out tomorrow for the next set of letters written by Billy Harmer to his family whilst stationed on the Isle of Wight during WWII in 1940.