These letters were received by a sailor’s mum. They were written by her son, James Beattie (Jim), as well as by his best friend, Dave. The pair joined the Navy together in 1942 at the age of 21.
The two friends, together during training, were also posted to sea together. The letters are typical of any written home at the time - discussing family and friends, time spent on leave, and news from aboard ship. They reveal that life at sea was often tedious, ”I haven’t the slightest idea what I am going to write about. The ship’s whereabouts is censored, the news is nil, nothing has been happening, and apart from the fact that your one and only son is in the best of health, I have nothing of interest for you…”.
Time spent on leave was a different story with the boys’ making the most of city life and the chance to meet girls. One particular girl may have captured Jim’s heart, but as Dave recalls later, “Jim received his much hoped for letter from the apple of his eye. The left eye. I would tell you how many hearts he can see with his right one.”
Later, Jim was proud to tell his Mum that “I have finally reached my first ambition… being rated Able Seaman… The Captain did the talking, I did the saluting and next thing I knew I was rated.”
Although their destination was unknown to them, we know that Jim and Dave were onboard HMNZS LEANDER bound for the Solomon Islands. A stop in Hawaii was a highlight for them, especially staying at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where the film stars stayed, “I think I slept in the same bed as Mae West because I slept really well. [Illegible name] reckoned he slept in Shirley Temple's bed but I guess it is every man for himself."
Jim’s last letter home is dated 25th June 1943. On 13th July 1943, HMNZS LEANDER intercepted Japanese destroyers at the Battle of Kolombangara. LEANDER was hit resulting in the loss of 28 lives. Jim and Dave were reported missing at sea and their bodies never recovered.
In all, the letters span just one short year. They are a reminder of the real people who make up our Navy’s history and who ultimately gave their all in service.