In celebration of Father’s Day, we have chosen to highlight a special group of letters from our collection.
The personal collection of Leading Steward Thomas “Terry” Wilford contains some very sweet letters sent from him to his young daughter Pauline during the Second World War. Pauline was affectionately known to her father as ‘Midge’.
Prior to the Second World War, Wilford was in the Merchant Navy. Wilford was then contracted to the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) in early 1941, when Pauline was just six years old. During the war, some men from the Merchant Navy were signed into the RNZN as uniformed personnel to boost the number of men serving. Wilford served in several ships including HMNZ Ships Moa, Monowai and Leander. He spent much of his time in the Pacific and saw action at the Battle of Kolombangara. Wilford was discharged in January of 1944 after three years of service.
Wilford wrote to his daughter regularly and the museum holds 13 of those letters from Wilford to Pauline in our collection. Wilford’s letters are very affectionate and he usually signed off with “your loving daddy”. His letters detail his life at sea and Wilford often specified funny anecdotes that he thought Pauline would enjoy. In 1942, he wrote, “I bet you laugh at this Midge, do you know that I am often sick on here, sometimes it’s funny to see a few of us feeding the fishes, you see dear this is such a baby ship and we go right out into the ocean” (2012.62.11).
Wilford always enquired how his daughter was and hoped she had been a ‘good girl’ and was doing well at school. Pauline also wrote to her father as he sometimes referenced her messages in his letters, “I am really excited when I get your little notes” (2012.62.14) or “Thanks a lot for your letter note, I did enjoy it so much, so am now greedy and expecting another one” (2012.62.10). There are also many mentions of presents for Pauline. Wilford wrote in 1943, “I have managed to get one or two things for you, but above all some comics which I know you will like” (2012.62.16). The museum holds a Captain Bryan’s Pacific War Atlas which was brought by Wilford for Pauline when he was in Honolulu serving in HMNZS Leander in 1943 (2012.62.3).
The selection of letters was donated to the museum in 2012 by Pauline herself who had kept the letters all these years. Wilford’s letters are just one example from our collection that tell the important stories of the Navy’s social history and can shed light on individual experiences. Wilford’s heartache about being away from his daughter is prevalent throughout his letters, especially around her birthday. In September 1942 Wilford could not be home for Pauline’s 8th birthday so he wrote to her, “So I understand you had a happy birthday and a nice party. I am pleased, but we were lots and lots of miles away and very busy. Perhaps soon the war will end and then I can come home to you, what fun we will have” (2012.62.14). The letters also provide insight into a child’s perspective of war. Wilford tries to share what he is doing and explain his long absences in a way that Pauline could understand. For example, he writes , “ [we] then stop and listen all night and so make it safe for all the boys and girls in NZ, of course you see we would hear the bad mans coming and then give them the alarm as well as going to fight them” (2012.62.11). Although on occasion, certain sections of Wilford’s letters have been censored, as with the letter (2012.62.16).
We have digitised these touching letters and share with you a selection of them below to celebrate this Father’s Day.
By Hannah Pym – Collections Assistant