John Dyer’s letter home to Barking from the war front is lost for 70 years

Michael Murphy with Dyer's letter he found in his skirting board

Michael Murphy with Dyer's letter he found in his skirting board - Credit: Archant

John Dyer looked forward to coming home on leave from his RAF war base in Egypt, but wasn’t certain he could make it.

Garden in Egypt that John Dyer snapped to show Eileen

Garden in Egypt that John Dyer snapped to show Eileen - Credit: Archant

The war was on and the invasion of Sicily had just started.

Garden in Egypt that John Dyer snapped to show Eileen

Garden in Egypt that John Dyer snapped to show Eileen - Credit: Archant

He wrote home to his wife in Barking on July 14, 1943, telling her: “I will try to get home not this week-end, but the one after. I know I said I would wait, but the way things are I think it will be advisable to take leave when I can.

“I may not get any (leave), later on—who knows, now that we have invaded Sicily.”

It was an intimate letter to his wife Betty, about their family life, signed “Your loving husband John,” with 39 kisses.

Betty kept the letter, but somehow it dropped down the back of a cupboard in the living room and slipped into a tiny gap in the skirting board at their home in King Edward Road.

And there the letter remained hidden for the next six decades.

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It wasn’t until 2002 when builder Michael Murphy moved into the house and removed the skirting boards while redecorating that he found John’s letter to Betty.

But he didn’t know what to do with it and put it carefully away—until he looked in last week’s Barking & Dagenham Post.

Michael read something on the Letters page from pensioner Mary Edwards about her grandfather working at the old Beckton gasworks which had been featured in the paper the week before.

Mary mentioned her granddad living at 90 King Edward Road—the same house where Michael lives and where he found the wartime correspondence.

“I had kept John Dyer’s letter for 11 years, not knowing what to do with it,” he confided. “I always hoped one day I might find out where the people are now who once lived in my house.

“But it wasn’t until I read the letter in the paper from a woman mentioning my address that I remembered the wartime letter I found 11 years ago.”

The pale envelope the letter came in also contained a black-and-white snapshot of a garden somewhere in Egypt, presumably taken by Dyer, with a statue of a pharaoh and a native Egyptian posing in the background next to a pyramid-shaped tent.

Dyer’s letter to Betty talks of intimate family matters: “I had a letter from Sid and he told me Vi is alright and she is still expecting a baby round about now.”

It concludes: “Well dear, I can’t think of any more now, so will close with all my love to you and the children. God Bless you all.”

Michael, 38, now wants to trace Dyer’s descendants to return the letter, which was flown in 1943 from Egypt to an RAF base in the Midlands, then posted to Barking from Wolverhampton.

By coincidence, Pensioner Mary, 79, a retired shopworker in Barking, knew something of the Dyers in that small community in the years before the town was swallowed up by an expanding Greater London.

“John and Betty died many years ago,” she recalls. “They had a son called John, now passed on, who had two children, John named after the grandfather and Eileen, after the grandmother Eileen, who was known as Betty.

“My grandfather lived at 90 King Edwards Road when he worked at Beckton gasworks from 1904. He moved in 1914 before the Dyers moved in.”

Michael, whose grandfather also worked at Beckton gasworks, has vague connections with the Dyers, having been brought up in King Edward Road before moving away, returning in 2002 when he bought their old house.

Now he has begun a quest to trace the family or anyone with connection to the Dyers or their descendants so he can return the letter that had been lost for the past 70 years.