William & Raoul Daddo-Langlois by Zoe Thomas

What a loss that so much untold and unrecorded history and interesting information goes to the graves with people. Thank goodness for those people who have kept, and do keep, diaries. Blogging also has to be a great way for future generations to view the lives of people doing everyday things which may be viewed as humdrum or uninteresting now but, to those who will follow, will be of great interest. Thank goodness for museums and record offices who are guarding our history because without them we would be all be the poorer without the information they hold.

Will the current generation keep letters home from service men and women in the Falklands or Iraq? Will pilots serving around the world hand their logbooks on to future generations to pour over? Will photos and other treasures be kept in modern plastic boxes to answer questions from future generations?  What will you keep that may be of interest to others in the future?

Personally, I wish I had asked more questions of my family members when they were alive and not allowed myself to be fobbed off with ‘you don’t want to hear about that’ or ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ or ‘don’t start him off about that’. I know that from a young age I had wanted to be the third generation pilot in the family and obtained my PPL in 1980, although it is many years since I have flown.

I grew up with the understanding that my grandfather had led a varied and colourful life, going to sea, working on the US railways as a navvie, teaching the Russians to fly seaplanes, setting up communication networks in Iraq, plus commanding seaplane bases. My grandfather, William James Daddo-Langlois, a Guernseyman, had followed a family tradition and gone to sea as a youngster in 1911, including a round the world voyage in the four masted schooner the Annie M. Reid. He also served in the RNAS and the RAF as a seaplane / flyingboat pilot.  Unfortunately, my grandmother wouldn’t let him talk about his experiences when I asked him, perhaps she was bored by it all, and I didn’t dare disobey her.

From quite a young age I had also known that my mother’s brother, William Raoul Daddo-Langlois (known to the family as Bill), had been a Spitfire pilot and had been killed in WW2, but I had never really known anything about him as a person as he died before I was born. My mother and her brother had been very close and I discerned over the years that my mother had never really come to terms with his death and refused to discuss details of him with me or my sister.

Naturally, as I grew older I would ask questions about Bill but the responses from  her were short and sharp and told me nothing. All I had really gleaned about him by the time I was an older teenager was that he had served in Malta, had been killed on the first day of the Sicily landings, that his name was on the memorial in Valetta Harbour and, that my mother held the Americans responsible for his death. The latter information I found out many years later to be only partially true. I remember my mother telling me that in 1952 she had horrified my grandfather (who was by this time a retired Group Captain) when she told him they were being flown out to Malta, for the unveiling of the memorial, in a York aircraft.  He had told her that they were banned at the time even for troop carrying –  supposedly because they were considered to be at the end of their flying life. My mother’s only other comment on the event was that she had then been worried seeing the wings flexing during the flight. 

Back in the early 1980s I started to try to find out for myself about Bill. So, how do you set about finding out about wartime pilots, this being the days before the internet? I wrote to the Ministry of Defence for details, who kindly gave me an outline of his service and then; about 1986 I saw a ‘This is Your Life’ programme on TV dedicated to Laddie Lucas, the golfer, MP, and ex WW2 pilot, who mentioned my uncle as being his good friend. So naturally I contacted him.

We met for a delightful lunch in London, and I received numerous letters in which Laddie told me as much as he could about his friend Raoul, he told me that he had coined Bill’s second name because he thought there were too many Bills around at the time and it had become confusing.  Also, I eagerly read the many books that he had written telling about their flying training together in Canada, their time based in Cornwall, and their posting to Malta. Laddie also gave me the names of other pilots living in the UK and around the world who had known Raoul and, I had wonderful letters from some very brave and interesting men, regretfully these letters have been mislaid over the years. My contact with Laddie also triggered my mother’s desire to attend various functions relating to the Siege of Malta with Laddie, and associated with other writers, such as Christopher Shores, who was also writing a book at the time about Malta but she didn’t discuss him with me. Unfortunately, not long after this my mother died and then, as will happen, my time had to be focused in other directions and I put my interest in him on the backburner for a number of years.

What I hadn’t realised until much later was that after my mother’s death I had inherited a mass of treasures. In two metal boxes she had kept all the family documents such as birth certificates, Wills, photographs and letters relating to her family going back to the 1700s. Stupidly, for ages I didn’t actively sit down and examine the contents and, what treasures there are.

It was James Holland who triggered off my interest in the family flying history again by requesting to look at anything that would give him an insight into Raoul for his books ‘The Fortress of Malta’, and ultimately ‘A Pair of Silver Wings’. James is amazingly knowledgeable about Malta and it’s valiant fight against the Axis powers, and had already examined our family flying documents, such as logbooks, and photos held by the RAF Museum in Hendon but he wanted to know about Raoul as a person. So what could I tell him, nothing really but, my mother had kept many of the letters Raoul had written to her and my grandparents from when he was at school through to his ultimate death in July 1943. It gave me great pleasure to allow James to read through these letters and, because of his book and his analysis of Raoul’s life, I know so much more about Raoul’s flying exploits and his time on Malta and, I also now think I know him as a man too. 

We can’t hoard everything but I am very grateful to my mother for guarding family documents and also for her trusting Hendon to keep other family records for use by researchers now and in the future.  What will I keep of a personal nature for generations to come? Amongst my current treasures are a Will dated 1783 for a relative who served on the same ship as Nelson, HMS Raisonable (but not at the same time)  which was witnessed by its then commanding officer John Augustus, Lord Harvey and bears his signature; an apprentice’s Indenture dated 1803 when my relative was a boy of 14 years; letters dating from 1840 including one sent by a sea captain to his children upon hearing of the death of his wife;  Certificates of Discharge from numerous ships also dating from 1840 to 1920s for various sea going members of the family and other related documents; and, of course,  Raoul’s letters to his family. All these and the poems and notes, death cards and notices, and the like will hopefully some day be useful to future relations when they have questions to ask about their ancestors.

8 replies
  1. Mark Brown
    Mark Brown says:

    Dear Sir my name is mark Brown although the surname I am Fully maltese I live in london I have read james holland book I am very interested in my countries history by the way james descirbes the persons in the book i feel as if i know these very brave men I have also seen raoul (daddy long legs) inscription on the memorial and all i can say I felt very humbled and honoured just to stand there with the photo in my and I also said a few prayers for them all and it is with books such as this that we must not forget the bravery and stamina of these boys as that is what they where but at those times they where of a different calibre and i am afraid you will rarley find it to day may they rest in peace and may they never be forgoten a shame he had to die that way

    Many thanks
    Mark Brown
    Valletta
    malta GC

  2. Charles E. Dills
    Charles E. Dills says:

    I was a pilot in WWII. Peolpe love pilots and their stories. I’m sorry that many of my contemporaries don’t “like to talk about it”. It is because of memlries they don;t like to remember and because it seems to them like a display of egotism.

    But, it is not egotsim.

  3. Charles E. Dills
    Charles E. Dills says:

    I was a pilot in WWII. Peolpe love pilots and their stories. I’m sorry that many of my contemporaries don’t “like to talk about it”. It is because of memlries they don;t like to remember and because it seems to them like a display of egotism.

    But, it is not egotsim.

    They have no right to withhold such stories.

    But it isn’t just the pilot’s stories that are important. You need “everybody’s stories”. The crew chiefs, the armorers, the administrative people, all the people back home without whom we could not have done what we did. We need the stories of the wives left behind, often to fend for themselves, like my sister when her husband was in England. She had to continually explain to strangers why her two-year old daughter would call them “Daddy” because she didn’t understand the idea of a uniform!

  4. Charles E. Dills
    Charles E. Dills says:

    I was a pilot in WWII. Peolpe love pilots and their stories. I’m sorry that many of my contemporaries don’t “like to talk about it”. It is because of memlries they don;t like to remember and because it seems to them like a display of egotism.

    But, it is not egotsim.

    They have no right to withhold such stories.

    But it isn’t just the pilot’s stories that are important. You need “everybody’s stories”. The crew chiefs, the armorers, the administrative people, all the people back home without whom we could not have done what we did. We need the stories of the wives left behind, often to fend for themselves, like my sister when her husband was in England. She had to continually explain to strangers why her two-year old daughter would call them “Daddy” because she didn’t understand the idea of a uniform!

    I have a friend that was a farmer with 1840 acres of good “Lake Agassiz” bottom land that couldn’t “go to war” because we needed his products to eat. I’m sure he has always felt a bit out of it all when he, in his own way, was as important as we were.

    When we see memorials, we always look a the top where the mounted soldier, astride his trusty rearing steed is flashing his saber. We rarely look at the pedestal supporting him.

    Too bad. I have never forgotten my crew chief that kept me alive for 94 missions through three different airplanes, out in the open ALL the time, sometimes with no tools but crescent wrenches.!!! I’m sure he never found the appreciation he so richly deserved. Charles E Dills

  5. utilityangel
    utilityangel says:

    I read the book about the Siege of Malta and found it hard to put down. Although I was born in the sixties long after the war was over I have always had an interest in the war from the human perspective of the men and women who fought and those left at home bringing up the children in extremely difficult situations. I was moved by Raouls story because of his personal struggles with what was required of him and his desire to do his duty. He never seemed to reconcile the killing of other mothers sons in his own mind at a time of kill or be killed. His sister also shared my name, Angela and I found the accounts of his letters to her extremely heart rending. I felt I had to go to Malta and see the memorial with his name on after the tragic way in which he lost his life, and I am so glad that I did, it felt like the only way I could show my respect for this brave young man and all of the others who sacrficed so much for future generations.

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  2. […] CO of 249 Sqdn, SL Stan Grant, FL Laddie Lucas, FL Buck McNair, FO Ronnie West and FO Raoul Daddo-Langlois were briefed that they were to go to Gibralter to lead this effort. It was coordinated by WC McLean. […]

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