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Norman F Astell - Letter from Major Alan Wilkins

I have not altered this text in any way, other than inserting some of the paragraph breaks myself. Major Wilkins didn't use many of them himself and the few he did use often seemed to be in the wrong place.


The Raiding Support Regt
C.M.F. (Italy)

January 6th 1945

My Dear Mary,

I think, by the time my letter arrives you will have heard officially from the War Office of the sad and untimely death of Norman. I cannot begin to tell you how terribly sorry I am that this has happened. It must seem to you that the bottom of your world has fallen out!

Norman lost his life leading his men against the E.L.A.S. in Athens. As you know he had helped the Greeks to expel the Germans from their Country, and it was very sad that after they had gone, Norman had to fight against a small but well armed minority of Greeks, whose one aim was to seize their Country for their own rotten purpose. I can assure you most heartedly that Norman suffered no pain. He was shot by a burst of Machine Gun, and a Captain who got to him within 2 minutes assured me that he was unconscious, and did not speak. It is some small comfort to know that he died without suffering pain.

Mary, I can share your grief too, because as you know, Norman was a very great friend of mine. We first met at "The Middle East Battle School", which we eventually ran ourselves, and together we formed this Regt - "The Raiding Support Regt." We did our parachute jumps together, and shared the same tent both in the Middle East Forces and here in C.M.F. I also had the thrill to be the first to tell Norman that Michael had been born. Together we went thro' the good and bad times, and throughout the 2 years my opinion of Norman never changed. He was an honest citizen, and a good clean living soldier, who always "gave of his best". For the past 7 months he had commanded over 100 officers and men in Greece. All this time he was doing a "man's size job" - working behind the German lines, and his leadership was of the highest standard.

One day, Mary, I want you to show this letter to young Michael. If I never have the opportunity of seeing him - and I hope very sincerely that I shall - I want you to let him know what a fine man his father was. I am not supposed to tell you this, but Norman's name had been put forward for a "mention in despatches", and I hope it will be granted. I shall keep you posted directly news comes through. Michael has a shining example in Norman's fine record - and if he achieves the high standard of honest clean living that was Norman's, he will be a fine man - and I know that he will have your help to achieve this.

Your task is hard, Mary, but I feel that after the first bitter grief has eased, you will gain comfort in the knowledge that you will, through the years, be forming Michael into the Norman you love. No finer task could be given to any woman! I want you to promise that if there is anything I can do for you now, or later, for Michael, you will ask me - I regard it my duty to help you. In case I have to move or go farther afield, the address that will always find me, is the following: c/o Westminster Bank, Smith Square, London, SW1.

All personal effects of Norman's - wallets, letters, photos etc, and clothing, have been carefully sorted by me, and have been sent to the Military Authorities (we have to do this!) They will send them to you. Camp bed, canvas washbasin etc, I have had destroyed - as they were badly worn, and I felt would not be of any use. Norman's financial accounts will also be settled by the Authorities, and I have given them all assistance. If, however, anything should go wrong, you must let me know, and I will take it up with them.

I am supposed to send everything to the Authorities but I have kept back here with me 2 cameras and some new films. Norman bought these whilst in Greece. I think he bought 2 because I had asked him to buy one for me. What would you like me to do with them? Would you like me to try and sell them here (I think I could get a better price than in England) or have them taken home to you by an officer who is returning to the U.K. in 6-8 weeks time. Or would you like me to buy one and send the other home? I will do whatever you think best! They are good cameras, worth I should think approx. £15-20, and £25-30. I shall keep them under lock and key until I hear from you. If I had sent them to the Authorities they would have tried to sell them, and probably cheaply.

Please write to me any time, and I will do everything in my power to help you. The Commanding Officer, and all Norman's Brother Officers extend to you their heartfelt sorrow in your so grievous loss - and I, as his friend, wish you "God speed".

Very sincerely,

Alan Wilkins.


Major T A Wilkins
2 i/c "The Raiding Support Regt"
Italy C.M.F.

When the fighting in Athens has quietened down, I shall hope to have some photos of the "Grave" to send to you.


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