I’ve been re-captured by the story of my mother-in-law and her boyfriend in WWII. His name was Robert Stalker, and he was an American bombardier stationed in Thurleigh, England. I first started hearing this story three or four years ago. Recent discussions with my mother-in-law have reminded me how much I like this story and how much I’d like to use it in my fiction somehow.
Robert’s plane was shot down over Cologne on 15th October 1944. For a long time there was no news and he was listed as MIA. My mother-in-law wrote to Robert’s mother shortly after his plane was shot down, and the two women kept up a correspondence for a number of years, even after she got married. A couple of years ago she gave me the letters she had received from Mrs Stalker, which she’s saved all this time.
Some of the letters are, naturally, quite poignant. Because she was only a girlfriend, the only way my mother-in-law could get news of Robert was through his family. Reading the letters in which Mrs Stalker discusses her worry and concern over her missing son, knowing that he had, in fact, died that day is heart-breaking.
I cherish these letters. I mean, I love letters in general. A day when I get a letter from a friend is definitely a good day. I wish I had the letters that my mother-in-law sent so that I could read the correspondence exchange in full. But what I do have is her in-person account, and that’s super. I just have to be careful not to overdo it. My mother-in-law is 96, after all, and even after all these years it still makes her sad. But when she’s in the right frame of mind, it is so much fun to listen to her stories.
There were also two letters from Robert himself in with the correspondence. In one of them, he writes to my mother-in-law about how he’s had to go on four missions in as many days, and because of this he decided not to come see her since he was so tired. He opted instead to stay in and write some letters home. Knowing that he wrote those letters just a few weeks before he died makes reading them difficult. And in one of the early letters from Mrs Stalker, she tells how she received a letter from her son, letting her know he’d met a wonderful girl and couldn’t wait for them to meet. She got this letter the day after she received the telegram informing her that Robert was missing.
My mother-in-law never really got over this loss. In fact, she named her first-born child after the love of her life. So yes, my husband’s name is Robert. But the story itself has captured me and I want to learn as much as I can. I’m sure it will show up in my fiction somehow.