I have found many things inside books but perhaps nothing quite as haunting and moving as this long letter from the mother of a dead RAF officer in WW2. She is writing, on the day of his burial in the US, to the mothers of the American pilots he served with and one whom he is to be buried with. The letter has no provenance, nor does the book in which it was found offer any clues. It really needs no further commentary from me...
To the Mothers of the Eagles,
My Folk have gone. I sit alone waiting for the hour when my son and one of your sons pass from our sight to consecrated ground.
I feel you would like to know something of him as a personality, and something of why we, his British mother and his British wife, with freedom of choice for his last resting place have chosen that American corner of Holy Ground.
One reasons is out Stanley had, not only a personal affection for, but the greatest pride in "this grand bunch of lads" - his own description. they lived together, played together, fought together, and with one of them he died. The few months he had the proud privilege of wearing the American Eagle on his sleeves were the happiest in his life.
But there was a deeper reason. Death recognizes no nationality. The cause for which both gave their young lives knows no nationality they died that every man of every race may have the chance of freedom to develop individually. Presently that last sad bugle call "The Last Post" will ring out and echo through the surrounding hills. Today it will convey neither sadness nor finality for it submerges the dread clank of fetters and the crack of the slave whip. His spirit will soar to battle on the wings of an Eagle.
Stanley was tall, over 6ft, fair with deep set blue eyes, a large fine cut aquiline nose and pointed chin. there is a profile photograph in which, with the nose, the pointed chin and the steadfast eyes, he is not unlike an Eagle.
He was a happy, merry lad who teased, never unkindly always mercilessly. Your lads and he teased each other played like children, and when an order came through for a dangerous job, soared to fly together through a barrage of fire so intense none had a right to survive and come home scathless laughing in the joy of achievement.
Is it to be wondered that in October they were, in results, the leading squadron in the Command? Four D.F.C.s in one squadron! and D.F.C.s are not to be picked like blackberries. His last letter to me spoke of a longing for a "really good show" he was so sure of them.
He joined the R.A.F. in 1936. In 1938 he was a leader in the squadron - the famous 74 - that won the Sassoon trophy for the best fighter squadron of the force - The 74 - led so gallantly and victoriously by Malan in the Battle of Britain.
But when September 1940 came he was on other work - ground duties - but work that gave the finest training for leadership in battle - he was not happy in those days. I can still see a weary young face and hear a tired voice "Mother! to be held down by work an older man should do!" But there was at that time no older man with the necessary experience else so fine a pilot would never have been tethered in that hour of our desperate need.
In April, at his own urgent wish he was released for flying duties. "I feel years younger already" he writes and from that hour life was just happiness. He was leading constantly in operational flights, and in July won his D.F.C. not for the number of kills, but for "enthusiasm and skill" in leadership.
On August 9th he married - a wonderful union of two young idealists. He not only deeply loved, he revered his bride. I can see them now, two lovely children in an old, old country church, fragrant with banks of flowers. They stand together before the officiating priest, a shaft of sunlight streaming straight down upon them, waiting while the clear boys' voices of the choir sing the second verse of the song she had chosen for her entrance.
"Bring me my Bow of Burning Gold
Bring me my Arrows of Desire
Bring me my Spear! Oh! clouds unfold
Bring me my Chariot of Fire.
I will not rest from mental strife
nor will me sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land."
The vow of service before the sacrament of earthly union.
August 9th to November 15th so brief a glorious hour! Stanley was an idealist.
In May 1940 he wrote to me:
"The invasion of Norway and Holland and Belgium with the pitiful stream of refugees, the despair and the destruction drives home to one the truth of what we are fighting for. I feel that this war will strike to the hearts of each one of us, and that we shall have, not only our backs to the wall but out very souls at stake. But the hardest battle will come when destruction has destroyed itself and we have to rebuild the world. Remould it nearer to the heart's desire. We shall have to fight then against the hate and fear this war is bound to raise to fever heat. We must keep our hearts clean from this and fight now with determination and courage tempered not by hate and fear, but with wisdom and truth."
"Please have no fear for me. I know exactly where I stand. I have complete confidence in myself and come what may exactly where my duty lies." To this letter he adds as a postscript a quotation from The Light of Asia.
"By this the slayer's knife did stab himself
The unjust judge hath lost his own defender
The false tongue dooms its lie, the creeping thief
And spoiler rob, to render."
This is the Law which moves to righteousness
That none at last can turn aside or stay
The heart of it is Love, the end of it
Is peace and consummation sweet. Obey!"
I am very used to how wonderfully well informed and interested are the reader's of this blog. I was expecting that perhaps in a year's time someone would find this post and tell me that they knew who the letter refers to. In fact, I am hugely grateful this time to a reader who has unearthed Squadron Leader Stanley Meares in a matter of hours. So with immense gratitude to him for his sterling research and work, this is the information on Stanley from The Battle of Britain Memorial website which, I think you will agree makes for a convincing case that this is our Stanley from above.
S/Ldr S. T. Meares
Stanley Thomas Meares was born in Sidcup, Kent in 1916 and educated at King's School, Bruton, Somerset. Meares joined the RAF on a short service commission in January 1936. He was posted to 9 FTS, Thornaby on April 4th and joined 74 Squadron at Hornchurch on January 4th 1937.
In late 1939 Meares was posted to HQ Fighter Command. He was not on the strength of 54 during the Battle of Britain but is believed to have flown one operational sortie with the squadron from Hornchurch on August 12th 1940, qualifying him for the clasp.
In May 1941 Meares joined 611 Squadron at Westhampnett, as a Flight Commander. He was given command of 74 Squadron at Gravesend on June 30th 1941 and awarded the DFC (gazetted 22nd July 1941) being then credited with two Me109’s destroyed and two more damaged. Meares was posted to command 71 (Eagle) Squadron at North Weald on August 24th 1941.
On a training flight on November 15th in Spitfire Vb W3963 he collided with P/O RO Scarborough in W3627. Both men were killed.
Meares was 25 and is buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery.