Ashburton’s Colleen Corbett, now 94, still can’t believe it. A war letter sent from her brother has finally reached her 79 years later, as Malcolm Hopwood discovered.
Two letters from the war written by an Ashburton serviceman have reached a family member nearly 80 years after they were sent – and it reduced her to tears.
Ashburton resident Colleen Corbett, 94, was presented with the letters in a poignant moment at an Anzac Day theatre production.
They were written by Godfrey Glossop, Colleen’s brother, to his sweetheart Betty Beach, one posted to her before he left for overseas and the other from the Middle East.
The second letter was one of the last he wrote. He died in Italy in 1943 when the tank he was driving was struck by an enemy shell.
Colleen vividly remember her brother Godfrey, who worked in his father’s butchery shop in the Triangle.
“I was only a little girl when he came into my bedroom and told me to look after my mum and dad,” she says.
“I never saw him again.”
Colleen tearfully remembers her big brother.
“He used to tease me,” she admits.
“But he taught me to swim. He used to pick me up in his car from school.”
Colleen remembers the letters he wrote home to her parents and herself, but she didn’t know other correspondence to his girlfriend, Betty, still existed.
She was seated in the front row of the Ashburton Trust Event Centre when snippets of the letters were read out then an actor, in military costume, came into the audience and presented them to her.
“I didn’t know about the letters. I was in tears when they were read out,” she says.
When word of her brother’s death came to her parents, her dad, also Godfrey Glossop, went personally to tell Betty.
The family also received a letter from Lieutenant Jack Meeking from the NZ Armoured Corps.
Meeking said his tank was alongside Godfrey’s when it was hit.
“It was at a hot corner but we did our best,” Meeking said.
In the company of Padre Sommerville and some mates, Godfrey’s body was prepared and buried in Italy.
He died on November 18, 1943, aged 26 years.
“It was very emotional receiving the letter,” Colleen recalls.
Godfrey was not the only member of Colleen’s family who fought in the Second World War.
Brother, Colin Glossop, trained in Ashburton as a pilot and served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, flying Lancasters in bombing missions over Germany.
When he completed his service at the end of 1944, he continued in the RAF and flew Avro Yorks as part of the air-supply mission to Berlin in 1948/’49. Colin returned to New Zealand in the 1950s working initially for NAC and then Air New Zealand.
He was awarded the MBE for his war effort.
A brother-in-law Norman Willis served as a transport driver until he was invalided home towards the end of the war.
Colleen will treasure the letters and other wartime records she has collected over the years. “They are very precious to me,” she says.
The following are extracts from war letters sent to family and loved ones from Mid Canterbury servicemen and women (
23rd July 1918
Just a few lines in answer to your letter which I got a few days ago.
This will be the last time I can write you a note as I am leaving for home on the next hospital ship.
I am a cot case still, so things were not so good at the start.
I am very sorry in one way as some of the nurses here are very good, too good!
They take a liking to a bloke after he has been here for a while.
Your loving brother
(Tom spent over 3 years in military service and was hospitalised after a severe gunshot wound to the right arm in March 1918.
On arrival back in New Zealand he settled on the family farm at Newlands.)
FROM WESTERN DESERT
10 August 1942
Dear Mrs Simpson
I know your heart will be heavy with sorrow and I hesitate to re-open the wound by speaking of your son’s death. But as I was with him to the last and it was my privilege to lay him to his last resting place, I felt I must write to tell you how sorry we were to lose your son and to offer you my deepest sympathy.
He laid down his life for his friends. Yet as he laid there so quiet and still I could not help but feel it was not really your son we were burying. His form, yes, but only a broken shell, an empty husk.
His real self which you gave him at birth, had gone forever.
Letter from Reg Moylan, serving in North Africa, to brother Des, back in Burnham Camp. dated 25.3.1945
Well old chap, at present we are out resting, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t working.
Looking forward to a photo of you and your intended, all seems to be settled and I hope to get home in time to be best man. I’m sure I will like her, you are very lucky to get such a good Catholic girl.
By the way if you come over here bring a cigarette lighter, matches are very scarce, and lighters are too dear. Also bring a good pair of shoes, they cost £10 here.
Give my love to all at home
Middle East Forces
16 December 1942
My Dear Betty
In reply to your most welcome letter received on the day we left Pukekohe to embark on our great adventure.
Since I last wrote you will notice we have had another change of address and also so much has happened in such a short time. One hardly knows were to begin and not to infringe on censorship regulations, but will endeavour to give you a brief outline of the last day or so.
After a lot of marking time we eventually began to move and arrived at Pukekohe station.
There was a large crowd to see us off and we were sorry to leave from there as the people had been so kind to us in many ways.
At the station I met an Uncle of mine who was working there, and so didn’t feel quite so lonely at saying cheerio.
We had a most tiring journey to the port of embarking where my sister Frances met the train and I had a few minutes with her.
She was pleased to see me but was feeling it quite a bit as her husband had already boarded.
We finally got on board and settled in our quarters and then came out on deck to see the crowd who were allowed on the wharf at 6pm.
There were some very touching moments and also some really funny scenes on the wharf and the noise was terrific with everyone shouting and talking.
We pulled out and headed to sea through Cook Strait and it was not long before N.Z. was just a speck in the distance I think we all had a lump in our throats as we watched it fade.
Next day we were busy with PT, lectures and parades so no time to stop and think about what we had left behind.
We had two days good sailing but then headed into a heavy swell and this had quite a number feeling very ill, including myself.
Had a concert last night and they also have a few pictures to see to help fill in the evenings.
The canteen on board is excellent Tobacco at 10 pence a tin and cigarettes 3 pence a packet.
There is also a wet canteen but have not patronized it yet as is always crowded and the beer is not the best.
I have met quite a number of Ashburton boys – NORM O’GRADY, PAT CONNELL, BOB McCREA, RON KERR, and JOHNNY NORTON and quite a few others whom I swapped yarns with.
Well Betty that’s about all the news for the present but hope to write more fully next time.
Will close here hoping this finds you fit and well.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Yours sincerely GODFREY GLOSSOP