Letters to home

“Love for Mab and all the kiddies especially Nita Joan”

Published on November 7, 2012

Francis Peckford

Submitted photo

The following is printed with permission from (and appreciation to) Joan Riggs, a niece of Francis Peckford of Change Islands. Mr. Peckford lost his life in World War II when the vessel he was serving on, HMS Penzance, was torpedoed in August of 1940. Ms. Riggs was a young girl at the time, but her uncle would write to her mother and father quite frequently and often sent her gifts from overseas.

The following is printed with permission from (and appreciation to) Joan Riggs, a niece of Francis Peckford of Change Islands. Mr. Peckford lost his life in World War II when the vessel he was serving on, HMS Penzance, was torpedoed in August of 1940. Ms. Riggs was a young girl at the time, but her uncle would write to her mother and father quite frequently and often sent her gifts from overseas.

Following are six of the letters Mr. Peckford sent home with some of his thoughts on the war, descriptions of his surroundings, and his longing to return home to Change Islands. Please look to pages 8A and 9A for the continuation of the letters; an account of what happened the day of the sinking from fellow Change Islander and survivor Harry Hyde (the Harry that Mr. Peckford refers to in his letters) from 1986; and lists of just some of those lost in different battles. Lest we forget.

Please note that these were handwritten letters, and while transcribed to the best of our ability, there were a couple of instances where the handwriting could not be deciphered and you will find question marks in some places. Some names or details have also been removed when in direct reference to individuals and not bearing on the flow of the letters.

Thank you as well to Barry Porter of By the Bay Museum for supplying information for this feature and obtaining permission for The Pilot to print it.



H.M.S. “Berwick”

Sept. 20, 1939


Dear Ches & Mab:

I received your delightful letter today, you can’t imagine how glad I was to get it, thanks very much. Glad to know all things are going well at home, everybody well and so on. Thank you very much for remembering us in your prayers, but we are not in any grave danger, in fact we have known nothing about the war so far, in regards to fighting. But of course it may be very important to us before it is over.

Roy and Eddie are going to school again I suppose. Did you have Bruce to Twillingate and is he going to school too? How is Nita Joan, alright I hope?

No we did not expect a war upon us so soon when we left home. Hitler thought the time had come for him to Germanize Europe. He is like Napoleon in one sense, he has no love for his people just a lust for power. This is his sole aim and he cares not what sacrifices he causes to gain his ends. Napoleon conquered nearly the whole of Europe, Britain alone stood fast. Hitler hasn’t got half the resources that he had, even if Russia comes in with him, (and it’s doubtful if she’ll hang on to the end) but with all this where did Napoleon end up? Where will Hitler end up? The day will come as sure as eggs are birds when he will fly from his high roost. The Poles will be overrun no doubt and scattered to the four winds, so were the Belgians in 1914-18, but they have been living peacefully in their own country ever since. So will the Poles after 1939…

Don’t get alarmed about Ches having to go to war Mab. Canada will very soon have about 50,000 reserve troops ready for the field, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa has thousands more, but none of them are wanted yet. Only Canadian air men has gone and will be going yet I dare say. There’s plenty of single men willing to go, and if it comes bad enough for married men to go to Hitler’s plans will be working out better than the world thinks.

The Germans are a crowd that tries to strike quick and hard, and they plays havoc for a while like they are now on British merchant ships, but they will soon get exhausted. John Bull on the other hand is slow and sure and is able to fight a long war.

All this (???) I’ve had to put down to fill out the letters because nobody is allowed to tell anything about the ships or her doings. All I can say is our trip to England is cancelled for the present and we are on board here as part of the ships company. We are at sea nearly all the time keeping watches day and night, having to get up and 12 and 4 o’clock at morning which is disagreeable to some of us (Ha! Ha!) We have not seen as many places as we expected and things do not differ much from day to day. But we are having a marvelous time for wartime. No hard work to do and gets a very good amount of food. Of course our training is cut and the only things we have been instructed in of late is rifles, how to use them and rifle drill.

There’s not much chance of working ahead now while the war is on, for we won’t be rated A.B’s without the training in Barracks. But of course we don’t know how things will turn out, we may be sent to England which I think only fair.

You said you would miss my keeping house for you this winter. Well you won’t miss it any more than myself, for I never enjoyed anything so well in all my life than sitting in your quiet kitchen doing my lessons. Another thing which Harry and I both would love and enjoy, that is the usual game of cards on Friday and Saturday night at your place. There has been a steady noise in my ears ever since we came on board, for you can’t imagine what it is like among nearly 800 men with the buzzing of the ventilation engines and all sorts of other things. This sometimes makes me think of the quietness of your place nighttime and how I would enjoy another night there.

I’m sending you a snap of our ship, that is all I could get to send now. Later on Harry and I are having some taken together and I’ll send one of them.

This is all for now as it is turn in time. I’m stood alongside of a locker writing this which makes my writing look like a lot of capelin spread out, so please excuse the scribbling.

Remember me to Stan, Frank, Lora your mother (I mean your mother Mab) and the girls (Ha! Ha!)

Write the both of you as soon as you get time and address your letter:


33 Mess

H.M.S. Berwick

c/o British Consul General

New York





Port of Spain, Trinidad

Jan. 20, (19)40


Dear Ches,

I received your letter the last time we were in also the pair of mitts. Boy I was glad to get a letter from you, thanks very much and for the mitt’s also. I’d like to be able to give them back to you again for as you know things like that are not usually worn around these parts. Ha! Ha!

How did you enjoy Xmas and the new year? Hope you all had a good time. We did not have much of a time, for we were at sea and Xmas wasn’t much different from any other time. In fact we spend a great deal of time at sea and when we come in it is merely a matter of refueling and supplying. So you see I’m not seeing much of the places we visit. Whenever Harry and I get ashore we go to the pictures, I’ve seen a lot of them since we’ve been gone you may be sure.

Unfortunately the war broke out before we drew our full kit, and so we haven’t got any white drill suits. I had some photographs taken the other day in a duck suit which don’t look nearly as good as the others. But I’m sending you one any way, later on may be I’ll be able to send a better one.

Yes boy you may be sure I’d like to be able to come over to your place some Saturday nights, and to be able to look after the house for you two while your out, having it all to myself. Harry and I often talk about it and wonder when we’ll get back there again.

What do you think will be the outcome of Russia’s war on Finland Ches? Stalin thought it was about time for him to have a dig at some harmless and weaker country. All the same the Fins are hanging out bravely and probably big Joe is up against a harder task than he thought.

Nearly every night there’s some thrilling news bulletins and I know you are very eager to hear it. I’m not nearly as interested in the war news as I would be home, nobody seems to be. Of course we hear it nearly every night, but it’s not the same some how.

Have there been many birds and seals home this fall? I suppose you and Claude still goes in punt together and did either wave come in over and flop down over his poll when going around and around High Head? Ha! Ha! It would be great fun to be out for a day turring when there’s a lot of them in the water don’t you think?

Because of so many ships being with a lot of senior hands now in commission will have to go back to England to man them and so the juniors will have to step in their places. I don’t know how many Newfoundlanders will be promoted but I think it’s definite we’ve got to have some sort of training and pass on for something. We haven’t had much so far, but we still do rifle drill and things like that when in harbour.

When I got your letter Mab’s was enclosed too of course which I should have said at first. But you know this is her’s as well. Tell her when either of you writes again she wish send some snaps of you all especially Nita Joan. I went away without a photo of any of the family, don’t know what kind of a fool I was. Please try and do this if possible at all and I’ll be very grateful.

This is about all for now. Haven’t seen Fritz yet, may later but you know what buzz news is like.

So now I’ll quit with sincere regards from bro,



Land of the Hummingbirds

British West Indies

Feb. 25, 1940


My Dearest Flo (Ches):

Hurry up Uncle John you don’t want a coal (cold?).

The rest of the gunners are out in their boats;

The wind it’s up eastern and blowing quite hard,

There’s thousands of ducks out I clear to me Lard.

Ah boy would I enjoy a few mornings out when there’s a lot of birds about or out in skiff turring. How have you done with them this fall and have you shot anymore old harps? I’ve heard there’s been a lot of seals again.

Just as well begin another way. Thank you very much for your nice letter which I received yesterday. But I hope you’ll write a little more next time. Harry and I had 7 or 8 letters and nearly half of them were taken up with weddings. Suppose Skipper Keziah isn’t married yet?

No I haven’t got any stripes yet on topside or bottom. Can’t say which will be decorated first. Yes we nearly all were a bit sorry to leave the “Berwick” knowing we were going to a harder ship as we were told. Had we been going to Barracks it would have been different. But I’m not sorry now, getting along better if anything and most of all more to eat. As I’ve said before this ship runs canteen rationing and most every month we have a mess bill, but it’s not much.

Most every evening we have a bit of fun on the .22 range which have been going for a month or more. I was ashore once with a crowd for a .303 school on the police range. Didn’t do too bad for a novice. We will be going ashore every time we are in harbour for competition shoots in future.

Do you have many games of nines Saturday nights now? Do Stan come out as often as he used to since he got married? I didn’t know how to believe it when we heard about Stan.

Can’t say much more as I’ve more letters to write. Hope all the children are well especially Joan. And may it not be very far in the future when I’ll be able to see you all again. Give my love to Mab and Good-bye.

Your affectionate brother,



Paradise, (Bermuda)

May 1, (19) 40


Dear Ches,

I received your very interesting letter a few days ago, needless to say I was delighted to hear from you and Mab again. Don’t go talking like a fellow of fourteen or fifteen again, for (although you may not think it) you are one of the lucky ones. If you were having the experience you think you should be yours you would then realize it, believe me.

Glad to hear things have been going well at home all the winter especially more goat for mutton again Ha! Ha!

I’ve seen by a paper from home the sealing fleet have done well. Were there any seals got at home this spring? I would give a month’s wages for a good meal of fried flipper now.

The Finns were overrun after a very brave resistance. They can no longer call themselves free now Russia has footing there. Now that they are building a naval base there the poor unhappy Finns will always be in their claws.

I did not escape much of Jack Frost this year by being down here. You at home must have had nearly a subtropical winter by what you said.

Yes Harry and I guessed the two seal hunters. I knew who Scrans horses was the minute I saw it. Harry missed the other.

The report you heard over the radio about a German prize ship being taken in Trinidad was incorrect. She was the 6,500 ton “Hanver” on her maiden voyage when war broke out, she was captured and towed in Jamaica. I was on board the ship who captured her today (for torpedo instructions). She has captured and sunk more than one and has been in several submarine scraps as well.

I don’t expect the Tid Bit magazine can help a fellow to get (a) promotion. After I am made able seaman I’m going through for L.S. commonly called the hook, because of the anchor worn on the arm. To get made very quick needs one’s officers recommends, but I am very grateful to you for advising me just the same.

Bermuda, even though it is about the dearest place this side of the Atlantic, is a very pleasant place to live. The weather is the most satisfactory that can be found anywhere. The islands of St. George’s, Warwick, Hamilton, Somerset, Boez, Watford and Ireland form a large bay opening to the south, which is barricaded by coral reefs. The channel through them is narrow and very crooked and is all marked by buoys. It is a very dangerous place to come into in foggy weather or at night, and the remains of several wrecks piled up on these reefs are the tokens of some of its victims. The most notable wreck still on those reefs of coral is the Spanish liner mysteriously run on them in ‘37. She was on her maiden voyage bound for Central America for munition supplies. She was a Govt owned ship and it is believed most of the officers were in sympathy with the rebels. In any case, it was in broad daylight on a fine day when the captain altered course and went to his cabin leaving her in the hands of the office of the watch, off Bermuda. Shortly after he did this she walked in a notch, driving the crags up through her bottom, leaving her in perfect sailing position as she is today. An attempt was made to get her off, but it was in vain. The captain was shot for negligence when he returned to Spain. She lies 6 miles off shore and were it not for the fact that her funnel has been removed, one would think her to be proceeding on her voyage.

Looking across from the L.Y. the houses and buildings of St. George’s and Hamilton (which are all built of white stone) glistening in the sun makes a remarkable picture against the green of the palm and cedar. The great Hotels of Hamilton are the temporary homes of the wealthy Yankee tourists, and the bay itself is their yachting paradise. You may be sure they have some splendid ones too. This healthy climate, the horse and cab, the quiet and cleanliness of the place would be a magnet to draw any loafer with a pocket of dough. For my part I would do a whole lot of loading here if I was in a position to do so Ha! Ha! There are real crystal caves here too, which I am going to have a squint at later.

You are just about puffed up on all this junk I expect, so I’ll quit.

Say me to all the (Editor’s note: He first wrote dames but then scratched it out of his letter) girls that come your way Ha! Ha!

Love for Mab and all the kiddies especially Nita Joan, but all there is for you is a bit of advice: “always wear a shirt with a swanskin front every time you go to the toilet in zero weather (from past experience) Ha! Ha!! Ha!!! Ha!!!!

Yours believe me,



Last ‘o May/(19)40


Dear Mab:

I was delighted to get another of your very interesting letters a while ago. Don’t try to change your feminine style of writing, as you call it, for you would be making a mess of a good job.

Give Ches lots of congratulations from me for the position he has obtained in the Church. He must be getting religious, has he given up pleasures and vanities etc, etc. and begun to wear a long face? Ha! Ha! But I suppose it is too late to rub it in much for the excitement of it has died down by now.

I felt ashamed when I heard Mother and Father had a book dedicated to the Church in my name. For if the books had only been given in the names of those who deserved it, mine would have been left out.

Thanks very much for the snaps. The one of Nita Joan was beautiful. I have them all in my album in which I’m putting the photograph of the various places and things we visit.

You said you missed me for housekeeping, but you don’t miss me any more than I miss the quiet hours I spent at your place alone with my books. Here in the ship there is always a crowd chattering and no place to be alone. Only the officers have private cabins.

Ches, you said, had things on his letter you didn’t like. But surely you know how much arm he meant by it, if he didn’t have a few old jokes he wouldn’t be himself at all. Harry and I had a great laugh over it. It’s no use to have a long face in times like these. Even if a fellow is in the dangers of war (which) we are not now, a serious letter would do him no good.

Tell the girls, if you see them, that they shouldn’t go school teaching now, it’s the Land Army they should join (Ha! Ha!)

I would like for some of you to be near sometimes when I go to a theatre to take you in. You would enjoy it immensely, for there have been some marvelous films on the screen this year.

We are now revising our course in seamanship. Next week we will have a test. If we score very high we will be rated Able Seamen very shortly.

I get (?)10 per month extra in place of grog every day. When I get AB’S pay, it will amount to nearly 5 (pounds?) per month altogether.

Do you hear from the Taylors now? I had a letter from Dudley last mail. He said Cyril was in Toronto training to be a pilot, Lonz went over with the last naval contingent and Hugh is in England with the Forestry Unit. I would like to meet up with Lonz sometime or other.

I can say now that for a whole twelve months I have not seen a blossom of snow. The weather we are getting here in Bermuda now is about the same as the warmest days we get home in the summers, but of course there’s no chill in the air first in the mornings as there is at home. It is not quite as hot now as it will be, about June 21st the sun will be overhead. At night in the tropics the air is not a bit cool and refreshing as it is in a temperate climate. It is always close and warm and walking fast or hurrying would cause one to perspire freely. If we go south again I expect to peg out, it was bad enough all winter, now it will be much hotter. But after another year we will be acclimatized or nearly so, the north will be nearly as bad as the south is to us now.

Are all the schooners gone to the Labrador yet. Have father and them got back from St. John’s, hope they don’t have any bother as they did last spring?

Have Bruce been going to school yet, and have you had him to the hospital as you intended. Hope Roy and Eddie are doing well at school?

I get an occasional letter from Mr. Sparkes. He says when we get back to St. John’s again, they will make it a matter for rejoicing.

The next time we get in from sea, Harry and I are having a look at the crystal caves. We will also take a few pictures, so the next letter I write there will be a snap or two along with it. Thanks again for the ones you sent. Please write again and tell me everything.

So best wishes for a happy summer.




“At Sea”

June 20/ (19) 40


My Dear Mab:

Many thanks for your kind letter of May 26 which I received two mails ago. The cookies did not turn up when your letter did and I have been looking forward to the mails very anxiously since you may be sure. Last mail the package came along O.K. and also 3 letters from home, one of them from Ches. I appreciated your sending me the cookies very much, they were wonderful, not broken up or anything. It certainly did remind Harry and I of the feeds we used to get at your place. Needless to say they soon vanished. Ha! Ha!

The letter I had from Ches was begun April 14 and finished June 6. Ha! Ha! I know what it’s like when one is always working like him, in no mood for writing in the evenings. But this don’t make any difference, I enjoy letters from home just as much no matter when they are written.

Since you got your last letter from me Italy has come into the war and France has been overwhelmed. But serious as it looks I don’t think there is anything to worry about, for the Huns have merely trampled over a lot of ground they won’t be able to keep. When the materials and supplies they have captured are expended and their reserves are depleted (and I shouldn’t imagine them to be very great) there won’t be much they can do. One thing certain, they will never be able to capture Britain, however much they smash it up, for the Navy is still supreme.

Italy is not able to send much supplies into Germany, because now that she is in the war she needs it herself. And with her fleet bottled up as it is in the Mediterranean importing from the outside isn’t all fun. Nobody seems to worry about it all, everybody seems quite confident we will be victorious in the end.

There must have been some misunderstanding about what I was saying of the pleasures of Bermuda etc. Apart from a couple of dances I haven’t been communicating with either woman ashore there. The ships company is having a dance at the R.N. Canteen on Friday (tomorrow night) and I’m not even well enough acquainted with anyone to invite a special guest. Of course there will be a dance for everybody, but that method is not always satisfactory is it?

Harry and I had some snaps taken a while ago but they are not very nice. One was taken near some royal palms and Harry paid more attention to them than he did me with the result the picture excludes my legs. Nevertheless I’m sending a couple and may have some better ones later as I’m getting a camera of my own as soon as possible.

Tuesday we had our final exam for AB’s, a written and oral exam. Everybody said it was a hard test for the sort of training we have had — in fact nearly equal to an L. Seaman’s exam. We all passed except one, the fellow from Little Bay Islands. But the captain was so pleased with it he allowed him a pass even if he didn’t have a sufficient percentage. We will be getting some back pay later as AB’s pay will begin from a certain date and not from the time we are given the rating.

The latest news I’ve had about Father and the crew was they were not even back from St. John’s. But surely they are not so far behind and have got away before this time, hope so anyway?

June 22. Didn’t get time to finish the other night as it was too near “pipe down”, but anyway the mail hasn’t closed yet.

The ship companies’ dance went off last night. Quite a crowd attended, officers and all, but it wasn’t so hot — not for me anyway. You can well imagine what sort of a hand I make at Fox trots, Waltz, Paul Jones so on and so forth. Ha! Ha!

All the St. Margaret’s girls are determined to be teachers apparently. It will be alright for the W.I.T. crowd, the coming generation of them won’t be so dumb as their forefathers Ha! Don’t tell the girls, they may take offense.

The wheels of time seem to be turning a bit faster at home since we have been away. More deaths more splices — which means more new stock I suppose.

It’s funny where one will come across Newfoundlanders while wandering around. At Hamilton a while ago a man and his wife came on the jetty one evening asking to speak to the Nfld boys on board. There were a pair from Lamaline came here at the close of the Great War. In fact the fellow had served in the Navy until 1918 when their ship went to St. John’s where he amongst a crowd, skipped it and never went on board again. Since then I’ve discovered there are several Newfoundlanders living in Bermuda.

It’s very hard for the English people having to evacuate their children out of the country altogether, right across the sea isn’t it? Last night the B.B.C news said there are 400 going to Newfoundland.

There’s much more. I can tell you now and I must write a few more letters. Thanks again and again for the beautiful package of cakes. Write again as soon as possible.