Wartime pupil's son traced after letter discovered at school

By Rosemary Collins, 13 February 2018 - 2:27pm

Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School worked with local and family historians to discover the identity of Donald James Macbride

Pupils at Sompting Abbotts used the letter to learn about the Second World War (Credit: Sompting Abbotts)

The discovery of a Second World War schoolboy's letter from his mother has led to his former school tracing his son in Australia.

The four-page letter from November 1939, found recently under the floorboards of a former dormitory in Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School in West Sussex by a workman, was addressed to "Dearest Jim" and signed "From your loving Mother".

Despite the lack of a surname, staff at Sompting Abbotts contacted local and family history researchers for help identifying the letter's recipient.

Margaret Sear of Lancing History Group used the Harwich street address on the letter to discover that Jim was Donald James Macbride, born in Richmond, London in 1926, son of Colin and Ivy Macbride.

She also found out that Jim and his parents, along with his older brother David (born in 1924 and also a Sompting Abbotts' pupil) emigrated to Australia in 1948.

The school then contacted Betty Pilgrim of Tasmanian Family History Research, who discovered that Jim died in 2003 in Hobart, but his son Craig Macbride, 53, was living in Melbourne.

Craig said: "It was dogged detective work by the school to find me and a wonderful surprise to learn of the letter's existence!

"The letter's a palpable connection to my family history I knew nothing about."

He agreed that the letter should be put on display in Sompting Abbotts so that its story can be shared with the pupils today.

The letter was written by Ivy Macbride to her son Jim (Credit: Sompting Abbotts)

Stuart Douch, Sompting Abbotts headmaster, said the letter had "really captured the children's imagination and stimulated their interest in this important period of British history".

The letter from Ivy Macbride includes a dramatic account of volunteering to help survivors of the Terukuni Mara, a Japanese passenger ship which sunk on 21 November 1939 after hitting a mine at the mouth of the Thames.

She told Jim the survivors were "covered in black oil and shivering cold", and she gave them dry clothes, including one of his Sompting Abbotts' flannel shirts.

Jim (right) and his brother David in their Sompting Abbotts school uniforms on a trip to London Zoo in the 1930s (Credit: Sompting Abbotts)

Sompting Abbotts temporarily closed in 1940 after the school was requisitioned by the British Army, and Jim may have left the letter behind when the school was evacuated.

He joined the army in 1943, serving as a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in the Middle East.

He subsequently qualified as a marine engineer at Northampton Engineering College, and after emigrating to Australia, served in the Royal Australian Engineers from the 1950s to the early 1980s.

In 1977, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal, awarded to individuals deemed to have made a significant contribution to their fellow citizens or community.

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