Harry's Letter


This letter written by Charles Edmund Pratt was found in his personal effects after his death in 1979. It was written 34 years earlier to his Mother-in-law, Mary Therosa Campbell, who lived in Western Australia. It is not known why it was in his possession, maybe never sent or possibly returned after the death of Mary Campbell. In the letter the name Alice is mentioned. Alice was Dolly's older Sister.

The letter describes a tragic historical event that Charles was personnally envolved in. It also demonstrates his written ability and love of writing, capturing graphically a time of life, long since past, where communications and pace of life was much slower than todays.

Monday 15 April 1946

124 Hastings Pde,
Nth Bondi NSW

My Dear Mother-in-law,

Your air mailed letter to Dolly received this morning and we both wish to thank you for it and the Easter greetings.

Apparently at the time of writing you were unaware of what had happened to me on my return from India, so I will explain.

You know of course all about the missing Lancastrian with the loss of five passengers and five crew. Well that was the plane and passengers we flew down from Karachi (India) to Negombo (Ceylon).  We had a bit of bother ourselves, the radio going "bung" etc; however we made Ceylon on schedule and handed over to the awaiting crew.

The plane was overhauled by mechanics etc, before taking off. Adjustments and check complete, off they went on their way to Perth via Cocos Islands. They were in normal touch for six hours and only about 2 hrs before reaching Cocos when nothing further was heard from them.

We, in our turn picked up the following plane and passengers and flying over the same route conducted a semi search at 1000 ft over the approx area of disappearance. We saw nothing and shortly before landing at Cocos, had engine trouble ourselves and blew out a cylinder block, so our plane became unserviceable and we had to await 'spares' from Sydney, which arrived in two days. We found at Cocos a large scale search being organised and carried out and it was decided our passengers would be picked up by the following plane and we were to help in the search. We used to be up at 4 am, wash, breakfast, provision the plane and be off at dawn not returning till after dark, each plane covering a set area.

In between serving refreshments to the crew (plus two RAF men) I acted as observer. We used to fly at 500 ft all the time and the heat was terrific and very trying.

On the last day of the search I dropped a flame float through a 'chute' in the fuselage over an area where the night before a searching crew had reported seeing something like a petrol tank, but we searched the area for over 12 hrs without seeing anything more than hundreds of thousands of flying fish. It was impossible to miss seeing anything.

It was awfully depressing, we all knew the crew and I the passengers too, but after searching 125,000 sq miles  of ocean plus the Dutch Coastal search only one conclusion could be drawn so the search was abandoned.

We were five days at Cocos and were glad to leave. We had been living on RAF rations and they were very poor, no fresh stuff. I explored the island with the navigator, walked the length and breadth of it. It was a mass of coconut palms with the strip running almost the full length. There was an Indian Army Unit stationed there, we walked through their camp lines, everything was scrupulously clean and tidy and the earth clearing swept like a parade ground.

The island had no native inhabitants and there are no birds, nor disease carrying mosquitoes. On an adjacent island however there is a Malay settlement of about 1,500 souls. Cocos is connected with the sinking of the German "Bismarck" by the "Sydney" and buried Spanish treasure by those colourful pirates that sailed the Spanish main long years ago.

We arrived back at Perth on a Sunday afternoon four days overdue and we were to continue on in the morning to make up lost time. That of course spoilt plans of seeing you and going on to Alice's. We were taken to our Hotel just in time for tea and it was 7pm before I was free. It was too late to go very far afield, so I slipped down to Swanbourne for an hour or two with the Lows and then back to sleep as we were to rise at 5 am.

Engine trouble delayed us but we had to stay around at the hotel in case of a call. I slipped round to the GPO and not knowing the number of Thelma Street, wrote a letter card to Lorna giving her a brief explanation and expecting that she would let you know. We did not get away till evening and arrived about 9:15 Tuesday morning at Mascot. Home soon after I found that Dolly had been worried and upset by the happenings so re-considered the situation and decided to resign. I finished last week, following an interview with the Proprietor of one of Sydney's night spots, a Restaurant-Cabaret. I re-started work last Thursday. I work as a waiter from 5pm to 1am four nights per week and 7pm to 1:30am on Saturdays.

The job is pretty hard but quite remunerative so everything is OK. It's night work of course but in my line it's difficult to obtain a job with normal hours. I could get a clerks job about 7 pounds per week, but that month goes nowhere in Sydney.

I found Ceylon and India very interesting, we investigated the native bazaars and smelly alleys and byways. We found the persistent attention of beggars and boat boys and other hangers-on a great nuisance.

If you don't need your shoes polished the kids spit on them or rub on grease so you have no excuse for refusal. Begging women pluck continuously at your sleeves and plead for annas. Basket salesmen vigorously try to sell you their wares. a hurltfarious collection of colourful vendors try their powers of persuasion. We found nothing cheap. Bearded and turbaned fortune tellers wanted to tell you your life's secret or your future. I bought a lovely set of carved ivory chessmen for about 5 pounds.

In two months they are beginning The Sydney - London flying boat service straight through. It would have been nice to see the folk back home. Dolly has written a few lines. Colin is very well and we have lots of games, he never gets tired of playing. Did I leave my snaps at Lorna's as I have not seen them since? Well must run along now.

Remember me to all and love to you from the three of us,

From Harry.

This page was last updated February 10, 2002

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