When Francie and Bridget McCauley left Londonderry for Willesden in 1937 little did they realise two of their boys would soon be received by early graves after falling in the Second World War.
Four of their sons, Michael (Mack), Denis, Liam and Patrick (Proinsias) served, which must have been particularly worrisome for Bridget née Keys, who originally hailed from Herbert Street in Top of the Hill.
Tragically, two sons never made it home.
Denis, a bomber with the RAF, went on a raid of the Ruhrgebiet in early 1945 and never came back.
‘Mack’ went down with HMS Daffodil on March 18, 1945, hours after she was struck by a mine just offshore of Dieppe.
Poignantly, the war was all over bar the shouting, particularly, in Mack’s case. Had the kapitulation come but a few months earlier... It wasn’t to be. Francie, who was from Alma Place off the Foyle Road and whose family had a long history of service with the Armed Forces, were robbed of two of their beloved sons.
Recounting her family’s sacrifice, Francie’s daughter Monica Clow, recalled: “Michael [Mack] (aged 21 years) was in the Royal Navy. I was always told that his ship, HMS Daffodil, was torpedoed (or hit by a mine, there are conflicting reports) on March 18, 1945. Michael never returned home and is buried in the Canadian Cemetery just outside Dieppe.
“Denis, aged 22 years, was an Air Bomber in the RAF.
“He was initially reported missing presumed dead. He too never returned home and is buried in the war grave cemetery at Overloon, Holland.”
The family have a letter dated, February 23, 1945, from Arthur Sharman, a friend of Denis.
He wrote: “I expect you remember me; Arthur Denis’ friend. I was posted to a different Squadron, and so have been out of touch with him lately. I found that he has been posted as missing from his last op. I’d like to offer my sympathy and to tell you not to worry too much, as I think there is a very good chance that he bailed out. I was on the same raid as Denis on the night he was missing and saw some of the planes go down.
“We were caught by fighters and some were shot down in enemy territory, others behind our own lines, but I think there is every chance in the world that Denis bailed out as the Air Bomber sits right on top of the forward escape hatch and would be the first to get out. If you hear any more news, do you think you could let me know. I’ll be on leave from March 19 and will come down and see you one evening.
“I don’t think there is anything more I can tell you at the moment and the Air Ministry will tell you as much as they can.”
The brothers who survived also had interesting stories.
Liam was in the 8th Army fighting in the Western Desert in Egypt and Libya.
He was one of the ‘Desert Rats’ who served under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein) against the enemy led by Field Marshal Rommel (known as the Desert Fox).
Patrick (or Proinsias as the family knew him), like Denis, also served in the RAF but to his regret was always based in England.