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Poignant letter to Summerside woman reveals heartbreak of Second World War


SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. —

It's one of the last letters a Spitfire pilot mailed to his sweetheart in Summerside.

“My darling Elizabeth,” reads the letter. “I just got down from another routine flight in the heavens. It was so peaceful up there. You could see the stars and the moon, but when I looked down, there’s still the madness of war. I get these feelings Elizabeth, I may not make it back.”

George Dalton curiously found the letter as a young boy, addressed to his older sister Elizabeth (Dalton) from Thomas (Tom) Gordon Foley.

“Our large home (now the Lefurgey Cultural Centre) was the entertainment hub in Summerside. Soldiers training at Selmon Park came to listen to our famous piano. This is how Elizabeth met Tom,” said Dalton, the guest speaker at Trinity United Church Remembrance Day service on Sunday morning.

Foley came from Collingwood in Ontario for basic pilot training at Slemon Park. After a few months of training, he left for England. From England, he was deployed to Malta.

Malta, then a British colony, was important during the Second World War because it was the only Allied base between Gibraltar and Alexandria in Egypt.

“Tom flew over the desert (in North Africa) fighting the enemy. On one of these flights, he was forced to crash-land because something happened to his aircraft. I don’t know if he was hit or there was engine failure, but he managed to crash in the desert without dying,” said Dalton.

“Germans got word of the crash and went searching for him, but Tom hid his parachute and was rescued by Bedouins (nomadic Arabs) in the desert. After a month in the desert, he recovered from his injuries and was returned to the Allies.”

Foley continued to serve with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a test pilot.

“It was a risky job because you didn’t know what could go wrong,” said Dalton.

In 1942, something went wrong.

Foley, at 24-years-old, died on a test flight while serving under Squadron 229.

“It was hard on Elizabeth. Growing up, I never knew the pilot in the faded black and white photograph that hung on our wall. Then I pieced the two together,” continued Dalton while acknowledging it was a painful subject family members didn’t talk about.

Foley is buried at Capuccini Naval Cemetery in Malta.

Elizabeth eventually married a New Brunswick man, but he died aged 49.

“She had a sad life,” said Dalton.

The service ended at 12-noon with ‘Amazing Grace’ performed by a bagpiper.

The well-known hymn touched on the service theme of Freedom.

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