The Kennedys in England - two love stories
In wartime London, two of the prestigious American Kennedy family were having affairs that their parents disapproved of wholeheartedly.
Kathleen was in love with Billy Cavendish. He was from a titled and wealthy family but the Kennedys would never approve of him as a suitor because he wasn't Catholic.
Joe's beloved had the same 'problem' but it was far worse. Not only was she married, this was her second husband so she was also a divorceé.
At least this formed a bond between Joe and his sister, Kathleen. They were the only two members of the Kennedy family who were in London in the later years of the war. Joe was a bomber pilot based in the UK and Kathleen (often known by the nickname 'Kick') was working for the Red Cross.Sadly, the stories of both brother and sister ended in tragedy.
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A chance meeting
In October 1943, Joe flew to an airfield near London and called to see Kathleen at her city home.
They dined together and because of the lack of accommodation in the area at the time, he stayed with an old acquaintance, newspaperman William Randolph Hearst.
He intended to leave London the following day but the weather conditions prevented him from flying. Being forced to stay for an extra night, he dined at the Savoy that night with Hearst, Kathleen and some other guests.
One was Patricia Wilson. Pat had been married into the aristocracy. Her first husband had been the 9th. Earl of Jersey. By the time she met Joe Jr., she was married to a British army major who was away fighting - far away in Libya.
She lived in a property about an hour away from London with her three young children.She liked to entertain her friends there and when she found that Joe's airbase was on the same train line as her house, she casually invited him to call in whenever he wanted to.
Although Kathleen (pictured on the right) wrote to her parents saying that Joe had 'no special girlfriend' she was aware of the budding affair between her brother and Patricia.
It would have been difficult for her to explain to her family that in the current conditions in Britain, a young American pilot having and affair with a married woman whose husband was overseas would hardly raise any eyebrows. But Kick did confide to close friends that Patricia was her brother's first serious love.
Amongst others, Kathleen and Joe were regular houseguests at Patricia's home Crastock Farm (now nicknamed 'Crash Bang) and the brother and sister were united in the knowledge that their love lives would be sure to incur their mother's wrath. The pair became staunch allies.
All the Kennedy children had been brought up to be competitive. Although Joe had completed his tour of duty and was scheduled to return to America, he had a problem.
His younger brother, John, had been hailed as a war hero.
Joe decided to volunteer for a highly secret and highly dangerous mission.London was being severely attacked by German V-1 bombs. The allies, desperate to retaliate, created their own but more crude version.
Joe volunteered for this; known as the Aphrodite campaign, scheduled for the middle of August.
Patricia decided to stay with a friend in a stately home in Yorkshire and Joe spent a weekend there with her just before his training commenced and told her that he would return soon as soon as the task was completed.During the training period, every evening, he rode a bicycle to the nearest village to call Patricia from the bright red phone box.
The mission was delayed. The pilots were confined to barracks - the powers-that-be were taking no chances that the news might leak out.
Joe was infuriated because he couldn't get to the village to let Patricia know he would be delayed. He knew she'd worry.
And his friends teased him because they knew that he was looking forward to getting together with his aristocratic girlfriend.
Eventually,on the evening before the mission, he was allowed to go to phone Patricia.He couldn't get through. Eventually he got hold of Kathleen who promised to relay the message.It was after this he was sought out by the electrical engineer who had been part of the team responsible for the special equipment fitted to Joe's plane.
He told him his doubts. He said that he had tried to delay the mission because he didn't feel that the equipment was safe enough.His superiors paid no attention. The engineer told Joe that he should refuse to fly. Joe declined. He said 'I know you mean well, but I'm going to fly'. The mission went ahead.It was only twenty eight minutes into the flight that Joe's plane exploded.
Pat, at Sledmere House in Yorkshire, was unaware. But the circle of friends was tight.
The RAF, knowing that Kathleen was frequent visitor to Sledmere, tried to contact her there to inform her of her brother's death.
Pat's friend and hostess took the call and received the news. She gently broke it to Patricia. She later discovered that Joe had confided in a mutual friend that he thought he only had a fifty percent chance of returning from the mission.
Indeed, prior to the flight, he had left careful instructions for the disposal of his belongings, should he not return. Sadly, two days after Patricia was told that Joe had died, she was informed that her husband had been killed in Italy.
There are two sad postscripts to this story and I don't know which is the worst.
Patricia wrote several letters to Joe's mother Rose (pictured here) telling her how much she had loved her son. She included some of his letters and some photographs.
Rose did not respond.
The second postscript concerns the area Joe set out to bomb on that fateful mission. It was one of the plants where the appallingly destructive V-1 bombs were made - the bombs that were wreaking so much havoc in British cities.
It was later discovered that by the time of Joe's mission, the factory had been abandoned for several months.
The Kennedy's will always be fascinating. What was it about that family? There are so many urban legends, conspiracy theories, rumours and more. Find out more from the selection of books below.
Mary on July 28, 2018:
I can't help but wonder, since Joe and Pat Wilson were tight, did they have an illegitimate child. It makes me wonder!