Fighting High Books
The Remarkable Second World War Letters of Prisoner of War John Valentine and his wife Ursula.
by Frances Zagni
Hardback - 256pp (including 16pp of black and white photographs) - 234 x 156mm.
World Rights - Fighting High Ltd. ISBN - 978-1-9998128-1-2.
Shot down in his Avro Manchester on the Thousand Bomber raid of 30/31 May 1942 Bomber Command observer and navigator John Valentine saw out the rest of the Second World War as a prisoner in Germany. During that period, he wrote extensively to his wife Ursula, telling her of his survival, the circumstances in which he was shot from the sky, his capture, and the daily rigours of life as a prisoner of war. Extraordinarily, and despite being extremely ill, when John was finally liberated he brought back all the letters and photographs he had received from Ursula. Across all their correspondence, parts of which had been blacked out, the word ‘Gepruft’ (‘checked’ in German) had been stamped by the German censor.
In addition to the correspondence written during the dark days when John was a prisoner, further letters exist penned when a pregnant Ursula lived in London at the time of the Luftwaffe Blitz, John was training for aircrew duties with the Royal Air Force, and during his operational career with No. 49 Squadron on Hampden and Manchester bombers. In total, this extraordinary archive consists of 224 letters and postcards from John and 305 from Ursula, with a further 73 written to John during his long periods of hospitalisation after his return.
These letters, which have been compiled and edited by John and Ursula’s daughter Frances, provide a unique and unprecedented insight in to how two people struggled to find solace, and keep their hopes and love alive despite the anxieties of John’s dangerous operational life and his three years behind barbed wire. Illustrated with previously unpublished photographs Gepruft is a truly remarkable and comprehensive account of the effect of the Second World War on the lives of a young married couple, and their generation.
Frances Zagni is the daughter of John and Ursula Valentine and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Following an Arts Degree at Southampton University she took a Performer's Diploma on the violoncello. A career as a cello teacher, combined with bringing up a family of four children followed, both in UK and abroad, living in countries as diverse as Iraq, Cyprus, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and Italy, as her husband was an Irrigation Engineer. On returning to the UK she took an MA in Arts Administration followed by writing the biography of Ernest Read. 'Uncle Ernie', which was published in 1989, and later a Teacher's diploma on the Double Bass. Living in Stanton Prior, near Bath, and in addition to transcribing all her parent's wartime letters, Frances now divides her time between gardening and the viola da gamba.