Background on the Letters


Cathie Flanigan


In July of 1995, my mother Patsy and I attended the funeral of my uncle, Frank Flanigan, in Larchmont, New York.  After the funeral my cousin Maureen, Frank’s daughter, found a stack of letters at the back of a closet in Frank’s house.  The letters were from my father, Owen A. Flanigan, to his older brother Frank during WW II.  This web page preserves the letters and associated background material in a family archive.


My father, Owen A. Flanigan, was a paratrooper in the British army during World War ll.  He was the youngest of nine brothers and sisters.  The letters were written to his older brother, Frank, who was living in New York City with his wife, Anne and their daughter, Maureen.  The letters cover the span of time from 1939 to 1945.  The letters discuss family news and activities my father was involved in as a paratrooper in the British Army.  Owen was born in 1921, so these letters were written during the time he was 19 to 25 years old.


Owen, with his brother, Michael, originally joined the British Territorial Army which is similar to the American National Guard.  Before the war, it was mainly a social group and they weren’t that busy. He then entered the 41st (5th North Staffordshire) Searchlight Regiment, R. A. (Royal Artillery) and became a paratrooper. 


Owen, as a paratrooper, had been trained to disable German artillery pieces behind the beaches in France. He jumped behind German lines at Normandy on D-Day and was wounded in his left arm.  He was on the ground only about 4 to 8 hours before he was quickly evacuated back to Britain. Owen spent about a year and a half in the hospital. After many surgeries he eventually recovered, and then took advantage of the British version of the GI Bill to study drafting and engineering at Oxford, England.  He then moved to New York and then California, where he met my mother, Patsy, raised our family and helped to build the Flanigan Farms family business.  He died of prostate cancer in 1992 at 72 years of age.


There are seventeen letters in total. Several of the letters were altered by the military sensors before Frank received them. More than half of the letters did not have dates on them or were missing envelopes, which made identifying the exact dates of the letters impossible. The letters were put into an approximate date order based upon the continuous story line of events that were mentioned.


All of the original letters have been scanned and produced in this document. A typed version of each page is displayed alongside the corresponding scanned page. The typed version has been written in as close a manner as possible to the original letter, with missing punctuation and grammatical errors.  Some words were unreadable and they were typed in as question marks or the best possible word was inserted, given the context of the previous words or sentences. Additional explanatory material is linked to highlighted words in the typed version on each page.


One continuous thread throughout the letters is mention of Frank and Owen’s older brother Michael.  As mention above, Owen and Michael were in the same unit of the army until my father was transferred to a different section.  My cousin Joe Courtney, who was 12 years old at the time explained that Owen and Michael ran in the same crowd of friends and that Michael was not really into the whole army thing, but he did his duty. Michael was sent to Malay with the British army in 1941. Joe Courtney accompanied Michael to the train to see him off. Joe Courtney was the last relative to see Michael alive.


Michael and the rest of the British troops on their ship were captured by the Japanese when they landed, without a shot being fired. They were held as a POWs in the Selarang Barracks camp, which was near the Changi Prison in Singapore. Author James Clavell was held in the Changi Prison as a POW, which is described in his book, King Rat.  According to Joe Courtney, Michael did not respect the Japanese, he made fun of them, and at 6’ 4’’ tall, stood out in the crowd of prisoners.  The report of survivors is that one day he was taken from the cell block and never seen again.  After the war,  a survivor of that prison who knew Michael indicated that he died in 1942, and had been tortured to death.  He was 25 years old.  My father’s letters show the increasing concern and speculation over time of Michael’s whereabouts. I visited Singapore, located the Cemetery and Michael's grave.