The love life of Joe Kennedy Jr.
This is the story of two members of the Kennedy family who both had tragic love affairs in England. Coincidentally both of them, Joe Junior and Kathleen, were to die at an early age in aircraft. They were the brother and sister of John Fitzgerald Kennedy who became president of the United States.
Both Joe and Kathleen had relationships when in the UK with people who their strict Catholic parents disapproved of thoroughly.
At first,it seems that no-one could disapprove of Kathleen’s affair with the aristocratic and handsome Billy Cavendish. His family were very wealthy and Billy was the heir to his father’s title but Kathleen knew that her parents would never accept him as a son-in-law because he wasn’t a Catholic.
Joe’s problem was actually a worse one. The woman he loved was also not of the ‘correct’ religion but she was married – for the second time. As the Catholic Church didn’t recognise divorce,she was eminently unsuitable.
The only plus side to this situation was that it meant that Joe and his sister Kathleen formed a bond between them. During the early nineteen forties both were living in the UK. Joe was a bomber pilot and Kathleen was working for the Red Cross. Neither of their stories had a happy ending.
Kathleen was living and working in London in 1943 and in October, Joe visited her. They had dinner together. The weather was too bad for him to fly back to his base so he stayed overnight with a fellow-American, the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. But the following day the weather had not improved and he was forced to stay in London. That night too he dined with his sister Kathleen, Hearst and a few other friends at the Savoy.
One of the people at dinner that evening was Patricia Wilson. She had previously been married to the Ninth Earl of Jersey but had been divorced and married a major in the British army. At the time Patricia met Joe, the major was far way, fighting in Libya. She had three young children and lived about an hour away from the centre of London where she enjoyed entertaining. During the evening with Joe and other friends, she realised that his airbase was on the same train line as her home and therefore she told him that he was welcome to drop by to see her.
Wartime in Britain
Kathleen was in touch with her family in the States and wrote letters to them regularly. When her parents inquired about Joe’s love life, she told them that he didn’t have a special girlfriend. But of course, she knew that he was starting a relationship with Patricia and that her parents would disapprove.
Although the entire Kennedy family had lived in London until the first year of the war – Joe Senior had been the US ambassador – Kathleen realised that her parents knew nothing about what life was like in wartime England. The fact that Joe, a bomber pilot, was having an affair with a married woman was not a situation that was unusual as the wars years went by. But nevertheless she did tell her close friends that the relationship between her brother and Patricia was a serious one.
Patricia’s home was called Crastock Farm and both Kathleen and Joe would often stay there at the same time. The fact that Joe was with his sister when he visited Patricia helped to keep tongues from wagging too much about the relationship. Although it was hardy considered scandalous in the days when life could be cut short, there was no reason to advertise their affair. Kathleen and Joe were allies.
The Kennedy parents had brought up their nine children to be enormously competitive and Joe was no exception. He knew that his younger brother John, the future president, had been hailed as a war hero. Joe volunteered for a very dangerous, secret mission called Aphrodite.
By this stage of the war, London was being severely bombed by Germany and this is what the mission aimed to prevent. It was scheduled for August and Joe was about to start his training. He and Patricia went to spend the weekend with some friends in Yorkshire before his training commenced. When he left, he assured her that he would be back with her as soon as the training was over. During the time spent away from her, he cycled to a local public telephone box every evening to call her.
The Aphrodite Campaign
The mission did not take place on the expected date. It was vital that any danger of the details leaking out was prevented so the airmen were confined to their quarters, much to Joe’s fury. He couldn’t get out to phone Patricia. Joe was infuriated because he couldn’t get to the village to let Patricia know he would be delayed. He knew she’d worry. His colleague of course good naturedly made fun of him and his thwarted love.
At last, on the night before Aphrodite was to take place, Joe was able to cycle to the village and to the phone. Imagine his frustration when he discovered that the call wouldn’t go through. He called Kathleen in London and asked her to get a message to Patricia. She assured him that she would do so and Joe returned to base.
When he arrived, an electrical engineer was waiting to talk to him. This man had been responsible for fitting special equipment specifically for the mission onto Joe’s bomber. His news wasn’t good. He told Joe that he would like him to see if he could get the mission delayed. He explained that he had doubts about the equipment. He had tried to tell his own superiors this but he explained to Joe that they wouldn’t believe him.
The engineer said to Joe that his best course of action would be to refuse to fly until the problem could be corrected. Joe listened carefully and attentively but he knew the importance of the mission. It had been delayed once and bombing raids were so dependent on the weather conditions being right. It could be days before the conditions would be right again. With every delay, it was likely that the enemy would get wind of the attack. He decided to fly.
His plane had been in the air for twenty eight minutes when it exploded
Patricia was still at Sledmere House in Yorkshire waiting for Joe to return. When the RAF realised what had happened to Joe, they tried to contact Kathleen in London to tell her that her brother had been killed. They couldn’t get hold of her but they called Sledmore as they knew she visited there often. The call was taken by the owner of the house who had the unenviable task of telling Patricia that her lover wouldn’t be coming back. Later, she found out that Joe had told a close friend that he had only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the dangerous mission.b His premonition was so strong that he had left careful instructions before he took off. He explained what should be done with his personal possessions should he not make it back.
It was only two days after she had found out about the death of Joe that Patricia heard that her husband had also been killed in action.
Patricia decided that she would write to Joe’s mother. She sent several letters to Rose Kennedy in the United States letting her know how much she had loved Joe and what a fine man he was. She also sent Rose some photographs of Joe and enclosed some of his letters. She received no replies at all and no acknowledgement.
Later more details about the Aphrodite mission became known. Joe’s task had been to attack the Mimoyecques plant in France where the V-3 bombs were manufactured and launched.
It was also discovered that when Joe set out on his mission, Mimoyecques had been abandoned and was no longer in use.
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