Remarkable wartime album brings 150 sailors back to life

Historians need help reuniting relatives with a unique piece of wartime Royal Navy history spanning the Atlantic.

They hope to trace the descendants and relatives of every sailor hosted by a New York family during World War 2.

The Caseys from Douglaston in Queens welcomed around 150 British personnel into their home, offering the men food, pastimes and a friendly family environment away from the horrors of war.

Seventy-five years later, the scrapbook the family kept chronicling their wartime visitors has been unearthed – prompting a global search for the men within.

Over the next seven or eight years, around 150 Britons – mostly Royal Navy, but also merchant sailors and RAF personnel – enjoyed the hospitality of sailor Fraser Casey, his wife Eleanor, and their three young children Pat, Peggy and Fraser.

Some men returned to New York – perhaps after completing an Atlantic convoy run or while waiting for the ship to be repaired in Brooklyn’s shipyards following battle damage.

Mrs Casey kept a memento of each one – a sheet of paper with a short biography of each man, plus a photograph.

Men such as Petty Officer Writer Peter Clipstone, assigned to the escort carrier HMS Avenger, being built in Pennsylvania. Aged 21 and engaged to Eleanor from Nova Scotia, the young senior rating from Surrey was a keen badminton player and loved completing jigsaw puzzles. He died – along with most of his shipmates – when Avenger was torpedoed off North Africa in November 1942.

 

Since this book was first started in 1940 no one has ever seen these photographs in the UK in 80 years

Military researcher Gloria Winfield

Able Seaman John Howard who sailed across the Atlantic on liner-turned-troopship Aquitania in November 1944 survived the war. Aged “about nineteen and a half” and from Crosby, Liverpool, John had worked in a bank before being called up and enjoyed swimming and ping-pong.

Such short pen portraits pepper the loose-leaf folder: “enjoys hot coffee and rolls”, “very quiet”, “plays ping pong – would like to beat me”, “cannot swim”, “one of the best”, “likes gardening and children” and “very pleasant”.

Mrs Casey kept in touch with some of the families after the war – and continued to host British personnel until around 1947.

“She was an amazing woman who not only wrote to families telling them of their loved ones, but sent food and clothing parcels to those families with young children,” says military researcher Gloria Winfield, who has taken on the challenge of tracking down the sailors’ families.

“In the few months we have been carrying out this work we have located some 20 or so men or families: widows, brothers, nephews, daughters, sons and so on,” she explained.

“Since this book was first started in 1940 no one has ever seen these photographs in the UK in 80 years.”

The search has extended to New Zealand, Bermuda, Canada, Isle of Man, Australia, Norway and South Africa, but it’s hindered by lack of details of many men, plus the cost of ancestry and family history checks.

You can find the names of around 125 sailors the team would like to trace at Finder Guru and contact Gloria via email or her colleague Nicola Girling at to help them fill in the gaps.