Kennedy, John F. (1917 – 1963)

A very early typed letter signed by Kennedy, ‘Jack Kennedy’ in fountain pen ink, London, September 19th 1939.

Just days after the start of World War Two, the young Kennedy writes to Mr. Naismith, enclosing payment for flowers to be sent to Rosslyn Chaplin in Edinburgh. He then adds, ‘check rec’d and acknowledged’. Together with a typed letter signed by Edward  E. Moore, secretary to the U.S. Ambassador (Joseph Kennedy), September 29th 1939, also written to Mr. Naismith, also enclosing payment for flowers that were sent to Rosslyn Chapel. And with a carbon copy of a note from Naismith back to Moore, in which he returns the cheque as ‘John Kennedy has already reimbursed me.’ The letters relate to the death of an airman who was the brother of John F. Kennedy’s friend Anthony St Clair-Erskine, 6th Earl of Rosslyn.

Two weeks before writing these letters, on September 3rd 1939, the same day that Britain and France declared war on Germany following its invasion of Poland, the passenger liner SS Athenia became the first UK ship to be sunk by German forces in World War II. Among the Athenia’s 1,103 passengers, 311 were U.S. citizens, and those that were rescued were safely transported to Glasgow. Unable to leave London, Ambassador Kennedy sent his 22-year-old son and personal secretary John F. Kennedy to visit the American survivors on his behalf. The event was a pivotal one for Kennedy, who by October had returned to Harvard after his six-month European sabbatical with a reshaped political mindset. He had, initially, like his father, considered the prospect of war remote, but the sinking of the Athenia and the concurrent war declaration pressed upon Kennedy greatly. After the fall of Poland, JFK wrote an editorial for the Harvard University newspaper entitled Peace in Our Time, and then began work on his honours thesis, which discussed the British appeasement that led to war; the final product would be published as a book in 1940, under the title Why England Slept.

A unique, early, and poignant letter from a young Kennedy. In fine condition.