Mattie Edgar and Charlie Kincaid’s love story began with a chance meeting on a tram while World War 2 was raging in 1942.
Two years later, it ended on pen and paper.
Christchurch writer Lynette Hedrick grew up listening to her mother Mattie’s stories about her long lost fiance, Charlie.
“It’s my mother’s long-told true story. She would tell me about her missing fiance she met by chance.”
Charlie was a United States Navy diver in WW2. He was stationed on the repair ship, the USS Rigel, while her mother was training to be a hairdresser.
They met in May 1942, on a tram in Auckland.
Mattie was in her late 20s and had a day off her study. She decided to spend it going to the cinema.
When 23-year-old Charlie stepped on the tram, he sat next to her.
“He politely introduced himself and asked if he could join her at the movies,” Hedrick said.
“She just felt so drawn to him.”
She said her mother and Charlie spent a lot of time together for the next six months – they went dancing, to the movies and spent time walking in the park.
“What I can remember is that she had many happy outings with him.”
But the romance was short lived and his ship was sent back to the Pacific, bound for New Caledonia, when Charlie had to say goodbye to Mattie.
The USS Rigel was in Auckland from May, with officers working on Hobson Wharf until November.
“He had his instructions and he had to say goodbye in November 1942. Then he began writing to her.”
After he left, for the next two years they wrote letters back and forth. That chance meeting and the subsequent 30 letters are the basis of Hedrick’s new novel, The Rigel Affair.
Hedrick and her husband Bud have researched Charlie’s history with help from the US Navy archives and his shipmates Leonard Anderson and Dave Jessup.
“Both my husband and I contacted the navy headquarters in Washington DC and they gave us a lot of information about the USS Rigel,” she said.
But Charlie’s navy days began with a bang.
His first mission before he came to New Zealand on the ship was particularly notable. The USS Rigel sailed to Honolulu, Hawaii, in July 1941. She was still there on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
“It was his first encounter, they couldn’t believe it,” Hedrick said.
“It was parked at the back of the battleship so it wasn’t bombed by the Japanese.”
Sustaining minor damage in the strike – which killed more than 2400 Americans and led to the US formally entering the war – the USS Rigel then sailed around the Pacific, repairing other battle ships.
Mr Hedrick said it was a vital error on the part of the Japanese.
“The Rigel was a huge ship, like a factory and it had the highest trained specialists and all the critical support functions,” he said.
“The fact that the Rigel came out with minor damage was a god send for the Americans.”
After leaving Auckland and New Caledonia, the USS Rigel went on to take part in one of
the most savage battles of the Pacific war – the Guadalcanal campaign.
In August 1942, the Allied forces, largely US marines, landed in the Solomon Islands. The USS Rigel didn’t reach the islands until November.
It was the first major offensive by the Allies against the Japanese.
The Japanese, who had occupied those islands, were eventually outnumbered and overwhelmed by the Allies.
“Where the boys were in the Guadalcanal, it was the most horrific, nasty island,” Hedrick said.
Mr Hedrick said Charlie would have been “hugely” involved in the fighting.
“These guys were trained in explosives, they had significant training . . . he went on one mission where they were put behind enemy lines to blow up a submarine and get out.”
After Guadalcanal in 1943, the USS Rigel travelled to Vanuatu, Australia and New Guinea.
But while he was in the Pacific, he kept in constant contact with Mattie back in New Zealand.
His letters were sporadic, commenting on what was going on during the war, as well as pining for Mattie.
A lot of them were censored due to the nature of the missions.
The USS Rigel earned four battle stars by the end of WW2. She was decommissioned in 1946.
However, Charlie left the USS Rigel and ended up back in Rhode Island, New York, at the end of 1943.
“He sent her an engagement ring and money for her to join him,” Hedrick said.
“But there were too many concerns about her trying to cross the Pacific when there was a war going on.”
She said she wrote the story to give her mother and Charlie’s tale an ending, which never came for the pair. Although the book may differ from what happened in real life, being fiction based on reality.
“In real life, my mother believed he was lost at sea,” she said.
“She waited and waited, but never heard from him.”
Mattie kept the letters in a chocolate box, where they remained until she was killed in a car accident in the 1980s.
The Rigel Affair is Hedrick’s second published work, she is also an artist.
“When I read those 30 letters, they cried out for somebody to do something,” she said.
“When I listened to my mother, it all seemed so powerful.”
Hedrick is working on a sequel – so Charlie and Mattie’s story isn’t quite finished.
•To buy the book, go to
Love letter from Charlie on June 29, 1943
Another letter to let you know that I’m still alright. I’ve learned to relax quite a bit even though things are rather trying at times. Falling bombs and shell fire doesn’t bother me near as much as it used to. I guess I’ve become sort of used to it and now about the only thing I worry about is when you and I’ll be able to see each other. Somebody sure talked out of turn when we were down south because the Japs know where we are at and what we are up to. About the only good station we can pick up is Radio Tokyo, and the other night Tojo made a speech beamed at us. Here’s what he said, “Welcome USS Rigel to CENSORED Bay. We hope you enjoy stay while there. Anyhow it will be a short one for we are coming in and taking over July 1.”Personally, I’m not worrying a hell of a lot about anything he says, and I still think we can shoot the pants off of the Japs anytime they feel like mustering around. If you can go over there go to Brisbane and I’msureyou’ll find everything the same as the time before you and I said goodbye.
Love always, Kinky.