Read this introduction to Bob Bloom's story, then listen to him describe his experiences, using the links at the foot of this page.
Corporal Bob Bloom joined the Royal Navy in 1938, signing on for twelve years. He did his disciplinary course in Chatham Barracks, then transferred up to the Royal Naval Hospital in Gillingham where he learned the craft of nursing until the outbreak of war.
He was still a probationary when the war started and was posted to HMS Grenade at Harwich. He was in the first and the second battle of Narvik, and the evacuation of Namsos - caring for many badly burned and wounded men.
After Norway, his ship received orders to proceed to a 'place called Dunkirk'. Everybody thought this was in Scotland, at first, and no one was told what the voyage was for - so no preparations were made to receive the wounded.
Over the next few days he made several trips to and from Dunkirk, looking after the sick as best he could, until the ship was bombed. He was seriously injured and had to fight for his own survival.
Everybody looked on the map and said, 'Where the hell's Dunkirk?'. And it was up in Scotland. We said, 'We've just come from Scotland, we're never going there!' And somebody said, 'No, it's not Dunkirk in Scotland, it's Dunkirk in France!'
I was coming out of the sick bay, and I was coming down the ladder, when all of a sudden - Whof! - I went up in the air. My tin hat must have stayed up there, because I've got a hole, a dent in my skull there ... where the, the nut inside this tin hat penetrated my skull. And I just came down, and I fell straight into a flash ... as the oil went, cause the oil tanks are under the stokers' mess deck.
And as, as a bomb went through ... it set light to all the oil, and it just flashed up in front of me. And I went like that, and it was just like being whipped. And I prayed to God to take me home quickly. But with that, somebody lifted me up, turned me round and pushed me.
I got into the bunk, and I began to shiver, then all of a sudden the lights went out, and I said, 'Come on mate, we've been hit, the lights have gone out'. So he said, 'Where're we going?' I said, 'I know where I'm going, I'm going back on the upper deck'. Well, as I went to go up the steps, up the stairs, all the soldiers were coming down. So I said, 'Stop, get back up, we've been hit!'
And they turned round as though I was a general. They just went straight back up. And I got back on the upper deck, and there was a leading radio operator off my ship, and I can't remember his name, but he said to me, 'Good god ... doc', he says, 'stay with me, I'll look after you'. And he put his grey coat round my shoulders.
Then the next thing we heard was 'Abandon ship!' So I just threw this off me shoulders, and I went to the paddle of the Crested Eagle, and it just rose up like that, and I looked down, and it's miles down there. And I thought, 'Well, I can't stop here', so I jumped in the water. And as I came up somebody else jumped in, and that pushed me down under again.
... and I came about, and I swam back into the river, and I met two soldiers hanging onto a barn door. And I said to them - cause I could still see then - I said to them, 'I keep going blind', and I wiped me eyes, you know, and I said, 'But where do you think you're going?' So they said 'We're gonna kick this thing back to England'. I said, 'Well, you're kicking it the wrong way, you're going back into the town'. So they worked their way round the other side of the door, and I worked me way with them.
And then a whaler came alongside, and I heard two chaps - there was only two chaps in this whaler. And one of them said, 'Christ, it's our young doc'. And they pulled me inboard, and they put me right up in the bow, of the whaler, and they covered me with a tarpaulin or something. And they then rowed, or they told these two soldiers to hang on the door, and they took the, the painter, or the rope, around a key ring or a ring bolt, on the stern of the whaler, and then they pulled it towards, what I now know was a sloop.
Now, I went blind now, but they helped me up a crash collision mat, which is a great big net. They helped me up this, and somebody said ... no, I said, 'Where am I?' And somebody ... they didn't, they just ignored me, and didn't answer, they just said, 'Take him to the wardroom, for'ard'. Well, only sloops had wardroom for'ard. And I knew I was on a sloop, but what sloop I don't know. They took me down there, they put, put a morphine lamelli under me tongue, and that was it. I just passed right out.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.