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Letter from a Dunkirk Heroicon for Recommended story

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John Silvester
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Royal Navy
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20 February 2004

This is the story of one of the many heroes of Dunkirk - a very modest hero who never really told his story to anyone, with the exception of his beloved sweetheart, Sibyl, to whom he wrote during the evacuation, and who still treasures his letter to this day.

John Silvester had joined the Royal Navy, and was posted to Skegness in Lincolnshire to undergo his initial training. It was here that he met Sibyl Bush - the love of his life.

Sibyl worked as secretary and minute clerk at Skegness Town Hall, and in her spare time she worked with the Red Cross, and also helped out in the canteen of the Skegness Y.M.C.A. which was where she first met John, when she served him with a lemonade on the 27th of November 1939.

Thus started their war-time romance which, after the first few weeks, was conducted mainly by post and short visits during John's leave from the Navy.

After his training John joined the destroyer, HMS Scimitar, and was 21 years of age when he took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. This is the letter he wrote to Sibyl recounting his experiences:


My Dearest Sibyl,

It is 11.00 a.m. Monday and I am on board the HMS Sandhurst and have been here since 2.00 p.m. Sunday. I have not been aboard the Scimitar since last Tuesday and I have no kit with me so I cannot write on my usual paper so please excuse this. Well I have had quite a lot of thrills and when I see you I will be able to tell you all about it.

I have been to Dunkirk 7 times in various boats and have been in 6 air-raids and one bombardment and have seen ships go down by the dozen. I could write pages about it but I prefer to tell you; it was all so awe inspiring to see towns all ablaze etc.

Well they have just applied for 20 volunteers to go tonight and out of 200 men they only got 3. I was one of them so this may be my last letter, but I have faith and as long as there are British men over there I shall be willing to go.

Our duties will be to stay on the pier and tie up the ships as they fetch the men off and we are going in speed boats so they will be small targets for aircraft and I will write again tomorrow to let you know how I got on.

I have had to swim for it once so far and am feeling quite fit to do it again. I will finish now my dear and I know your kind thoughts will be with me, so cheerio

Yours ever darling


P.S. It may mean we have to stay across there longer than a day so don't worry if you do not hear from me immediately, but I will write as soon as I get back.
(End of letter)

John did survive that 8th mission, and served on HMS Scimitar throughout the rest of the war, married Sibyl in 1944, had two daughters, and went on to live to the ripe old age of 77.

Throughout his life John continued to show the same selflessness and generosity of spirit that he had shown at Dunkirk - making him a wonderful, loving husband and father.

I am so proud to be related to this hero, my father, John Silvester.

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