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Thousands of men had formed queues leading down to the sea and were in the water up to their shoulders, doing their utmost to get onto one of the small boats, which very often capsized. Beach masters had a very difficult task keeping some semblance of order, but by and large the lads just waited patiently for their turn to come until the planes came over. Those in the water just ignored the bombs - where could they run? And anyway, the sea absorbed a lot of the blast. There was always the hotheaded lad who thought he had more right to get away, but the officers only had to draw a revolver and they calmed down and accepted the inevitable. In the prevailing mood of many of the men it was common to see groups of soldiers kneeling down, being led by a Padre, in prayer.

 

There by the side of the jetty, a ship was waiting to be loaded with human cargo. We walked along the wooden pier and back came the planes - it seemed never ending - trying to bomb our ship but without success. We walked along for about a half-mile to the ship we would be boarding. Miraculously, the Mole was still intact, but there was a six-foot gap in the planking where a bomb had gone through without exploding and loose planks had been put across. Another thirty yards and we came to our ship. At the top end of a gangway stood an officer, counting soldiers as they went aboard.

 

The ship was a ferry ship called The Lady of Mann (how could I forget that name?). How lucky we considered ourselves to be; out of all those thousands of men, we were being given the opportunity to be evacuated. It was almost impossible for men of the same companies to stay together, but that was no consequence at a time like this.

 

The ferry was fast becoming packed with grateful lads. The Captain would know how many men the ship could carry, but God alone knows what would have happened had a bomb hit us! I was lucky enough to be on deck to see what was happening and it must have been very claustrophobic down below deck. I kept my eyes on the nearest Carley float in case the worst happened. The fact that we had managed to get on a boat was no guarantee that we would reach England because the Luftwaffe was doing its utmost to prevent us. As the ship was filling up, a Padre came and stood on a ladder, called for silence and prayed for our deliverance to England. At last, packed like sardines, the ship started to tremble and, so very slowly, we pulled away from the Mole - it was 1800 hrs.

 

Being a little taller than many of the lads enabled me to have a panoramic view of the whole length of the beach - how many of those boys would get back to England and how many would be killed or taken prisoner? The beach was as crowded as ever; then suddenly I saw a German fighter plane skimming above them, firing cannons - it reminded me of a row of dominoes being knocked down from one end.

 

The dense black smoke from the blazing oil storage tanks still reached far into the sky. There was another loaded ship about one mile ahead of us, and suddenly I heard the Stukas returning, diving almost vertically. I saw the bombs leaving one of the planes and was certain our time had come, and that this was the end. My thoughts were mixed with prayer and despair as I prepared for what I thought was inevitable. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, my whole body

braced for the inevitable impact ...

 

 

How the heck did it all come to this? As the bombs came tumbling out of the sky towards us, my life flashed before me and in an instant I re-lived every moment of my time since just before the start of the war, when life had seemed so good…..

 

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"Captures the essence of the British Tommy at war – tough, determined, patriotic and with a thirst to get the job done, but without any lust for glory." Northern Echo Review

"A spellbinding story that captures the camaraderie and the carnage of a conflict he witnessed at extreme close quarters." Steve Snelling, Eastern Daily Press. More ...

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Capt Tom Woods of Lady of Mann - Dunkirk ship

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