The return from Dunkirk

Nearly 300,000 troops had been returned from Dunkirk by the 2nd May. This is one of the officially released photographs and as such does not reflect the state in which many of the men returned.

The destroyer HMS Ivanhoe had been amongst the last ships to leave Dunkirk when, packed with troops she was bombed and machine gunned. Twenty-one of her crew were killed, along with many soldiers. Only one boiler room survived, giving her just enough power to return to the Naval dockyard at Sheerness. Silvester MacDonald was a Royal Navy medical assistant sent on board the next day:

The Ivanhoe just about made the crossing without sinking and was immediately placed in a dry dock so that she would not sink overnight. The soldiers and ship’s crew who had survived were disembarked and the wounded were removed and taken to hospital. Such were the conditions when our little party arrived at dockside. It was a beautiful summer morning, but there was an unnatural quietness hanging all around. Even the view from dockside brought a hushed feeling to all who looked.

It was a macabre scene that the devil himself could not have imagined to see bodies hanging over the bridge rails, lying around gun turrets, sprawled on the decks both fore and aft and the bodies in navy blue and in khaki that were entangled in death in a grotesque heap on the after deck. It took little imagination to hear the ghostly echoes of far off bugles calling for their spirits to assemble again and be counted. We just went back to the barracks and did not even discuss it before we tried to sleep. I believe that it was a very rude awakening for me. The fun and games were definitely finished.

See War’s Long Shadow: 69 Months of the Second World War

HMS Ivanhoe, launched in 1937, bombed at Dunkirk

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