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Uncovering my father’s exploits at Dunkirk

Bill Ward never got to talk to his father about his wartime service in the Merchant Navy but his search led him to Operation Dynamo and the evacutation of Dunkirk

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Whether my father qualifies as a ‘Hero’ or not I’m unsure of, as I was only 16 at the time of his death in 1973 and we never got to discuss his life at sea before, during and after WW1 and WW2.

However, the episode, which I believe qualifies him as a hero among many, is the part he played during the evacuation of Dunkirk in May of 1940 when he was serving as bosun aboard T.M.S.V. Royal Daffodil.

The flotilla of ‘little ships’, that responded to the plight of our troops on the beaches of France, have been mentioned from time to time since, but never in any great individual detail that I’m aware of.

T.S.M.V. Royal Daffodil returned to Dunkirk time after time under bombardment from the air and shore, resulting in a bomb actually passing through the hull without exploding. The hole was then plugged with a mattress! All in all the ship brought back 9500 troops. But what of the crew?

I have just only begun to uncover my father’s exploits at sea in the service of the Royal and Merchant Navy and would dearly love to know more.

Pathe video: Royal Daffodil returns to Dunkirk with Veterans

Me and my wife live aboard our narrowboat ‘wilvir’ these days and mobile broadband can be unreliable to say the least as we travel the waterways, so internet access to the National Archives etc is frustratingly hit and miss. Ours is a never-ending journey in the truest sense.

I have my father’s papers, WWI medals and service book recording the ships he served on during his time at sea and even a very faded workbook, written in pencil, recording a couple of runs to Dunkirk and back. Otherwise, I am none the wiser in terms of his and the crews actual contribution and the impact they had at the time of Dunkirk. My father also served on a underwater cable laying expedition in the 20s and, on many other ships, sailed to all four corners of the world.

My problem is, having uncovered the above with just the little information available to me from his personal documents, there is nothing to actually tell me about the man and his exploits, including Dunkirk. All I have are the dates he served aboard various ships and references (all complimentary) from their Captains as he moved from one ship to another. He even gave his date of birth as a year earlier upon joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in WW1 and was actually mobilised at 16 and demobilised in India on 30th June 1919. His WW2 service at sea is not documented other than a snapshot of his service aboard Royal Daffodil and a merchant gunnery certificate.

My search goes on and I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who can share more information about the wartime role of T.S.M.V. Royal Daffodil. It has been a fascinating journey and has given me fresh insight into the person my father was. Why not start your own search and see if there are heroes in your family!

Written by Bill Ward.

Last modified: December 31, 2020

Written by 12:45 pm History & Genealogy