Thursday, 5 September 2013

Ethelbert Blomfield Dunn

An ordinary bloke with an unusual name.
Perhaps his names are why I started researching my family and then contributing to your blog...
The Dunns on their wedding day 

His sisters were Dorothy, Hilda, Elsie and Eva and brothers Thomas, Frederick and Alec.  
His parents were David William and Ethel Winifred. 
 They named my Dad Ethelbert Blomfield Dunn.

Born in 1910, his workmates called him ‘Bert’, his family ‘Blom’ and I hesitate to think what his schoolmates called him. 

A number of letters to him on board HMS Cardiff early in the second World War addressed to ‘Dearest Bloom’ confirm what his mother always called him. I called him ‘Ethel’ sometimes when I was young – which he bore with a good grace. He had probably heard it before.
Though I tracked down the Ethelbert name easily (initially to his granddad - Ethelbert Ernest White and great granddad - Samuel Ethelbert White), I struggled for years to check my Mums assertion that Dad was named after Charles James Blomfield, Bishop of London – supposedly an ancestor.
Even finding that his Granddad’s brother was William Blomfield White (and siblings included Charles Ethelbert and Samuel Athelstan) didn’t convince me and it was not until researching a Great x 3 Granddad Jerome Nicholas Vlieland (whose daughter Catherine married Samuel Ethelbert White – Ethelbert’s dad) that I found the link.

I found that Jerome had named a son Charles James the year after Bishop Blomfield died and another had the middle name Blomfield. He had married Sarah Heath and the ceremony was performed by Charles James Blomfield
The National Archives then turned up the Bishop’s first wife. Anna Marie Heath, Sarah’s sister. Dad had been named after a relative! After that, the Ethelberts and Blomfields fairly ‘poured’ out of the families histories. 

Elder brother Thomas William (Billy) was ‘practical’ and was a car mechanic in the twenties. 
It looked as though the younger boys would be too.  
Blom’ was the studious one and gained a ‘good job in the City’ (working for a firm of solicitors in Threadneedle Street by the Bank of England). 
 Unfortunately, his Dad David William died (at 42) in the third peak of Spanish Flu in early 1919 (the year my Mum was born). Dad’s widowed Mum still had to support a large, young, family. 

Most jobs, then, paid far lower wages to youngsters as they learned the job and expected them to stay ‘for life’; rewarding ‘seniority’. Blom’s job in 1926 paid half a crown a week less than his train fare from Croydon and the family could not wait for him to earn an adult wage. 
He joined the Navy. Mum would have a half a crown more a week to support her family and one less mouth to feed and clothe. My first couple of years of research did not reveal any other Naval ancestors but they started to flood in as more and more information came on line. 
My first breakthrough was great granddad Thomas Dunn’s Margate obituary. This chief bedroom steward was a qualified seaman who was, at one stage, in charge of the rescue of survivors from the White Star liner SS Atlantic in 1873; having spent hours clinging to a mast in freezing waters and then swimming to shore. 
His brother in law Walter Perkins was a sea captain who died when his ship “The Princess Louise”, a 771 ton wooden barque, was lost and elder sibling James also died at sea. On his Mum’s side, Ethelbert White’s brother Charles Ethelbert died at sea and William Blomfield was also a sea captain in the Merchant service who received a medal for his service in the first World War. He died in a seamans mission.
Blom joined the navy at sixteen - on HMS Impregnable. Moored at Devonport, it was used as ‘overflow’ ship for the new facilities at RTME Shotley. After five months he was sent to HMS Ganges, the shore training facility which, during 1927 no longer had a depot ship attached. More than two thousand boys were there, divided into Port and Starboard watches to simulate a sea-going atmosphere, despite the lack of a vessel. At the centre was a 143 foot 10inch foot mast. Each boy sailor had to climb it at least once a week.
Not that the pay of a rating was better than a city job. A skilled Naval career had been described as the ultimate prospect for a working man in the late nineteenth century but new recruits from 1925 were paid 25 percent less than earlier recruits. It was, though, still a respectable professional occupation. 

Though Dad was rushed into the Navy at a young age (in a ‘ratings’ job) in view of the family’s financial position, and was recommended (unsuccessfully) twice for a commission (one letter back suggested that he had been a rating for two long to easily ‘make the transition’!), he still ends up on the bridge. As ‘flags’ (leading signalman) he spent much of his time there.

His service record shows him serving on many famous vessels including Cardiff, Comus, Danae, Emperor of India, Foresight, Hood, Leander, Loyalty, Marlborough, Marshal Ney, Queen Elizabeth, Renown, Repulse, Ruler, Tamar, Victory, Vidette and Vivid.

I have a detailed record that he kept for the 18 months from September 1930 to March 1932 whilst serving aboard the Danae. That short episode of his career, alone, lists two pages of stops including Halifax Nova Scotia, Washington, Key West Florida, Bermuda, Port Stanley Falklands, Kingston Jamaica, Santo Domingo, Trinidad and many South American Ports such as Puerto Belgrano, Monte Video, Zarate, Buenos Aires and more. He often said that the likelihood was that you could name any Port in the World large enough for a Royal Navy Vessel and he would have visited it at least twice.

His vessel shuttled between South American countries in the 30’s. Often it zigzagged between counties on different sides of the wide river. To supplement his pay he bought goods in one and sold them in the other at a better exchange rate (regularly). He also spent shore leave as a gaucho on a beef ranch. .

Before the war he spent two years based in Hong Kong (Tamar). He later left Singapore on a ‘swap’ and his replacement died in the notorious Changi jail. With his 13 years finishing in September 1939, Dad was on leave in Weymouth, ready for ‘demob’ but staying close to his ship in case of recall. Needless to say, perhaps, his demob never happened. It was there that he met Mum.

It was still difficult to make ‘long distance calls’ (such as to the London area ) and Dad had been unable to contact his Mother. Coincidentally, Mum had booked a telephone call to let her Dad (who needed to return to work early from the family holiday in Weymouth) know how they were. They had been waiting over an hour in their hotel lobby for their ‘slot’ when they saw two sailors chatting.

Troops were returning to their ships and her friend, a CPO’s wife, dared Queenie to ask the sailors why they were still there though her hubby had been recalled. While they spoke, a “stunning blond sailor with his cap thrust back on his head” came in and joined them. He asked if they were from London (he recognised the accent); said that he had been unable to ring his Mum and asked if she would ring her to let her know how he was when she got back to London.

Though that was not ‘the done thing’ in those days, (his Mum might have put her down as ‘one of those girls’) her Mum agreed to swapping telephone numbers (GLAdstone 4886 for her Dad and ADDiscombe 3859 for his Mum) Queenie was stunned when her Mum received a letter from Blom asking for permission to write to her.

A letter written from HMS Cardiff on Monday 13th November 1939 notes that “we arrived in harbour yesterday after five days at sea… We are expecting to go to sea any minute now”. The wedding was postponed three times; hardly surprising when you realise that he could be called to sea at a moment’s notice. My Mum had to renew the banns at her local church more than once. Dads Mum forgot on one occasion (and also forgot to pay the vicar).

Thanks to this hiatus over the banns, Blom had to seek the specific approval of the Bishop to marry by special license when he finally got home on a 48 hour pass. Despite the Bishop’s healthy scepticism of the motives of Sailors, he opined that anyone with the names Ethelbert (the first Christian King of Kent) and Blomfield (Bishop of London) couldn’t be ‘all bad’ – and granted the license. It was, with hindsight, a correct view and they were still married when Blom died in 1999.

At one stage he broke his sole pair of glasses and he had to read the maps with binoculars or a telescope for a week until they flew a pair in! He served on HMS Cardiff until March 1943. Many of his friends would still have been on it when it was sunk but he was not to be ‘spared’ from battle despite this ‘escape’.

On minesweeper Loyalty (J217), Dad was torpedoed for the second time. They were in the D Day assault operations of 6 June 1944, clearing Channel 6 in advance for the troops, and then remaining deployed off Gold Beach to cover operations. Returning to Portsmouth the sweep wires parted about 27 miles south of Nab Tower – slightly closer to Portsmouth than Le Havre. They took far too long recovering the sweep and she was torpedoed at 16.06 hours by U480

Loyalty capsized/ sank by the stern in less than seven minutes. Much like his grandfather Thomas in the Atlantic disaster more than seventy years before this was ‘survival of the fittest’. Blom realised that, after the first explosion there was likely to be another very soon and he and two others jumped off the side and began to swim – as far away from the ship as possible so they did not get sucked down.

He spent hours in the water in full waterlogged kit with a bucket wedged on his foot. (In the rush to leave in the pitch darkness, one could forgive him ‘putting his foot in it’). In the early hours of the morning of 23rd August 1944 he was picked up by one of the two landing craft searching for survivors. During the war the Navy lost 1,525 ships and over 50,000 men. Dad was lucky. So, therefore am I!

During his recuperation he witnessed the poltergeist that moved a screen down the middle of a ward in the Grade 1 listed Swanborough Manor in which he recuperated; scaring the servicemen in bed on each side but he was soon back in the war. As a child I wondered at his reluctance to swim in the sea on holiday...

As ‘flags’ to the admiral on HMS Ruler (an aircraft carrier lease-lent to Britain by the USA) in the Pacific Theatre Dad was at the ‘signing’ in 1946 with Japan; finally taking leave on a sheep farm in Australia before sailing home after the war. (He was offered a job there by an ‘ex-pat’, managing a vast acreage, but Mum would not consider leaving the UK). Desperate to get be demobbed and home quickly he received permission to leave Ruler (which was not due home for months) and his telegram of 13th September 1945 confirms “left Ruler on first stage”. In a trick of fate Rulers orders changed and she arrived home before Blom on his convoluted journey.

After ‘demob’ he got a reference from the Admiral and a job in the Home Office. Mum wanted to move and, there being no chance of a transfer in the Civil Service, he handed in his notice. Days before they should have left, Mums brother an RAF flyer was knocked off his motor bike and killed – almost on the anniversary of Dad’s brother being knocked off his motor bike and killed. The Dad I knew worked two jobs as a telephonist and clock repairer to make ends meet. By coincidence he joined the Royal Naval Reserve in 1948 a year to the day before my birth.

For part of the war Dad was shadowing convoys carrying essential supplies in the Atlantic. I must look up the application for the medal for my Mum. A memory for her of my Dad - an ordinary bloke with an unusual name.

Thanks Ray for all your contributions !!!!!

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