The stories behind the story
“We must go back again. Every one of those men in the water is somebody's son”
The personal diary and letters home from Capt Woods of the Lady of Mann offer a unique glimpse into the happenings of the Dunkirk evacuation during WW2 in 1940.
Bill Cheall was plucked off the Dunkirk beaches by the ship Lady of Mann, which had an heroic part to play at Dunkirk.
The ship was captained by civilian seaman, Tom Woods, who would later be honoured with an OBE for his gallant efforts.
Hear about the murderous threat of the German forces. Learn about a mutiny on the big ships!
A dramatic blow by blow account of five deadly days in Dunkirk!
"German planes were coming over, their bombs dropping the other side of the pier about 40 yards from us and we had seven holes made in the starboard bow close to the water line, also three lifeboats holed by flying shrapnel from the shells."
Page from copy of Capt Woods' report to his boss. No photocopiers in those days so the draft with typos was kept as a record.
The East Mole at Dunkirk where the troops boarded the Lady of Mann. Some troops were killed boarding.
The Lady of Mann moored up at Brest where she carried out further evacuations following Dunkirk
Soldiers sheltering in the sand dunes, WWII
"It was a ship's graveyard", Bill Cheall, 30 May 1940. Pic from Manchester Univ archives
Map of Dunkirk Harbour and the Moles (Protective piers) WW2
Captain Woods, C 1940
Captain Woods with wife,
Isle of Man Google Map
Map showing the allies surrounded
Opens in a new window. Best viewed on a desktop machine
Isle of Man and Barrow, Google Map
Orders to shipping to leave Dunkirk, WWII
Orders to return for one more rescue mission to help save 26,000 French allies who had been guarding the rear:
FROM VA DOVER, 3 June
TO: DESTROYERS, MINESWEEPERS, AUXILLARY VESSELS
I hoped and believed that last night would see us through but the French who were covering the retirement of the British rear guard had to repel a strong German attack and so were unable to send their troops to the pier in time to be embarked.
We cannot leave our allies in the lurch and I call upon all officers and men detained for further evacuation tonight to let the world see that we never let down our Ally. The approach will be made later and the retirement earlier. The night protection of our fighters which stopped all bombing of the harbour last night will be repeated.
The thank you letter sent from the Government to Tom on 17 June after the evacuations had been completed
Bill Cheall's published memoirs, which depict his rescue by Capt Woods and many other episodes from WW2. Click for more information.
Captain Woods, C 1940
Tom at the civic reception in 1946, being welcomed by the mayor of Douglas and the manager of the Steam Packet Co
Lady of Mann just after WWII service, looking a sorry sight.