Halcyon Class Minesweepers HMS Salamander
Diary of Sapper John James Latham 108 Royal Engineers (Territorial BEF)




Message from the son of a soldier rescued by Salamander

I would just like to say thank you to all the lads that are still alive, who served on the Salamander for getting my Father, Spr John James Latham 108 Royal Engineers (Territorial BEF) away safely to "Calcutta" and thence to Sheerness. My Fathers diary quotes all details accurately, how they swam to the Salamander at 10.00pm on the evening of 28th May, and remained with you all night as you picked up others, leaving aboard the Calcutta at 2.15pm for Sheerness.

I was only 2 1/2 at the time, but reading the Salamanders ships log of the terrible events you endured in the subsequent days, I feel very proud of you all. There must be so many families who have thanked you for bringing their men back home safely, yet are totally un-aware of such courage and heroism.

God bless all who are still with us, and "well done lads" to those who are not.

Kindest Regards

John Latham

P.S. Father was 43 years old at the time, and had already done his bit in the 1914 - 18 war. He must have been born under a lucky star. July 2007


Extracts from the diary of 1983782 Sapper John James Latham 108th (Essex) Electrical and Mechanical Co. Royal Engineers (S.R.)

September 1939

Arrived Cherbourg Saturday 30th September 1939.

Same day to LAVAL, and then to LA BATTE, three days there, and then to LIBERCOURT Pas de Calais.

Saw Olga twice (Olga was a lady he'd first met during the First World War), and made many friends.

May 1940

Monday 13th – Left LIBERCOURT at 11.30pm by road, in charge of Bren Gun, and arrived in BRUSSELS at 3.30pm. Poor billets. On guard duty.

Tuesday 14th – On guard 24 hours.

Jerry bombed thousands of refugee's and big battles.

Wednesday 15th – In charge of Bren Gun at dump. Jerry made many visits, but dropped no bombs.

Thursday 16th - All quite around, except for Jerry planes. Afterwards bombed and machine gunned roads and civvies early afternoon.

Ordered at 6.00pm to pack for off. Left at 10.30pm

Friday 17th – NADDERHAALST arrived at 6.00am, hung around all day till 8.30pm. Jerry bombed us. Off at 9.00pm with 6” Howitzer.

Saturday 18th – Arrived at BERCHEM 12.00pm. Slept in dance hall. Jerry bombed again.

Evacuees by the tens of thousands.

Off again at 11.30am

Sunday 19th – Arrived at NERNEAN? 7.30pm. Slept in cotton mill. Food for first time for three days. Jerry busy with planes. Caught a suspected spy. Left 5.00pm arrived HAREAUX 8.00pm.

Monday 20th – More evacuees. Jerry planes all night, bombed and machine gunned. Three Jerry planes down. Stan Bell with me on Bren Gun.

Tuesday 21st – Heard LIBERCOURT had been bombed again. Usual R.E. Routine with Bren Gun, still, moved off at 5.00pm.

Wednesday 22nd – Arrived at BAILLIUL? 7.30pm. Stand To, all the time.

Thursday 23rd – Still here, missed a good chance at Jerry, gun jammed. Plenty of activity.

Friday 24th – Reveille at 6.00pm. On the way to KEMMELL. Bombed and machine gunned by

Jerry. Lt.Lederwood wounded. Had to leave KEMMELL, and slept in open.

Bomb burst 50 yards away. Machine gunned and bombed all day.

Saturday 25th – Flight of 24 Jerry planes bombed us, and all around. No sleep. 10.00pm pack at once, and off through KEMMELL to MARQUETTE. Arrived 4.30am. Took over old dump. Aerial activity all day.

Sunday 26th – Rain, and bombing all day by 19 planes. No English planes seen for seven days.

Destroyed dump 6.00pm. Leave everything and retire. Machine gunned and bombed.

Monday 27th – Arrived HOOGSTADE at 8.00pm last night.

Terrible passage, thought I was done for. Stopped all day. Bombed again. Destroyed all vehicles, rations, and kit.

Had to march to the coast, 15 miles, started at 6.00pm. Marched till 7.00am. Did 25 miles. Everyone dead beat. Carried Bren Gun all the way. Sore feet.

Waiting to be shipped back to England. More bombing and machine gunning.

Waiting on Bras Dunes.

Tuesday 28th – Left for boat at 10.00pm last night. Had to swim to boat “SALAMANDER”.

Waited all night picking up troops.

Wednesday 29th – Left for England on Cruiser “CALCUTTA” at 2.15pm. Arrived SHEERNESS at 7.30pm.

Thursday 30th – Good breakfast, bath, and first shave for four days. Then of to DEVIZES.





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