An autograph letter offered at Bonhams (27.5/25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) in London on March 31 sums up the courage shown by so many during Operation Dynamo.
Written from the White Hart Hotel, Margate, May 31, 1940, on hotel headed notepaper, the sixpage letter was penned by Lt Walter George Hugh Testoferatta Bonham (c.1920-43) to his father Lt Col Charles Barnard Bonham (1871-1943), DSO, of the Royal Engineers. Beginning ‘Dear Pop’, it gives a detailed and sometimes harrowing account of Bonham’s experience of Dynamo as the commander of a small private motor cruiser.
He describes men who were ‘…in addition to being burnt to hell… almost dead from exposure and exhaustion. I had to cut the wet clothing off most of them, stripping them, rubbing them all over till I sweated blood, and then wrapping them up in blankets with beer-bottles filled with hot water as hot water bottles…’.
Just five months earlier, in December 1939, at the age of 19, Lt Bonham had served on HMS Exeter, one of the three British cruisers that scuttled the German pocket battleship the Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate. Exeter was severely damaged and had to go in for repairs, allowing Bonham to return home to a hero’s welcome in Penzance.
Sadly he was killed in action in 1943, following his brother Harry who had died of wounds received in action aboard HMS Fleetwood shortly after this letter was sent, in June 1940.
This powerful letter, with an estimate of £800-1200, sold together with his service record books at £3500.