Following the end of World War II, the effect of the Official Secrets Act was responsible for the long delay in the part played by Bletchley Park, becoming common knowledge. It was over many years that the public became fully aware of the expert, ingenious, clever and resourceful efforts which were manifested by so many people involved both directly and indirectly in the achievements of Bletchley Park.
It was not until the late 1990’s that the courage and professionalism shown by a Boldre resident became generally known. Based on a critical event during the life of Lt. Cmdr. David Balme D.S.C., Ray Mayes gave a comprehensive and very interesting talk entitled ‘Bulldog and Primrose’ to members and visitors of the Lymington and District Historical Society at their February meeting honouring the life of David Balme.
David Balme was born in Kensington, London on 1st October 1920. From an early age he was anxious to join the Royal Navy and entered Dartmouth Naval College in 1934. When World War II broke out he was a midshipman on the destroyer ‘Ivanhoe,’ following service in the Mediterranean during the Spanish Civil War. In 1940 he was reassigned to the destroyer HMS Bulldog, on Atlantic convoy escort duty.
On 9th May 1941, north of Scotland, the west bound convoy OB318 escorted by naval ships, including HMS Bulldog, was attacked by the German submarine U110, which torpedoed two merchant ships in quick succession. The corvette ‘Aubrietia’ immediately responded with depth charges, which blew U110 to the surface. Further gunfire from the British ships compelled the crew to abandon their submarine. Balme was ordered to take a boarding party in Bulldog’s whaler and recover anything of importance or interest. He boarded the submarine, unaware of its abandonment by the crew or of its stability in the water. Balme was able to open the conning tower hatch and with revolver in hand bravely and slowly descended the three fixed ladders into the control room. His bravery was rewarded. U110 was completely deserted and for five hours the boarding party was able to divest the submarine of charts; code books; various equipment including an item resembling a typewriter with three rotors which in due course was identified as a priceless Enigma. All the items taken from the submarine were immediately sent to London and without delay were forwarded to Bletchley Park. The acquisition of the Enigma was the critical piece in the jigsaw of the code breaking operation and it is estimated that the war was reduced by two years as a result of obtaining this prize. The Germans were never aware that an Enigma had been obtained by the British as secrecy remained of the essence and this operation was given the code name ‘Primrose’ as additional security. The U110 capsized and sank shortly after the boarding party left the submarine. It was not until 1984 that the full story of this operation was published.
To recognize his gallantry and initiative, David Balme was awarded the DSC. He continued serving with the Royal Navy throughout the war in various fields of operation and left in 1948 to join the family business and retired to Boldre in the 1980’s. He continued to lead a full and interesting life and died on 3rd January 2016.
This was a most compelling and well researched talk given by Ray and as the meeting was attended by David’s widow, Susan and daughter, Fenella who most readily answered any questions, their presence very much enhanced the pleasure given to the audience.
The next meeting of the society will be held on Friday, 31st March when the speaker will be Jane Maxwell, whose subject will be ‘Jane Austen, Hampshire’s most famous lady’ Visitors are very welcome.