David and Siddie Bloomer: Reflections on an eclectic life

The power of lions roaring in the tree line near your battalion’s caravan through Africa, David Bloomer said with a smile, is a sound that “never leaves you.”

Mr. Bloomer and his wife, Siddie, of Spoonwood Drive, have lived an eclectic life few could imagine. Though they were raised on opposite sides of the Atlantic — England and Argentina, respectively — a chance meeting brought them together in New York in 1956, and they have never looked back.

Ms. Bloomer was raised in Argentina where her father worked from 1929 to 1941. At the age of 12 that she was sent to the United States for a middle school education.

“One day when I was a small girl, my mother began playing a tune on the piano. I had no idea what it was, but I really liked it,” Ms. Bloomer remembered. “I asked her, what is that song? And it was The Star-Spangled Banner! That’s when she decided to send me back to the U.S. for boarding school.”

She would eventually go on to graduate from Smith College, joining her father and mother in Italy after completing her schooling. Her father was a part of the Marshall Plan after World War II, and was in charge of rebuilding the Italian power supply system.

“The president of Italy once told me that my father had done more for Italy than anyone else,” she told The Bulletin proudly. But, she had more pressing matters on her mind during her time in Europe.

“He took me everywhere he went, Italy, Turkey and Croatia,” she said. “I was especially interested in all of the young Italian and Turkish gentlemen I met.”

Yet, as fate would have it, Ms. Bloomer would not find a suitable young man on the Continent, and returned to San Francisco in 1953 to conduct charity work. By 1956, she was living in New York City, where she met Mr. Bloomer, a young Standard Vacuum Oil Company employee.

Mr. Bloomer was raised in England, where his father was a marine insurance broker with Lloyd’s of London. His schooling, he said, was that of the average English public school child.

“Perhaps this is romanticizing a bit, but the English public school system was designed to help govern an empire,” he said. “You started at the bottom and never forgot what that felt like, so when you go to the top, you administered as such.”

World War II was a difficult time for Mr. Bloomer because his father — as a marine insurance agent — understood the full extent of English naval losses throughout the war. Those losses were classified information at the time.

Africa after the war

After serving in Germany with the British Army during World War II, Mr. Bloomer was sent to train African troops who were intended to serve in the Japanese campaign. He was on his way to Africa when he learned two atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war.

Following a two-week trek through Africa by railroad, steamship and caravan, Mr. Bloomer was garrisoned in Uganda, where his unit was tasked with guarding a large Italian prisoner of war camp.

Barring one Italian prisoner revolt during which Mr. Bloomer and his comrades were forced to advance “without ammunition,” his tenure there was little in the way of exciting.

After leaving the British Army, he accepted a job with Standard Vacuum, and was assigned to the East Africa desk. After he and Ms. Bloomer married, they lived in the United Kingdom for a time before moving their family to Africa 1958. They had one child in England, and Ms. Bloomer traveled to Africa expecting another.

“I can remember being pregnant on the beach in Africa,” she said, “when a friend came along and wanted to go into the sea. So there I am on the beach, loaded up with her four children and my own, when David and another man came along. His friend looked at me and said, ‘what a beautiful family you have Mrs. Bloomer!”

For Ms. Bloomer, her experience in Africa was completely eye opening. She recounted a memory of an injured African nurse whom she employed in Kenya. The woman had sliced her finger, and had developed an extremely bad infection.

When Ms. Bloomer forced her to accompany her to the hospital, she was met with repeated obstacles in getting her nurse any attention.

“The line for Africans to be seen at the hospital was a block long,” she said. “Every sick person in that line was forced to wait two days in the hot sun before they were seen.”

Even after getting a British nurse to allow her to circumvent the line, Ms. Bloomer’s nurse “was terrified to have an African from another tribe operating on her hand.” Only after continued pressure from Ms. Bloomer, did the nurse allow any surgery to take place.

Confronting intolerance

Interacting on a regular basis with Afrikaaners — white South Africans — while in Africa, prepared Mr. Bloomer for eventual interactions with Ms. Bloomer’s family, who were “old Alabama men.”

“I sat in a room and heard someone earnestly arguing that an Afrikaan’s brain was larger than an African’s brain. And they damn well believed it,” he said. This would not be the last blatantly racist event he would have to live through.

“We went to visit a relative in Alabama,” Ms. Bloomer remembered, “who really believed a woman should go to a southern college, and not learn anything but to agree with her husband.” When that relative started reiterating her husband’s opinions about African Americans in the United States, Mr. Bloomer’s wife remembered that “David was horrified! He wanted to go home right then and there,” she said.

But, they stayed and a few days later decided to visit a museum at a nearby university.

“A 19-year-old black boy was with a friend, and walked up to our guide and asked her if he could bring his cousin from Chicago into the museum,” she said. “That guide yelled ‘get out of here, boy! You know you’re not allowed in here,’ and I thought I was going to fall through the floor. I thought David was going to faint.”

Those experiences “caused me to be reflective on my own attitude” towards prejudice, Mr. Bloomer said. “When I was a younger man, my attitude was almost sickening,” and by today’s standards, would have been considered ‘absolutely unacceptable’.”

Even more recently, Mr. Bloomer said, he found himself in a situation that forced him to confront his own intolerances, he said. Even when he was nearing his 90th birthday, he had the mature courage to admit a prejudice, and correct it.

“One is perhaps unconscious too much of their prejudice,” he said. “It was quite a generational shock yesterday when one of my grandchildren told me he had Rosh Hashanah off from school. I was thinking ‘what the heck is that about?’ and he told me ‘well, we get Christmas off, don’t we?’ In that moment, I was suddenly awoken to my own intolerance. I told him, ‘you’re right.’”

Contemporary surveillance

Having experienced the progression of much of the 20th Century throughout different nations, Mr. and Ms. Bloomer have an intriguing outlook on the major news events of today.

The issue of government surveillance in the United States, the couple said, is one with which they have direct experience.

“During World War II they surveilled citizens very well,” Ms. Bloomer remembered. “Any time I had to call my parents in Argentina, I had to make an appointment for the following week, because I had to have a censor sitting with me. It ended up not being much of a conversation.”

After her cousin married an executive at AT&T after the war, Ms. Bloomer found that the company always helped the government know what was going on. “They were listening to every single call they wanted to,” she said.

“In principal, the fact that the government is doing this is worrying. The cost of the brick and mortar to this surveillance must be astounding,” she said.

Mr. Bloomer remembered a situation in Great Britain during World War II, when a neo-Nazi was imprisoned by the British, and compared that to the trial of whistle-blowers Edward Snowden, and Pvt. Chelsea (Bradley) Manning.

“The British government interned Sir Oswald Mosley under the War Powers Act because he was a neo-Nazi. Nonetheless, a member of Parliament would regularly stand up and inquire about his well-being. They did it not because they gave a damn about him, but because they cared about British citizens’ rights under the Magna Carta.”

That concern, Mr. Bloomer said, is lacking in the U.S.

“One thing I’ve always found is that people tended to want me to be thrilled about the freedom I got in the United States. But, there isn’t that aspect because many of them take it for granted. What is lacking in America is indignation. Whether it could get you anywhere, however, I don’t know.”

When she paused to consider it, Ms. Bloomer said she will always remember the events of Pearl Harbor in the same way she remembers Sept. 11.

“Half of what we saw while watching the live broadcast, you will never see again.” she said. “They only show you what you want to see.”

Ms. Bloomer reiterated her concern, saying that “it will take 30 years for any academic to truly understand the effect of Sept. 11 on this country. We still don’t understand the full impact of that event on this country.”