70 years ago, a flotilla of nearly a thousand ships crossed the English channel destined for the beaches of Dunkirk to rescue more than 300,000 Allied troops from the advancing Nazi forces. Among these vessels were not only navy ships, but civilian ships also: fishing boats, lifeboats, pleasure boats and paddle boats. These sailors were not navy men, they were normal men answering the call, not only of their country, but of humanity. Soldiers fighting for freedom from oppression were pinned down and navy ships couldn’t get close enough for the rescue due to the shallow water. These “little boats” could and went in to rescue the Allied troops.
Date Troops evacuated from Beaches Troops evacuated from Dunkirk Harbour Total 27 May – 7,669 7,669 28 May 5,930 11,874 17,804 29 May 13,752 33,558 47,310 30 May 29,512 24,311 53,823 31 May 22,942 45,072 68,014 1 June 17,348 47,081 64,429 2 June 6,695 19,561 26,256 3 June 1,870 24,876 26,746 4 June 622 25,553 26,175 Totals 98,780 239,446 338,226
Thats a brief explanation of the events at Dunkirk (sure I’ll be corrected on details, but that’s the essence). I’m so very proud of all the men and women in the Allied Forces who fought and died during WWII, but the everyday civilian truly makes me proud.
I’ve been fortunate in my up bringing. My mum is a warden for a sheltered home (old peoples home) and I’ve had the pleasure of living there with them and hearing stories of life during the war. Some truly harrowing, but others truly inspiring. How people went without things in their everyday lives, Londoners enduring the Blitz, resistance fighters on the continent consistently defying the Nazi regime and doing all they can to undermine their war efforts.
I was lucky enough to know a man, Robert, who had his own boat during the Dunkirk evacuation. I saw a picture of this boat with him standing on it. It was a small fishing boat which he could have walked the length of in maybe 8 strides. He took this boat from Ramsgate to Dunkirk to help rescue as many soldiers as he could. He told me what he saw and experienced. I couldn’t do it justice by re-telling his story, but as a young boy of 13, I was awe-struck by the bravery of him and others and I’ll admit, shed a tear or two. He showed me the flags they used to communicate with one another (not sure of the correct term for them) and it felt strange holding this material which had taken part in a moment of history.
The term “Dunkirk Spirit” was coined for such men as Robert. For me, it typified the British grit and determination in the face of adversity. It showed true honour and respect, attributes that are sorely missing in today’s society. I wonder if our generation would be so ready to jump to action as these heroes were? Would an ASBO earning chav put his life on the line to help others with nothing in return?
An audio-slide, courtesy of BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8695580.stm