Although I like reading historical books I’ve never really liked reading about war. The reasons people go to war are always the same, money, power, greed and it’s always incredibly destructive. Since living in Europe where countless wars have been fought I’ve seen first-hand how destructive war is. That said, there are always a few stories that inspire me and the story of Dunkirk is one of them.
Many people may know the basic story. After fighting long and hard the British and French were pushed by the German army to the beaches of Dunkirk which is on the coast of France. It was a big defeat for the allies. The hungry and exhausted troops retreat to the beach but there was no way for them to evacuate. The harbor at Dunkirk was destroyed and large war ships could not get to the beach. The 340,000 soldiers were stuck with German artillery constantly bombarding them and no where for them to go. In comes Operation Dynamo!
The plan of rescue was called Operation Dynamo. Everyone in England who had a boat of some kind was asked to help rescue the men. It may seem like a small thing but these boats were not built for long sea voyages and the captains of these small vessels had no military training. These were ordinary people and the boats were a mix-match of fishing boats, tug boats and week-end boats that would make the ocean trip across the channel. With no warning and no training thousands of people came to the rescue.
What many people may not know is, when the little boats got to Dunkirk they were met with German artillery overhead. The soldiers were exhausted and desperate to get out. Getting into the boats was not easy. The water was rough and deep and many boats capsized. The little boats made countless trips back and forth from the beach to the ships and many even made the cross-channel trip repeatedly to get the men to safety.
When I see the pictures I am amazed at the number of men on the beach and how the boats were so full of people. Every inch had people on it. We see the destruction of buildings, vehicles and people. But what we don’t see in a picture is the smell of burning oil and gunpowder or the rotting of dead bodies. We don’t hear the shower of gunfire overhead or feel the hunger and thirst of sitting on a beach for a week with wounded friends beside you.
Today there will be a reenactment of the rescue at Dunkirk to mark the 70th anniversary of this heroic time. Some of the original little boats will be making the trip in memory of Operation Dynamo.