Monday, August 19, 2019

The Miracle of Dunkirk

The Gare de Dunkerque Railway Station

Never had I ever imagined that one day I would be able to see the place Dunkirk! A couple of years back, Christian Nolans' award-winning film ' Dunkirk', which I had seen, left a lasting impression. The landmark evacuation of British and French armed forces cornered and outnumbered by the advancing German army (from 26 May to 4 June 1940 ) happened on this coastal town of France. It is near the Belgian border, just a few kilometres away. It was a dream come true to stand on the same seashore almost 79 years later.

The journey started from the city of Lille Flanders, where I had landed the previous evening. The train journey from Rotterdam via the pretty towns of Antwerp, Ghent and Courtrai was an amazing experience. The revelation that Anvers is nothing but Antwerp occurred just ten minutes before we were to disembark to change trains at Antwerp. All along while reading the EU Rail timetable, Anvers( French name) was indicated as the station for a change! It is remarkable how the names and spellings change for towns, as we travel from one country to another in Europe.  I wish, I had more time to see the quirky fascinating city of  Ghent which we passed by and had power to the allure with its charm of canals and gothic church spires in silhouette.
The harbour of Dunkirk
On arrival at Lille, I had thought it to be a small town which I had passed by a couple of years back while travelling from London to Paris by Eurostar. I learnt that this city is the fourth largest in France and is on the Northen tip of the country. The city has so much to offer that I will need a separate post to dwell on its history and beautiful experiences.
St Eloi Belfry Tower
The journey to Dunkirk which is about 80 km from Lille Flanders commenced in the morning. It took about an hour and fifteen minutes to reach Dunkirk( spelt as Dunkerque in French) passing through the little towns of Armentieries, Hazebrouck, Cassel and Bergues. Dunkirk rail station has huge plaques that highlight the history of the evacuation that occurred during WW2 in this small town. A pleasant surprise awaited us, as we stepped out of the station that the city provides 'Free Bus Service'  for travel from any part of the town. The strong and icy winds from the North Sea greeted us as we moved towards the city. The imposing tall St Eloi Belfry Tower looked grand from a distance. It is one of the most beautiful buildings.
Church Eglise Saint Eloi

 A 450-year-old Gothic Church Eglise Saint Eloi stands across the road on Belfry in all the glory.
The bullet marks on the walls of the church
It still has the bullet marks that it faced during the WW2, though the structure is restored. A walk around the harbour was pleasant. Little Elisabeth(ship) which was used in the evacuation of soldiers is berthed here, besides the several sail ships moored adds to the beauty of the place. Nearby is a cemetery of graves of the soldiers who lost their lives during the evacuation and gun battle.
Operation Dynamo Museum
We then headed to the War Museum located close to the East Mole and the evacuation beaches in Bastion 32. The War Museum gives an insight into the 'Operation Dynamo', the codename for the evacuation of 338000 British and French soldiers during WW2, biggest in the war history
A replica of a nurse serving during Operation Dynamo
The canons, arms, ammunition, uniforms worn by the soldiers, even the aircraft that were flown and their remains, war maps, and photos are well preserved in the museum. They create the environment to transport the onlooker back to the period
Remains of an aircraft shot down over Dunkirk
It is a moving experience to witness the bygone era where hundreds lost their lives and many managed to survive.
The Bray-Dunes
Another bus ride to the Bray-Dunes (17km from Dunkirk ) was the last destination. A 30-minute drive is full of excitement as the bus traverses through the thick foliage of trees lined along the coastline. The  Bray-Dunes is the site from where most of the evacuation was carried out.
WW2 Memorial at the Bray-Dunes

 A memorial has been erected at the site that overlooks the sprawling blue sea. Hundreds of boats of all kinds had landed along the coastline to execute the "Operation Dynamo' to evacuate the stranded soldiers who literally faced the devil on one end(German forces) and the deep blue sea (the English Channel)at the other. Churchill in his famous speech of 4 June1940 'we shall fight on the beaches' hailed this operation as a 'miracle of deliverance'.
At Dunkerque
It had been an engrossing day. The pride of having visited a historical site of a major  'Naval Operation' for an ex-Navy man like me is difficult to express. The return journey to Lille was uneventful but the lasting memories of Dunkirk will stay forever

PS- All Pictures are mine. Will take you around Lille the birthplace of General De Gaulle in my next blog post.


  1. I can see that this was a trip to remember. First of all, what a kick we get out out seeing places we've seen in movies (or read about)!
    As I was reading about the war history and the ships I was thinking what an interesting trip it might have been for you. And then I see that conclusion (of the post). :) I'm sure you were filled with pride. And that's how it should be. :)

    1. Thank you, Divya for your kind and generous comment.It was almost unbelievable to be at a place where so much happened and is today a bustling town:)