Monday, September 28, 2020

The Untold Story of Dunkirque

The hourglass that symbolizes the passage of time is also an indicator of reversal of fortunes when turned upside down. I never realized this harsh reality until I stood before a huge hourglass on a cold winter morning. I stood outside the entrance to a very unique museum at Dunkirque, a very small town on the French coast of the English Channel. I had arrived in the town just a few hours back and the freezing winds across the channel greeted me.

As a small child, I was fascinated with war movies and stories of action. I had read a number of books with stories of bravery of Maharana Pratap, Rani Jhansi to the Joan of Arc and many more in my growing up years. Never did I imagine that one day, I will be able to see a place where a major operation was launched to rescue the Allied Forces pittecd against the German forces who had invaded France, the Netherlands and Belgium during the Second World War. The place was Dunkirk, where almost 350000 troops of the Allied forces comprising armed soldiers of the British, French and some other allied partners faced a certain defeat or the possibility of capture as a prisoner of war by the strong German troops of Hilter. It was during  26 May- 10 Jun 1940, when the Germans lay siege around the town.  The situation for the allied forces was akin to facing the devil( German Forces) and the deep sea ( English Channel) on the other side. 

The brilliant strategy of aligning almost 1500 ships and boats to ferry the trapped Allied Forces across the Engish Channel conceived by Sir Winston Churchill not only proved a turning point by saving the troops from jaws of death but went down the history as the biggest known evacuation to date. As enough warships were not available, pleasure boats  and very small vessels owned by the Britishers and French were extensively used to ferry the stranded soldiers.

The Dunkirk War Musem or the Operation Dynamo museum is one of its kind and has been created and preserved ever since at the very spot called the Bastion 32, where the battle was fought and the evacuation carried out. The well-preserved pictures, the armaments, uniforms and replicas recreate the history as it happened. Some of the cars, bicycles, medicines, that were used during the operation have been preserved. The scenes of the mass exodus of the civilians that followed in the wake of the military operation code-named 'Operation Dynamo' have been recreated highlighting the horrors faced by the fleeing populace. A chill goes down the spine to see the pictures of uneaten food lying on the tables and small children strapped on the back of their mothers escaping the war-torn zone. The other pictures of the razed town of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the unrelenting attacks by the German Luftwaffe aircraft, the remains of trucks, and tanks depict the horrors of war.

Thanks to Operation Dynamo that 221504 British, 122000 French and 16000 Belgian soldiers were evacuated in the two weeks and almost 40000 Allied troops were captured near Lille on 4June 1940 by the German troops. The entire operation was fraught with danger from the very start and almost 240 vessels including three destroyers of the Allied forces were sunk during the operation. The Royal Airforce and the German Airforce lost more than 200 aircraft on either side. Almost 70000 troops of the Allied Forces were killed and the town of Dunkerque was reduced to shambles like Antwerp and Rotterdam.

In the historic speech in the British Parliament on 4 Jun 1940 Churchill and said' we shall fight on the beaches' and hailed the operation os a 'miracle of deliverance'.

The sequence of events is best described by a British soldier Harry Garret as
" You knew this was the chance to get home and you kept praying, please God, let us go, get us out of this mess back to England. To see the ship that came to pick me and my brother up, was the most fantastic sight. We saw dogfights up in the air, hoping that nothing would happen to us and we saw one or two terrible sights. Then somebody said that there is Dover, that is when we saw the White Cliffs, the atmosphere was terrific. From hell to heaven, was how the feeling was,you felt like a miracle had happened"

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I cherish to have visited a place where the historic evacuation had been conducted not so long ago

P: All pics are mine


  1. I always try to stay away from war memorials because they overwhelm me with thoughts of the kind of horror humans must have faced for humanity to go through in those times. However, you can't help but go see such memorials to pay those souls an ode. Rotterdam the erased city is one such place that your post mentions which I get to see multiple times during our stay in Netherlands and each time we have entered the city the remains of those times can be felt.

  2. I agree with you that these places leave us overwhelmed and a sad reminder of the turmoil and horror! I sometime gather courage just out of respect for the fallen heros and to learn to value the freedom I enjoy!