Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 4th June 1940:
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
This week sees the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of 338,000 British, French, Polish, and Belgian troops from the beaches and harbour at Dunkirk. Today, 50 of the original flotilla of small, private boats that helped ferry the survivors of the retreat to and Battle of Dunkirk, are making the return trip across the English Channel to commemorate the event.
Now for sure, the defeat in Northern France and Belgium and the rout of the British Expeditionary Force by Hitler’s Blitzkrieg, represented one of the worst losses in British military history, akin to the surrender of Singapore. This was not a Pal’s Brigade of volunteers. The BEF were some of our best, most experienced, and best-trained regular soldiers.
We came within a gnat’s tadger of losing the war. Pressure was building upon Churchill to surrender and to come to an understanding with Hitler, effectively to give Europe to the Nazis and Fascists in return for keeping the Empire. Otherwise, the United Kingdom faced the very real threat carpet bombing, the fear of which was akin to that of a nuclear strike today, and, the threat of invasion without the ability to defend itself.
Without the bravery of the rearguard action to hold the perimeter of Dunkirk in the face of atrocities performed by the SS, slaughtering those that were captured; without the steadfastness nay stubbornness of Churchill’s political leadership; without the heroism of those men and boys in their pleasure boats, we may all be speaking German today and be first in line for the sunbeds on our holidays.
But what of the Dunkirk Spirit today? Is it alive and kicking? Is it, like Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, lying dormant until a time of similar threat to our nation? When I see the Jeremy Kyle underclass I despair a little. So, I will pin my hopes on the shining example of Wootton Bassett and the tiny flotilla en route to French shores instead……
- Remembering Little Ships Rescue 70 Years On (news.sky.com)
- Seventy years ago today: Dunkirk remembered (channel4.com)