Dunkerque is an important port in the north of France, in French Flanders, on the North Sea, very near the English Channel. It was notorious for its sea pirates and, more recently, for an allied escape manoeuvre in World War II, the 'battle of Dunkirk'.

The Flemish name, Duinkerke, means 'dune church'.

26th May, 1940.

My name is Alfred Brown, I'm a mechanic for the British Expeditionary Force. Nine days ago Lord Gort, the BEF's commanding officer, told us to prepare for evacuation back to Britian. We'd got as far as the Somme but they beat us back. Weygand is a fool to think that we could ever defend the Somme. Jerry's sure got one up on us this time, every time the French high command gives us a new defense plan, they're already there.

So we're all here. There's half the French First army here too. Five French divisions have set up a road block at Lille but there's seven German divisions battling to get through to us sitting ducks, we've set up as many defenses as we can and now we're just waiting.

So I'm sat on the beach at Dunkerque, dug into the sand. My pack is heavy and my bayonnet is set. In my pockets I have tea leaves and proper stockings for my wife. Waiting for the supposed rescue to begin. They say that they've requested the help of many fishing boats, pleasure craft and little civilian boats for Operation Dynamo. Admiral Ramsay and his Naval Officers have been all over the country to find them. They say that they'll be on their way by tomorrow.

I think they're lying to us. To get our hopes up before the Jerrys descend and make mincemeat out of us all.

27th May, 1940.

The German army have stopped attacking, does Hitler want us to escape?

Either way, all the lads have been really boosted by this. Morale is up a bit on yesterday. Me? I'm nervous. Perhaps they're waiting for a big push.

29th May, 1940

The Air Force have been out with force today. Jerry's planes have been buzzing around our heads all day. The army still have not attacked. I hear on the grapevine that three destroyers have been sunk on their way to rescue us, along with 21 smaller vessels. I feel so sad for those poor mens' wives and children.

The boats have arrived. I can see them on the horizon. The excitment is building. My senior officer says that only 48,000 of us are to evacuated. There's way more than that here. Men are piling into the freezing water, holding their rifles above their heads to stop them getting wet. It's pure chaos. The larger ships are sat on the horizon while the smaller boats are coming in as close as possible so that they may ferry us between the beach and the transporters.

It looks like the smaller craft may end up being used too to take us home.

We've been told to only take what we can carry - less if possible. Just our rifles and a few personal belongings. The rest of the weapons and equipment must stay here, there is no room on the boats.

The Luftwaffe are dive bombing us again. Trying to hit us and the ships. In a way it is lucky that Dunkerque is burning. The smoke is acting as a cover for us and the fire as a beacon for the ships. But all the same, the boats cannot make evasive manoveurs, there's just too many of them, along with the risks of running aground.

30th May 1940

6,000 French troops and 110,000 British troops have been herded onto the boats. I'm sat on a trawler with about 60 other men. I don't know what happened to Sid. I lost him in the chaos. He was there wading next to me one minute, shouting encouragement, then he was gone in the confusion. I can only hope that another boat picked him up before the cold got to him. I was holding my gun and the tea I had bought for my wife above my head to try and make sure that they didn't get wet, the water went up to my armpits and I thought I was going to drown.

I was pulled onto the deck by strong arms. Shivering and frightened, a man wrapped me in the few warm blankets they had as the two other brave men went on pulling drowned rats from the water until the deck was full. Then we turned for Ramsgate.

1st June 1940.

I'm sick, it must have been standing about in my cold, damp clothes on an open deck. The Luftwaffe have been out again today, trying to stop us getting home. They dropped a bomb so very close to us. We had to watch while the boat they hit sank, taking everybody on board with her. Altogether today the Royal Navy have lost 31 ships and smaller craft. We don't know how many men and civillians we've lost.

Churchill has called for more French troops to be rescued.

4th June 1940.

I am home. On British soil. I don't really know why, but I'm being treated like a hero. Churchill said today in the House of Commons "Wars are not won by evacuations." and he's right.

I was talking to a man who'd been rescued from the mole, a rock jetty 2/3 mile long which formed one of the two breakwaters across the harbour. It was just wide enough for three men to walk abreast. He said there was no cover for them when the planes attacked. All they could do was lie flat and watch the bullets splatter across the harbour. "They crackled like frying fat," he said. He had to jump onto the deck of the destroyer 15 feet below him because it was low tide.

I've been given a few days leave to recover, so I went back to London to see Jessie. She loved the stockings. My cold is lingering. The radio says that we've resuced another 26,000 French troops today. They'll no doubt go back to France to continue fighting. I hear altogether they rescued 335,000 out of 400,000 of us but Sid never made it home - I'll never see him again.

Sources: My grandfather was evacuated from Dunkerque. This is based (loosely) on the stories I remember him telling me. For a long time he could not talk about what had happened to him. Now, as he gets older, he is beginning to share these memories with us, perhaps in the hope that they will live on through his grandchildren. He died on October 28th 2002 at the age of 86 - I shall miss him very much.


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