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Going to Dunkirk

Thursday, 27 July, 2017 0 Comments

Going to the new Christopher Nolan film, that is.

The British retreat to the coastal French town of Dunkirk in late May 1940 was a key moment of the Second World War. Several hundred thousand British and Allied troops were encircled by the Germans. Had Hitler attacked, he would have captured a quarter of a million men, stripping Britain of its army and putting enormous pressure on London to enter into peace talks with Berlin. But the Germans didn’t attack. Their nine Panzer divisions stopped outside Dunkirk. And the British were able to start their evacuation from the beaches with the result that most of the their troops got home. Some 300,000 men were rescued — two thirds British, the rest French.

As the exhausted troops were disembarking along the south-eastern coast of England, the five members of Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet met on 27 May to discuss entering into peace negotiations with Germany. Churchill was passionately against any such move, but the foreign minister, Lord Halifax, was for talks as he felt England’s negotiating position was stronger with France still in the war. He also believed that Britain’s goal should not be to fight Germany, but rather to preserve as much independence as possible in a peaceful coexistence.

During the following day’s Cabinet meeting, however, the tide turned in favour of Churchill when he declared absolutely that there would be no surrender, and that as long as he was in office, he would never negotiate with the Nazis. “If this long island story of ours is to end at last,” he declared, “let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground.”

He was thinking of the 68,111 killed, wounded or captured British troops at Dunkirk.


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