It was one of the blockbuster films of 2017 – Dunkirk (Dunkerque in French), Christopher Nolan’s film about Operation Dynamo, the historic event which saw the rescue of allied forces from the beaches on Dunkirk during World War II.
The film Dunkirk
Filmed largely on location on the beaches of Dunkirk with a clutch of stars including Harry Styles of One Direction making his acting debut, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Sir Kenneth Branagh amongst others. The story is well known but it will bring the events of 1940 to a whole new audience around the world. Essentially, 338,000 allied troops were surrounded in Dunkerque and the only means of escape was across the English Channel. Navy ships raced to lift them off the beaches and were joined by around 700 “little ships” who also made the perilous journey to rescue the doomed men. It was the biggest evacuation in military history. British civilians responded in their droves with everything from private yachts, motor launches, lifeboats, paddle steamers and barges joining the effort. The craft came from as far away as the Isle of Man. For eight long days from May 27 1940, 338,226 allied soldiers were successfully ferried across the English Channel whilst under attack. Included were 140,00 French, Polish and Belgian troops.
Operation Dynamo Dunkirk
In Dunkerque, the events of those dramatic days will never be forgotten. In 2015 the city welcomed the return of many of the ships in a wonderful commemoration ceremony. Those old boats, lovingly cared for, made the journey across the Channel and arrived to cheers and a mighty welcome from the people of Dunkerque.
Among them was MTB102 (Motor Torpedo Boat). She crossed the Channel eight times during Operation Dynamo and was also used by Rear Admiral Wake-Walker who directed operations during the rescue, as his flagship when his own boat was destroyed. MTB102 also carried Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower when they reviewed ships assembled for the D Day landings. The canny-eyed amongst you might have spotted her in the film The Eagle has Landed. Today she’s lovingly cared for and kept in tip top condition by engineer Richard Basey with the help of enthusisastic volunteers with a passion that’s catching for this old boat.
In the town of Dunkirk you’ll find the majestic paddle steamer Princess Elizabeth. Permanently moored and opened in 2017 as a gastronomic restaurant. Built as a pleasure boat she was converted to a mine sweeper to assist with Operation Dynamo and rescued hundreds of troops. She also starred in the film Dunkirk, casting off specially to take part during the 2016 filming.
In Dunkirk, the Museum Dunkirk 1940 – Operation Dynamo plays homage to the drama and in 2017 has undergone a renovation and extension. With artefacts, photos, documents and more, the story of the battle and evacuation is recorded and makes for a fascinating and moving visit.
See the Dunkirk Tourist Office website for more details of memorial visits in the area and things to do and see.