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Love and war at Dunkirk

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Atonement

First Post reviews the film, which opens this weekend.

Winston Churchill describes a critical scene in the film, when the Germans overran Belgium, the Netherlands, and France and the British and French armies retreated to Dunkirk in May, 1940. In the actions of French and British forces and civilian British under unrelenting German attacks, there was gallantry and love.

At first there appeared to be no way to bring 220,000 Tommies and their French comrades to safety.

". . . By intense effort Fighter Command maintained successive patrols over the scene, and fought the enemy at long odds. Hour after hour they bit into the German fighter and bomber squadrons, taking a heavy toll, scattering them and driving them away. . .Wherever German aircraft were encountered, sometimes in forties and fifties, they were instantly attacked, often by single squadrons or less, and shot down in scores, which presently added up into hundreds. . .Sometimes the fighter pilots made four sorties a day. . . Unhappily, the troops on the beaches saw very little of this epic confrontation in the air, often miles away or above the clouds. . ."

Meanwhile,

“The French in Lille fought on gradually contracting fronts against increasing pressure. . .These Frenchmen, under the gallant leadership of General Molinié, for four critical days contained no less than seven German divisions which otherwise could have joined in the assaults on the Dunkirk perimeter. This was a splendid contribution to the escape of their more fortunate comrades and of the British Expeditionary Force. . ."

And across the Channel,

"From the streams and estuaries of Kent and Dover, a strange fleet appeared: trawlers and tugs, scows and fishing sloops, lifeboats and pleasure craft, smacks and coasters; the island ferry Gracie Fields; Tom Sopwith's America Cup challenger Endeavour; even the London fire brigade's fire-float Massey Shaw - all of them manned by civilian volunteers. . ." They sailed across the Channel to Dunkirk and under the deadly fire of the German Air Force rescued their exhausted, bleeding sons. (Quotation from William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill.)

There was love at Dunkirk.


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