This week sees the 79th anniversary of the evacuation of 338,226 servicemen forming the backbone of the British army from Dunkirk. Officially known as Operation Dynamo; it is also described as the miracle of Dunkirk. The French port has found its way into the British conscience through the expression – the Dunkirk Spirit. A description of British ingenuity and resolve against adversity.
Indeed, it was a miracle that many of those servicemen including my father found their way home. In my father’s case especially so, as he was part of the rear guard. By the time he reached the beaches of Dunkirk the evacuation was well under way. He came back on a Thames sailing barge which a number of men noticed appeared to still be seaworthy despite being beached and abandoned. Through ingenuity they raised the sail and found their way to Margate and home.
For the first 15 years of my life, trips to Veterans parades organised by the Dunkirk Veterans Association became second nature. Dunkirk, De Panne, Portsmouth, Ramsgate, Margate. All places I remember visiting in my childhood. I remember the evening socials and dances. I remember the Church Services. I remember the Outdoor Services. I remember the Parades. I remember those who eventually grew to be old remembering those who never had a chance to grow old.
I also remember the holidays. France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and yes Germany. All countries visited in the first 15 years of my life. Both my parents had 6 years of their young lives taken away from them by War. They both knew people who had lost family in both World Wars. Yet they were more than happy to travel to Europe and explore European cultures and seek to make friends with those from other countries on their travels. They even went to the Munich Beer festival and drank with Germans. I am lucky. They brought me up to be a European.
Dunkirk will always be engrained into my soul. Dunkirk is in my DNA. I have Dunkirk spirit to my fingertips. I will use every drop of it to keep Britain where those of my parents’ generation concluded we should be in 1975. As part of a European Family of Nations.
Those who lived through the dark days of the two World Wars are with us in ever decreasing numbers. They knew first-hand where Nationalism can lead us. They were the experts in the effects of War in Europe as they saw it first-hand. We should listen to them by following their example and seek to be at the heart of the European club of nations, not run away from it, simply because we don’t understand the rules.
79 years ago, we were forced to leave Europe by the ultimate in Nationalistic fanatics. To leave voluntarily now just because another set of nationalistic fanatics are demanding it, after our parents fought so hard to return, would be a betrayal of all the sacrifices made in the 5 years that followed Britain’s darkest hours during the late Spring and early Summer of 1940.
John Bland is chair of the Lincolnshire Branch of the European Movement and a member of the European Movement