26 May 2010

Le Fleur de Lys too: Dunkirk, 26 May, 1940

Le Fleur de Lys too: Dunkirk, 26 May, 1940

It was on this day in 1940 that the British and French Army began to evcuate the mainland of Europe at Dunkirk. In all Operation Dynamo rescued 338,226 troops, however most of the BEF's equipment was lost, but the core of it's fighting forces were saved. They proved to be the nucleus of the Britains defenses, as well as the core of the Free French Army.

"The beach, black with men, illumined by the fires, seemed a perfect target." Arthur D. Divine, rescuer.

"It was the queerest, most nondescript flotilla that ever was, and it was manned by every kind of Englishman, never more than two men, often only one, to each small boat. There were bankers and dentists, taxi drivers and yachtsmen, longshoremen, boys, engineers, fishermen and civil servants. . .

It was dark before we were well clear of the English coast. It wasn't rough, but there was a little chop on, sufficient to make it very wet, and we soaked the Admiral to the skin. Soon, in the dark, the big boats began to overtake us. We were in a sort of dark traffic lane, full of strange ghosts and weird, unaccountable waves from the wash of the larger vessels. When destroyers went by, full tilt, the wash was a serious matter to us little fellows. We could only spin the wheel to try to head into the waves, hang on, and hope for the best.

An interesting side story to Dunkirk began on 12 April 1912, just before midnight, when the White Star liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank. The most senior officer to survive the tragedy was the Second Officer, Charles Herbert Lightoller, (Sub-Lieutenent RNR). During the First World War he was activated and after serving on several liners converted to wartime use, including the RMS Oceanic (a sister to Titanic) he commanded a torpedo boat and was decorated for engaging a German Zepplin. He eventually retired after the war and ran a boat yard with his wife. In May 1940 he probably listened and read with interest about the war with Germany. Lightoller had purchased his own private motor yacht, which his wife, Sylvia, named Sundowner, an Australian term meaning "wanderer". When the call came out for "little ships" to ferry troops from the beaches used "Sundowner" to help rescue soldiers during the Dunkirk evacuation making several trips to France and back. He has always been a personal hero to me. The boat (below) is preserved at Ramsgate Maritime Museum.
Stern stuff these British. "T'was a near run thing... "

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