One of the foremost pivotal points in the history of Great Britain was the semi-miraculous recovery of 338,226 British and Free French soldiers from the beaches, moles and bombed and smoking piers of Dunkirk harbour in late May and early June 1940 . The leaders of a stricken Britain had attempted, hopelessly they thought; to rescue the shattered remnants of a beaten British Expeditionary Force before they were either killed or made prisoner of the Nazi Wehrmacht. Under orders, two French Divisions remained behind to cover the evacuation, they were all either taken prisoner or killed. The hundreds of small ships, cabin cruisers, skiffs, launches, even a lumbering Thames barge, they were all marshalled by the Royal Navy; some came crewed by owners, many had volunteers at their helms. They came from all over, they motored across the Channel, guided by the larger
The soldiers, those tens of thousands of desperate men of a beaten B.E.F., saw a strange sight as they climbed over the Dunkirk dunes. They saw long lines of patient soldiers which stretched out over the shallow waters, ending at a point which was established by the simple measurement of how deep a man’s body could be immersed in water before he lost his footing and floated away. There the small ships sailed in, loaded their human cargo, most of whom still carried their weaponry, which was then ferried out to the larger ships which stood in deeper water. When they were loaded, the larger ships headed for Dover and freedom, the ‘Small Ships’ returned to find more and ever more from those long, wet, patient lines of soldiers. Destroyers came to moor at the harbour piers to rescue even more of those men who thought that they had been forgotten, some of those same destroyers were sunk by German bombs, but more survived and made that perilous trip. The ‘Small Ships’ made history in those nine days; nine days which transformed a defeat into the strangest of victories. Some of those same ‘Small Ships’ were themselves destroyed, but most made it back to England’s shores, the same as those soldiers; to fight again and eventually to hear the solemn words of victory after the signing of the Surrender documents at Luneberg Heath.
Strange, is it not, that not one of the Celebrities and Staff Announcers alike, of the BBC coverage of the Jubilee Pageant, could not even remember what these ‘Small Ships’ achieved when Her Majesty was still a young woman; could not even remember what they had done! Jubilee ‘sick bags’? Yes; but the true Heroines of Dunkirk? Never a sound!