Monday, 31 July 2017

Book Review: Dunkirk

DunkirkDunkirk by Lieutenant Colonel Ewan Butler
Publisher: Sapere Books
Publication date: 9th July 2017
Pages: 211
Source: ERC from publisher


 “We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender” – Winston Churchill

In the last days of May and early June 1940 the British Expeditionary Force was saved from annihilation on the beaches of Dunkirk and brought home to fight another day.

The victories won by British arms in the years which followed that great deliverance have made men forget those soldiers – the first of the many – upon whom it fell to withstand the shock of Hitler’s great attack.

It is now fitting that these men and their Commander-in-Chief, Lord Gort, should be worthily remembered, and their story fully told, from those first landings in France, in the autumn of 1939, until the climax of Dunkirk.

The authors, both professional writers, themselves served as officers with the B.E.F., and have recaptured the gallantry and comradeship of that little force. The result is a moving story of courage and devotion in the face of odds which no other British Force has ever been called upon to face.

It is chivalrous to admire a gallant enemy, and of that chivalry we have lately seen much. Justice demands that the courage and devotion of our own fighting men be no less clearly recognised. There were no medals for the B.E.F., hardly even today the laurels of memory. They were soldiers, doing a soldier’s job against odds which no British Force had ever been called upon to face, and which, it is to be hoped, no British Force will ever face again.

What were they then, the men of that small Expeditionary Force, a mere army in one of the groups of French armies? How did they spend the months of what has been called the “twilight war”, and how, when the shock of battle came at last, did they withstand the blow?

Dunkirk tells the true story of those brave men who fought to save the lives of so many. With the 2017 movie release of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk now is the time to remember the real history of the battle in the words of those who experienced it. 

My thoughts:

First published in 1950, only 10 years after the battle of Dunkirk, this story is told through fresh memories unchanged by the passage of time. The authors, Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Major J. Selby Bradford served in France during late 1939 and early 1940 as junior officers.
This story of Dunkirk was the original motivation behind the epic film of 1958.

The forward by Lord Vansittart is fitting and still relevant today.
“This is not a heartening book, but the gallantry which it portrays is so immensely moving, so well told, as to be almost heartening’ – Lord Vansittart.
“If rulers and ruled alike will not learn from this book the lesson which it implants, we may as will give up teaching history” – Lord Vansittart.

The story of Dunkirk follows the day to day workings of the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force). It doesn’t concentrate on certain soldiers or officers but the force as a whole. A factual account that isn’t over dramatised. Stark and concise.
The authors tell of how underequipped the B.E.F. were; the murder of civilians by German soldiers; the harrowing conditions – underfed and underarmed; the acts of heroism by both servicemen and civilians; the discovery of spies amongst the French civilians and also amongst their counterparts in Belgium.

Keep the Memory Green was the original title of Dunkirk. It was retitled after the 1958 film release, Dunkirk, which was based on this book.
Sapere Books has rereleased Dunkirk in digital form.

There are so many quotes which I loved from this book but I will just leave you with a couple of my favourites.

“They were soldiers, doing a soldier’s job against odds which no British Force had ever been called upon to face, and which, it is to be hoped, no British Force will ever face again.’

“The fact remains that the troops who landed in France were but ill-provided with the tools of modern war. Save for a few tanks, most of them already semi-obsolete, we had no armour, nor many guns, with which to stop the sadly-plentiful armour of the enemy.”

I received an ERC from Sapere Books.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About the authors: 
 Lt. Colonel Ewan Butler and Major J. Selby Bradford M.B.E., M.C. served in France as young officers during the last months of 1939 and the first five of 1940 with that small British Expeditionary force commanded by Lord Gort, which first faced the full might of Nazi Germany.

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