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Shropshire Star comment: We still call it the Dunkirk spirit

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

It is stoicism and determination to face up to adversity, and not be downhearted even in the seemingly most hopeless of situations.

CREDIT SHROPSHIRE REGIMENTAL MUSEUM nostalgia pic. Shropshire. 'B Company, 1st Battalion, KSLI, Dunkirk, 2nd June, 1940' is printed on the card border of this picture (cropped off). So this picture was taken at Dunkirk just before they embarked. Some of the survivors of B Company, 1st Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry. Names given on the printed caption below are: Back Row, from left, Private O'Connor MM (i.e. Military Medal), Pte Seabury, Pte Morse, Pte Owens (sic), Pte Ellis, Pte Lucas. Centre row: Privates Cotton, Beeston, Taylor, Miles, Walker, Francis, Brown and Evans. Seated: CQMS Imlach, Lt J. France, Captain D. Hamilton MC (i.e. Military Cross), Lt Louis Brooke-Smith, and Sgt Barber. Front: Privates Morgan and Halford. Second World War soldiers. World War Two. 1939 to 1945 war. Dunkirk evacuation. 1st Battalion KSLI. Dunkirk evacuation.

Eighty years ago things were bleak. Britain’s best troops, a professional and well trained force, the only entirely mechanised army in the world, had proven no match for the blitzkrieg tactics of the Nazis as they swept westwards.

Hundreds of thousands of British and French soldiers were trapped and surrounded with their backs to the sea. There was no way out. Mass surrender seemed inevitable. What happened next has been described as a miracle. They were rescued from under the Germans’ noses by the Royal Navy and a diverse fleet of civilian boats. It was a triumph of improvisation.

“We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory,” Winston Churchill growled. Militarily, it was a massive and comprehensive defeat. But the symbolism mattered. The Dunkirk evacuation spoke of a nation which was not going to accept defeat, a nation which would fight on against evil against all odds and alone if necessary – and alone it did indeed turn out.

Instead of defeatism – there were influential voices in Britain prepared to countenance making peace with Hitler – the Dunkirk miracle spread defiance. If Hitler was to defeat Britain, he would have to invade.

After that Dunkirk miracle came the finest hour, the Battle of Britain, and the legend of The Few. Unable to control the skies, and with an invasion fleet certain to be attacked by the still-powerful Royal Navy, crossing the Channel was one risk Hitler was not in the end prepared to take.

Britain was saved. Ultimately the cause of freedom was saved. The Dunkirk spirit has echoes today in these strange times. There is an invisible and seemingly invincible enemy which has wrought death, misery, and hardship.

A common foe helps unite people, and that has happened.There is an upsurge of community spirit, and an almost universal willingness to do whatever it takes.

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