25 May 2010

Dunkirk 70-years later

It was seventy years ago today that the British evacuated Dunkirk. The Admiralty called for any person with sailing experience and a boat to help with the evacuation.

Sadly, there are no "skippers" left who participated in the heroic acts on 25 May 1940.

    We waited wearily, waist high in the sea
    The miracle unfolding before us gave us hope
    We'd expected ships but these were boats, small boats
    But they floated somehow
    Men clambered aboard

    I eyed them enviously
    Watched them turn and go back out to sea
    Heading home to dear old Blighty
    Patiently we shuffled forward
    Legs numb, teeth chattering
    Hopefully my turn would come soon

    A Stuka strafed the beach again
    Cries from men hit reached our ears
    The eyes of the human pier followed the raider
    We sighed gratefully as it turned inland
    No one had the energy to scatter
    To try and escape the pilot's cruel bullets
    So we stood, staring seaward

    A dot grew into a battered boat
    The volunteer owner smiled weakly
    By now I was so weak, so hungry, so cold
    I could barely haul myself onboard

    The skipper helped my mates and me
    We worried that the boat would capsize
    He crammed as many men on as he dare
    "I'll be back." He shouted to the remaining men
    They waved us off

    Such relief filled us as we got under way
    A boy's head appeared from below deck
    He looked hollow eyed and shocked by his exploits
    I'll never forget him

    He scooped mugs of hot tea from a bucket
    Handing them round to us
    Apologising for the crude container
    Explaining that he'd dropped the teapot overboard

    He'd been bailing out seawater in a previous trip
    A German Patrol boat had attacked them
    They were still shipping water
    Hesitantly he asked
    Could we help after we'd drunk our tea?

    We gulped down the warm beverage
    Ignoring the hint of oil in it
    To me it tasted like nectar
    Sweet and warm

    The sea grew choppy
    We busily bailed with the boy
    Someone started to whistle
    Another sang the words
    Pretty soon we were all singing

    I asked the Skipper a question
    How the folks at home viewed our defeat
    He eyed a French soldier in our midst
    "No one blames the BEF," He whispered
    "Everyone knows you did your bit."

    Someone distracted us with a cheer
    A welcome sight greeted us
    Looming out of the mist
    The white cliffs of Dover

    "Welcome home boys!" He grinned toothlessly
    I glanced at the other battle hardened men
    My tears weren't the only ones being shed….

    © Christine L. Coles — July 2001
    Dedicated to my Uncle - George Jones a Dunkirk Veteran