Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Victims of the 'Miracle'; Abandoned on the Beach: The Scene at Dunkirk as Recreated in the Film Atonement

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Victims of the 'Miracle'; Abandoned on the Beach: The Scene at Dunkirk as Recreated in the Film Atonement

Article excerpt

Byline: DOMINIC SANDBROOK

Dunkirk: The Men They Left Behind by Sean Longden ( Constable, [pounds sterling]20 )

THE MYTH of Dunkirk, the flotilla of little ships and amateur sailors rescuinghundreds of thousands of exhausted soldiers from the beaches of northernFrance, has penetrated so deeply into our collective consciousness that fewpeople now realise it was one of the biggest humiliations in our nationalhistory. "A colossal military defeat," Churchill called it at the time, addingthat "wars are not won by evacuations".

But wars are won by spin and spirit as well as force of arms, and every time afootball manager or television commentator mentions the "Dunkirk spirit", theyare unwittingly paying tribute to the power of wartime propaganda.

Although the time is surely coming for a moratorium on books about the SecondWorld War, few readers will be unmoved by Sean Longden's detailed account ofthe other side of Dunkirk, the 40,000 men left behind on the beaches andmarched off into Nazi captivity. Most had fought gruelling rearguard actionsmerely to get there; others never made it that far, but were stranded inland,fighting off the advancing Germans until they had no choice but to surrender.

This is not a book for the faint-hearted.

When the Germans ordered one French villager to dig a mass grave for theirBritish victims, he pointed out that one of the men was still alive. Atgunpoint he was told to carry on; to his eternal shame, he literally buried thepoor man alive.

But the survivors were treated little better, being rounded up and forced ontothe roads for what they called the "Hell March" east towards Germany, a raggedcolumn of thousands of broken men stretching across Western Europe. Starved offood or water, some drank from fetid streams; others ate the raw vegetablesleft as cattle feed in the fields. …

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