Operation Dynamo

 

My paternal grandfather served in WWII. He regaled my father with stories of working in the RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Corps) and later in REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers). He was a Motor Vehicle Fitter at various locations in England and later a REME instructor. My grandfather met my grandmother when she, as a member of the ATS (Auxilliary Territorial Service), was his supervisor in a motor vehicle workshop. They married in 1946, both in their demob suits.

My grandfather died in 1974, before my parents were married. My grandmother died in 1987 when I was young. Recently my father applied for his parents military service records. They revealed some interesting information.

My grandmother had joined up in 1941 after working in a glass cutting factory as a civilian. She was posted with the Motor Transport Company in Edinburgh and drove ambulances during the blackout through 1941 and 1942. In February 1943 she was attached to REME and mustered as a Motor Mechanic in London and then York.

My grandfathers records show that he enlisted on 1 November 1939; he had just turned 21 years old. In civilian life he was a motor mechanic. He was posted to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and joined a training battalion. From 26 January 1940 he trained as a Motor Vehicle Fitter and on 3 April joined the 7th Army Field Workshop — a mobile repair unit attached to an infantry division or Corps. On 18 April 1940 he disembarked in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The next information is dated 1 June 1940 where my grandfather is listed as being “Home” “from BEF” and “Evacuated UK.”

My grandfather was one of 338,226 allied soldiers evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940. On 28 May, Winston Churchill made a statement in Parliament saying that the House of Commons “should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings.” On 4 June, Churchill returned to Parliament and had to report on a military defeat, possible invasion attempt and the likelihood of the fall of France. He gave his “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech.

I don’t know what happened to my grandfather at Dunkirk. Was he on the beach for six or seven days? Did he arrive later? Did he have to fight? (He was an army mechanic not a front line soldier.) Was he helping to repair the armoured vehicles on the beach or positioning the lorries that were used as defenses and makeshift jetties? Or, like thousands of men, did he quietly queue on the concrete breakwaters or in the sea, waiting to be rescued? I will never know the answers to these questions. My grandfather talked to my father about his war service as a motor mechanic, but never mentioned his time in France or Dunkirk.

On 21 July, a new film called Dunkirk is released in cinemas. I saw the trailer for this film last year knowing that my grandfather was there. I will be going to see the film and will be taking plenty of handkerchiefs with me when I do.

There are 21 comments.

  1. Snirtler Member

    Thank you for your post. I hope the film is worthy of the fighters and heroes at Dunkirk.

    • #1
    • July 19, 2017, at 11:46 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. PHCheese Member

    Did you notice that the USA Today movie critic panned Dunkirk because of the lack of women and people of color having roles? I guess they didn’t know your grandmother was involved with your grandfather.

    • #2
    • July 19, 2017, at 12:23 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. ctlaw Coolidge

    USA Today:

    The trio of timelines can be jarring as you figure out how they all fit, and the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way.

    (emphasis added). But was still a favorable review.

    Makes one think they still made PC efforts to artificially add supporting actors of color.

    • #3
    • July 19, 2017, at 1:05 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Mrs. of England Member
    Mrs. of England Post author

    I have not yet seen the film, but the complaint about lack of women may (and that is a tentative “may”) be somewhat justified. There were around 1300 nurses from the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and around 300 women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) evacuated with the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. Some telephone operators from the ATS were among the last to leave.

    There does not appear to be any source from which to determine if there were any ethnic minority soldiers at Dunkirk. There were many soldiers from across the Empire fighting with the Allies. However, they were mostly fighting in the far east or Africa. Because of conscription, which began in the UK in a limited form as early as April 1939, there would have been some ethnic minority men based in Britain who were called up to serve in the armed forces. However the number at Dunkirk would have been relatively small, probably fewer than the number of women. It is known that the first ethnic minority RAF pilots arrived in Britain from India in late summer or early autumn 1940 – after the evacuation.

    • #4
    • July 19, 2017, at 2:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    Cat,

    Make James come along and hold the box for you, and have a good cry.

    • #5
    • July 19, 2017, at 4:44 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    What I want to know is, what possible difference would it have made, or does it make, what color the skin of the soldiers was?! This just drives me nuts! They totally lose the reason for the season, in their constant viewing of everything in life through the distorted prism of race!

    • #6
    • July 19, 2017, at 5:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. James Of England Moderator

    Mrs. of England (View Comment):
    I have not yet seen the film, but the complaint about lack of women may (and that is a tentative “may”) be somewhat justified. There were around 1300 nurses from the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and around 300 women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) evacuated with the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. Some telephone operators from the ATS were among the last to leave.

    There does not appear to be any source from which to determine if there were any ethnic minority soldiers at Dunkirk. There were many soldiers from across the Empire fighting with the Allies. However, they were mostly fighting in the far east or Africa. Because of conscription, which began in the UK in a limited form as early as April 1939, there would have been some ethnic minority men based in Britain who were called up to serve in the armed forces. However the number at Dunkirk would have been relatively small, probably fewer than the number of women. It is known that the first ethnic minority RAF pilots arrived in Britain from India in late summer or early autumn 1940 – after the evacuation.

    The Mad Dogs And Englishmen review, and apparently the NR review, suggest that there is some female representation in the film, but the USA Today reviewer was upset that there wasn’t equality. That seems like a difficult thing to defend.

    • #7
    • July 20, 2017, at 7:54 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. James Of England Moderator

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    Cat,

    Make James come along and hold the box for you, and have a good cry.

    Although my paternal grandfather didn’t leave at first opportunity like some people (he was one of the few to be evacuated after Dunkirk; he’d been on leave during what seemed like a quiet patch on the Western Front and had various adventures trying to get back to his men, ultimately ending up with a different crew), Mrs. doesn’t have to drag me to this one. I’m very much looking forward to it.

    • #8
    • July 20, 2017, at 7:57 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. James Gawron Thatcher

    Mrs. of E,

    If you listened to the most recent Mad Dogs & Englishmen., Charles C.W. Cooke gives his reaction to the film. He said that the action is so intense and relentless that it can’t help but move you. He said that there were no “Speilberg” moments where the audience is given some small sympathetic personalization of a character to hang onto. Instead, it is all relentless action.

    I think this was the correct artistic choice. It is the British people as a whole who are the heroes of this story. The men trapped on the ground, Churchill finally given the reigns of power in the Darkest Hour, and most important of all the civilian boatmen who selflessly risked their lives to save their fellow countrymen trapped on the beach. It is the whole country that deserves to be given a medal of honor. If Britain had not held out the Fascists could never have been dislodged from Europe.

    Be very proud of your Grand Parents and be very proud to call yourself British.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #9
    • July 20, 2017, at 7:57 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Quake Voter Inactive

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    If Britain had not held out the Fascists could never have been dislodged from Europe.

    I often wonder about this assumption, which I more or less share. Had Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain gone disastrously and Britain (but not Churchill) been cowed into surrender, isn’t there still a good chance Fascism would have been dislodged by Stalinism by 1948. No Vichy State, no independent Italian fascist state, no Franco, no small states ruled by authoritarians allied with Berlin.

    One relentless Stalinist state from Calais to Sicily.

    We maybe underestimate what Churchill and the British saved us from.

    • #10
    • July 20, 2017, at 9:00 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. Quake Voter Inactive

    What a charming picture. Touching the way older photos, with only the slightest touch, can convey a strong connection that couples falling all over themselves simply cannot.

    So, in a real conservative sense, you were rescued from the beaches at Dunkirk! I hope that adds to the enjoyment (and even the suspense) of the film.

    Both my Grandfathers were positioned for the invasion of Japan when the war ended. Whenever I see that mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, my first reaction is always “thank you.”

    • #11
    • July 20, 2017, at 9:08 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. James Gawron Thatcher

    Quake Voter (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    If Britain had not held out the Fascists could never have been dislodged from Europe.

    I often wonder about this assumption, which I more or less share. Had Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain gone disastrously and Britain (but not Churchill) been cowed into surrender, isn’t there still a good chance Fascism would have been dislodged by Stalinism by 1948. No Vichy State, no independent Italian fascist state, no Franco, no small states ruled by authoritarians allied with Berlin.

    One relentless Stalinist state from Calais to Sicily.

    We maybe underestimate what Churchill and the British saved us from.

    Quake,

    Speculative alternative histories are always difficult. Your alternative disastrous history is interesting. However, this would be the counter argument. Barbarossa, Hitler’s invasion of Russia doesn’t happen until June 1941. If Britain had negotiated peace terms in May 1940 Hitler would have been in a much more powerful position against the Russians. He would have had 100% of the Luftwaffe and 100% of all resources to throw at Stalin. Plenty of Middle East Oil to fuel the panzers. Stalin was being heavily supplied by the US. It isn’t clear once Britain was out of the war what our policy would have been. With no threat from the West and plenty of resources, Hitler might have taken his time to wear down Stalin instead of going for broke to get the oil fields around Stalingrad. Stalin might have accepted a negotiated settlement too.

    Alternative histories are always difficult. One thing is for sure. If Britain capitulated the results would have been horrifically worse.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #12
    • July 20, 2017, at 9:25 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Miffed White Male Member

    Quake Voter (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    If Britain had not held out the Fascists could never have been dislodged from Europe.

    I often wonder about this assumption, which I more or less share. Had Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain gone disastrously and Britain (but not Churchill) been cowed into surrender, isn’t there still a good chance Fascism would have been dislodged by Stalinism by 1948. No Vichy State, no independent Italian fascist state, no Franco, no small states ruled by authoritarians allied with Berlin.

    One relentless Stalinist state from Calais to Sicily.

    We maybe underestimate what Churchill and the British saved us from.

    With Britain out of the war in 1940, Barbarosa plays out much differently, and in all cases worse for the Russians. And it was a very close run thing as is.

    Best bet – Stalinism doesn’t survive 1942, much less predominate by 1948.

    • #13
    • July 20, 2017, at 9:49 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Quake Voter Inactive

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Alternative histories are always difficult. One thing is for sure. If Britain capitulated the results would have been horrifically worse.

    Agreed. The alternatives were horrific or more horrific than we assume. Again I more or less agree with the standard assumptions. But when I consider that the Battle of Britain was effectively over the previous year, and that total losses in manpower for the Germans were one day’s losses on the Russian front and total losses in aircraft were one month’s production, I can see the gruesome alternative history.

    Truly gruesome is humanity’s fate if Britain had not held out as a political, moral and military beachfront for America’s entry in the war.

    • #14
    • July 20, 2017, at 9:57 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Mrs. of England:

    What a wonderful family story. The Dunkirk evacuation was one of the epic events of history. I am eagerly awaiting the movie, hoping that it will be one of the best war movies of all time. If it does well, there are great sequel candidates — especially the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Bulge. And D-Day, of course, but D-Day has been well covered by other movies.

    None of my ancestors fought in WWII. My wife’s father was a Seabee in the Pacific, and his brother died in the Battle of the Bulge.

    • #15
    • July 20, 2017, at 12:45 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    Thank you.

    • #16
    • July 20, 2017, at 1:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Hello, MoE! Lovely to see you! Also wonderful to read this piece…I’ll be more likely to see the film now. Thank you!

    • #17
    • July 20, 2017, at 4:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. Mrs. of England Member
    Mrs. of England Post author

    Today I saw Dunkirk. I did enjoy the film (with the Charlie Cooke caveat of “enjoy” being the wrong word but you know what I mean). Unlike my husband (don’t tell him I told anyone!) I was able to hold it together until the arrival at Dunkirk of the little ships to a version of Elgar’s Nimrod. The fact that some of the ships were the actual ships from the evacuation in 1940 made it even more poignant. Nimrod is often played at UK funerals and is played at the memorial service at the Cenotaph every Remembrance Sunday.

    Dunkirk is not an easy film. It is a story of loss, the fight for survival, the humiliation of retreat, and an uncertain future. Not all the characters are heroic, but they are all human. There is little dialogue but what there is gives you some idea of what was at stake if the army was lost.

    My only real quibble with the film was that the length of time the evacuation took and the numbers of ships, aeroplanes and men involved was not really shown. I understand that it focussed in on a few very personal stories, but there were many sweeping shots of the sea and the beach where the larger story could have been glimpsed.

    • #18
    • July 26, 2017, at 6:52 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Mrs. of England Member
    Mrs. of England Post author

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    Did you notice that the USA Today movie critic panned Dunkirk because of the lack of women and people of color having roles?

    I was surprised at the number of women who were portrayed in the film, especially the number of civilian women on the little ships. For a war film set in 1940 I thought it was well done.

    I found this article on the BBC today where the film is doing well in India, despite the Indian troops that were at Dunkirk not being represented in the film. (The headline of the article doesn’t reflect the contents)

    • #19
    • July 26, 2017, at 6:57 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. James Of England Moderator

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    Mrs. of England:

    What a wonderful family story. The Dunkirk evacuation was one of the epic events of history. I am eagerly awaiting the movie, hoping that it will be one of the best war movies of all time. If it does well, there are great sequel candidates — especially the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Bulge. And D-Day, of course, but D-Day has been well covered by other movies.

    None of my ancestors fought in WWII. My wife’s father was a Seabee in the Pacific, and his brother died in the Battle of the Bulge.

    I hope you enjoy the movie. As Mrs. Of England notes, I was a wreck from start to finish. The Passion Of The Christ and Dunkirk are the only two films that have impacted me in quite this way, a continual flow of waves of gratitude for those who have died for me, of guilt that I haven’t lived a better life, of gratitude that my position is not theirs, and of horror that their position was theirs. I couldn’t get Aleppo and Iraq out of my mind while I was watching it. It combined with pride in my family and in laws, love for the woman I was watching it with (I like that she was as emotional as she was with it, and as informed about the setting), and a whole host of other emotions.

    The complaints about the lack of inclusion were stupid, but the complaints about the lack of Churchill from some on the right may have been stupider; this had by far the best treatment of Churchill that I have seen.

    If you can, it’s worth seeing in an IMAX.

    • #20
    • July 27, 2017, at 12:40 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    James Of England (View Comment):
    As Mrs. Of England notes, I was a wreck from start to finish.

    Thanks for the heads-up; this tells me I will not be able to watch it; I’ll be a mass of spastic ectoplasm on my living-room floor. My helpers would not appreciate it.

    • #21
    • July 27, 2017, at 12:02 PM PDT
    • 1 like