The feature film “Dunkirk,” which was released in theaters July 13th, 2017, smashed box office expectations by raking in an impressive $50.0 million over its opening weekend. The movie is based upon a real-life event that occurred in May 1940, but it contains themes and lessons that are just applicable today as any point in history since.
Christians today can find encouragement from the movie along with the event itself, as it’s truly a story worth telling and remembering.
What Happened at Dunkirk?
The British army set out to support their allies in France. Germany invaded France unexpectedly, essentially trapping the bulk of the British army, what remained of the Belgian army and three French armies around the French-Belgian border in the seaside town of Dunkirk.
Dunkirk is located only 47 nautical miles away from the UK, but it might as well have been 100 million miles. Germany’s Luftwaffe (their air force) was flying fighter planes overhead dropping bombs on the beach, taking soldiers out as they waited helplessly for help to reach them. The large British ships that were available couldn’t get close enough to the beach to reinforce the soldiers, and there weren’t many small boats employed by the military.
In essence, these soldiers were trapped in what looked like a hopeless situation, with Germans overhead and on land, and the ocean on the other side pinning them in place.
The Miracle of Dunkirk
The day before the planned evacuation of the soldiers was set to take place, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer for the operation.
The king implored the people of England to ask for divine help with the operation as the outlook seemed grim. Two events look place after this day of prayer; one was violent storms that essentially forced the German fighter pilots to land and stop picking off soldiers and would be rescuer boats. The second odd event that occurred was a great calm that came over the Channel. This type of calm on these ocean waters hadn’t been seen for generations.
These two factors allowed rescuers to reach the stranded soldiers and get them to safety. After this event, Operation Dynamo was simply referred to as “the miracle of Dunkirk.”
Not only did God show up and cause unusual weather to aid the rescue efforts, regular civilians joined in the cause as well. In fact, there were around 860 ships involved in Operation Dynamo and around 700 of these were privately owned boats. They became known as the “Little Ships of Dunkirk.”
The smallest boat used for the operation was a mere 15 feet long, and only had the capacity to hold five people. Many of the little ships were used to ferry stranded men from the beach to the larger military ships that were waiting in deeper water, though some of them did carry hundreds of men from the beach directly to England.
Although the cinematic portrayal will likely make it seem like less, the process of getting the soldiers off Dunkirk took nine days, lasting from May 27 to June 4th. In addition, many of the “little ships” were piloted by British soldiers, not their civilian owners, although there were a few civilians who took the risk upon themselves and acted self sacrificially to reach the stranded soldiers with their boats. Throughout this time, the Germans continued to fight against the pinned soldiers making the evacuation process anything but simple.
What Christians Can Learn
The movie Dunkirk will likely leave out many facts, such as the request for a day of prayer in preparation for the operation, as well as exaggerate others, such as implying that every civilian ship was piloted by a civilian. However, Christians can still learn from the story.
Good prevailed over evil and certain defeat. Had the operation to rescue the soldiers not succeeded, it would have been a catastrophic loss to the British forces, and would have boosted the Nazi’s effort immensely.
Also, many citizens gave self sacrificially of their possessions (boats) or even of themselves if they chose to pilot their own boat in order to save the lives of the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk.
The basic message Christians can take from the story is that evil exists in the world and must be counteracted by those who understand the sacrificial love of Christ. As Winston Churchill was famous for saying during this time period, “we will never surrender.” As Christians, this must be our motto against evil as well.
~ 1776 Christian