After watching Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk on bluray for the second time – using the Pause button to try to understand just who did what and when – I wanted to find out what really happened. The film gives the impression that there was one crowded mole and a lot of empty beach. And yet if close to 340,000 soldiers were evacuated, that couldn’t be quite right.
After reading this book, I’m only a little more enlightened. It’s a short – 95 pages – account of the frantically muddled fighting that led up to the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940; the evacuation from that port; and later from other ports in northern France.
It doesn’t go into detail. The German army’s decision to halt its advance on 24th May gets less than half a page. The actual physical accomplishment of the evacuation is only sketched in. Most confusingly of all, there’s no map of Dunkirk, so you can’t see where the beaches and the mole lay in relation to the town. It’s all a little confusing.
What the book does have is pictures. It lives up to its title. It’s filled with page after page of photographs taken at the time, as well as sketches and newspaper cartoons of the day, far more than a reader could expect to find in a fuller, more detailed history. And for that reason, I’m really glad to have it on my bookshelves.