Majority of troops returned from Dunkirk

On the 2nd June 1940 there remained over 30,000 troops from the rear guard to get away from Dunkirk

On Sunday 2nd June 1940 the British knew that over 300,000 troops had been rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. Prayers were said for the safe deliverance of the great majority of the British Expeditionary Force. The Dean of Westminster described it as a ‘miracle’.

Yet many others were beginning to reflect on the position that Britain now found itself in. Although France had not yet fallen the situation looked grim.

I wonder as I gaze out on the grey and green Horse Guards Parade with the blue sky and the huge silver balloons like bowing elephants, the barbed-wire entanglements and soldiers about, is this really the end of England? Are we witnessing, as for so long I have feared, the decline, the decay and perhaps extinction, of this great island people?

See “Chips”: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon.

The American Journalist Ed Murrow reported on the state of the RAF:

Yesterday I spent many hours at what will be tonight or next week Britain’s first line of defence, an airfield on the south coast… I talked with pilots as they came back from Dunkirk.

‘They stripped off their flight jackets, glanced at a few bullet holes in the wings or the fuselage [of their Hurricanes], and as the ground crews swarmed over the aircraft, refuelling motors and guns, we sat on the ground and talked. In the middle of the field the wreckage of a plane was being cleared up. It had crashed the night before. The pilot had been shot in the head but had managed to get back to his field…

I can tell you what these boys told me. They were the cream of the youth of Britain. As we sat there, they were waiting to take off again. They talked of their own work; discussed the German air force with the casualness of Sunday morning halfbacks discussing yesterday’s football. There were no nerves, no profanities, no heroics. There was no swagger about these boys in wrinkled and stained uniforms. The movies do that sort of thing much more dramatically than it is in real life…

The Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden broadcast to the British public that evening:

From the moment of the collapse of the Belgian Army there was only one course left to the Allied Armies – to hold a line round Dunkirk, the only port that remained, and to embark as many men as possible before the rearguards were overwhelmed. Thanks to the magnificent and untiring co-operation of the Allied Navies and Air Forces we have been able to embark and save more than four-fifths of that B.E.F. which the Germans claimed were surrounded…

The British Expeditionary Force still exists, not as a handful of fugitives, but as a body of seasoned veterans. The vital weapon of any army is its spirit. Ours has been tried and tempered in the furnace. It has not been found wanting. It is this refusal to accept defeat that is the guarantee of final victory.

He concluded:

Our duty in this country is plain. We must make good our losses and we must win the war. To do that we must profit by the lessons of this battle. Brave hearts alone cannot stand up against steel. We need more planes, more tanks, more guns. The people of this country must work as never before. We must show the same qualities, the same discipline, and the same self sacrifice at home as the British Expeditionary Force has shown in the field…

No one was more aware of the realities of the situation than Winston Churchill. He had been Prime MInister for less than a month and now he had to prepare his country for a desperate future. He spent that Sunday evening preparing one of the greatest speeches in the English language. On Tuesday he would tell Parliament ‘We will fight them on the landing grounds. We will fight them on the beaches’. His secretary Mary Shearburn was later to recall that the dictation of that speech was an emotional, tearful effort for Churchill. Fighting them on the beaches was suddenly a very real possibility.

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