The evacuation of Dunkirk ended on this day in 1940, saving 338,000 soldiers from the advancing Germans. It’s a modern-day miracle worth retelling.
In the early days of World War II, the German army was advancing through northern France. British troops stationed in the region were cut off from their French allies and trapped by the sea. By May 19, 1940, British commanders were considering the withdrawal of the entire British Expeditionary Force.
On May 26, they began to implement Operation Dynamo—the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk. There were not enough military ships to transport the huge masses of men stranded near the beaches, however. So the British Admiralty called on all British citizens in possession of any seaworthy vessel to contribute their ships to the effort.
Hundreds of fishing boats, pleasure yachts, lifeboats, ferries, and other civilian ships of every type and size raced across the English Channel to Dunkirk in response. They braved mines, bombs, torpedoes, and ruthless airborne attacks by the German Luftwaffe.
The Royal Air Force successfully countered the Luftwaffe, which saved the operation. However, German pilots bombarded the beach, destroying numerous vessels and pursuing ships within a few miles of the English coast.
Since the Dunkirk harbor was bombed out of use, smaller civilian vessels had to ferry soldiers from the beaches to warships waiting at sea. For nine days, the evacuation continued. The Allied commanders and rank-and-file soldiers expected utter annihilation, but the operation succeeded beyond their greatest expectations.
In the days following this successful evacuation, the campaign became known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”
The power of one
How is this remarkable story relevant to these difficult days?
No one person could have saved the 338,000 British soldiers who were rescued at Dunkirk. But each person and each vessel could do what they could do. If one of the rescued soldiers had been one of my sons, I would be forever grateful to the person who risked their life to save him.
The same principle applies today. The unnamed researchers working on vaccines and therapies for COVID-19 will change the world if they are successful. The frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives to save patients are true heroes. Anyone who does what they can to combat racism and injustice in our society makes a systemic and crucial difference.
When two men launched a bus ministry in Houston, Texas, in the summer of 1973, they refused to be discouraged by the multiplied thousands of lost people living in their community. Instead, they began knocking on doors, inviting those they met to ride their bus to their church. They felt that reaching even one person with the gospel was worth all their hard work.
In August of that year, they found me.
We must never let the enormity of the task before us keep us from doing all we can in response. Who is waiting behind their door for you?