The Battle of Dunkirk was a military operation that took place in Dunkirk (Dunkerque), France, during World War II and was fought between the ally countries and Nazi Germany. As part of the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk consisted of the defence and evacuation of British and allied forces in Europe from May 26th to June 4th, 1940.
During the battle, 400,000 men (which was most of the British army) had been forced back to the beach at Dunkirk: 26 miles away from England on the coast of France. The German forces had them under attack from behind with land forces from above and from the sea. Operation Dynamo was instated, whose goal was to get those men back home.
The operation produced an amazing miracle which was to invite the civilian fleet of boats from the southern half of England to assist. The hope from Sir Winston Churchill, who had been Prime Minister for just 16 days, was that it may be possible to get 30,000 men back. In the end, 360,000 people were rescued from that beach.
The combat at Dunkirk is an experience that 98-year-old veteran Ken Stern remembers vividly as if it were only yesterday, which is why he was so apprehensive to see Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of the epic battle. Christopher Nolan’s feature ‘Dunkirk’, which is now out in theatres, tells the story of this very battle and portrays the horror of war but also the beauty of human sacrifice and the love of their fellow man.
The film was true to Stern’s memory and was a solid representation of the trauma that he, along with his comrades, underwent. Stern gave an emotional interview to Global News in which he discusses the horror of war, the misery of losing friends in battle, and the difficulty of living with the memory. Most striking, however, is his gaze which looks as though he is reliving the battle as he recounts it.
Stern has an important message that he believes will be ignored: that war is not glamorous and that it is only a cause of death and destruction. He believes mankind is brilliant and is capable of the most marvellous feats, and yet we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors.
As he states his admiration for Nolan’s masterpiece, he also expresses his grief: “Tonight I cried because it’s never the end. It won’t happen. We the human species are so intelligent and we do such astonishing things. We can fly to the moon but we still do stupid things… So, when I see the film tonight, I see it with a certain kind of sadness. Because what happened back then in 1940, it’s not the end.” Watch his interview below.