Monday, August 31, 2009

Lady Rose

We’ve been watching “Foyle’s War”, a British series about a police detective - Christopher Foyle - who investigates crime in a coastal area of England during World War II. In the second episode - “The White Feather” - a young man named David has been arrested. He helps crew his father’s unbelievably tiny fishing boat, the Lady Rose, and came to the attention of the police because he was walking out with a hotel maid involved in a crime. The maid is, David explains, the only girl who didn’t mind that he always smelled like fish.

At one point in the show, David’s father meets with Foyle on the beach to ask for his son’s release:

Father: I want him back.

Foyle: Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait.

Father: No, you don’t understand. I need him now. They’re asking for boats. Fishing boats, ferries, clippers, you name it. We’re going across where the army’s stuck with Germans bombing them and tanks moving in and God know what. They’re putting together a whole fleet of boats and we’re going over there and we’re going to bring back our boys. It’s already begun. They say there were nearly 30,000 of them saved yesterday and there’s going to be 30,000 more today. I can pick up twenty men in my boat. Drop in the ocean, you’d say? But there’s hundreds of boats all along the coast doing the same. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Only I can’t do it without David. Lady Rose is too much for me to handle on my own.

This is Dunkirk, of course. I haven’t thought about Dunkirk in years and yet it seems to me the sort of thing that should never be forgotten.

I don’t remember when I first learned about Dunkirk - I think I’ve known about it my whole life - but listening to the dialogue in the show I realized how little I know about it. Sixty-thousand men rescued? I’d always thought it was a few thousand. Yet when I re-read the little snippet about it in one of my favorite books, To Serve Them All My Days, it says:

But then, like a blessed spate of silence after an earsplitting cacophony, came whispers of a fleet of small ships, and the lifting of 360,000 castaways from the littered beaches of Dunkirk.

I must have read that line a half dozen times over the years but somehow the sheer immensity of the numbers never sank in: not 60,000 but 360,000. No, Dunkirk - the sheer courage, determination, and sacrifice of Dunkirk - should never be forgotten.

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