“Well, what did you think of the movie?” asked my grandson Mitchel as we walked out of the movie theater. We had just watched the movie ‘Dunkirk,’ by acclaimed director Christopher Nolan. I answered with one word, ‘Horrific!’ I felt that while it was a great blockbuster movie that was well acted and well produced (actually is probably going to be nominated for an Oscar and is considered among the top ten war movies of all time), I had the overriding realization of how horrible war is. It was only later on that I began to reflect on what was left out of this particular movie. But before I get to that, let me share some background to the story of Dunkirk.
The battle of Dunkirk, in May of 1940, was a critical and strategic battle in World War II between the Allies and the Germans. The British and French had been at war with Germany for some time, as the two allies had declared war after the Nazi’s had invaded Poland in September of 1939. The Nazi’s then invaded France in 1940, going around the Maginot Line, which France had built after World War I, attacking Belgium and quickly cornering the British and French troops that were centered around the port of Dunkirk.
The Allied forces were outnumbered. Approximately 800,000 German forces were involved against only 400,000 Allied troops. Dunkirk’s port was not deep enough for the larger naval vessels to access. Operation Dynamo was launched in an effort to rescue possibly 45,000 men. Then a plan arose to have some seven hundred private boats help in the evacuation. They became known as ‘The Little Ships of Dunkirk.’ In this amazing rescue, that is now called ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk,’ over 338,000 Allied troops were evacuated from Dunkirk. All this is shown, at times graphically, in the move ‘Dunkirk.’
If such a large number of Allied troops had not been evacuated from Dunkirk, Germany would probably have been able to invade Britain, changing the outcome of World War II.
During the last day of the evacuation, Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke to the House of Commons and delivered one of his most famous wartime speeches. At the end of his speech, he stated, “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. . .” Churchhill, in this famous speech, also referred to the Dunkirk evacuation as ‘a miracle of deliverance.’
So what is missing from this powerfully produced film?
THE GOD FACTOR
It was only later on as I reflected on the movie Dunkirk, that I realized that although it was called by Churchill in his speech ‘a miracle of deliverance,’ and it was subsequently known as ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk,’ there was no reference to the God Factor in the movie whatsoever. But God was there. In fact, He was calling His people to prayer and intercession in the midst of it all.
“On May 23, numerous political leaders, newspaper editors and King George VI issued a call for a National Day of Prayer to be held on Sunday, May 26.
No one could have anticipated what was to happen during the next three momentous days. Just 24 hours after the call for prayer, Adolf Hitler inexplicably ordered his armies to halt, to the surprise and dismay of even his own generals. Two days later, on May 26, British people gathered to pray. Church attendance skyrocketed, including a large gathering at Westminster Abbey, during which people pleaded with the Almighty to spare their husbands, sons, and fathers at Dunkirk (Dobson).”
Winston Churchhill said this regarding the service of intercession in Westminster Abby that day, “The English are loth to express their feelings, but in my stall in the choir I could feel the pent-up, passionate emotion, and also the fear of the congregation, not of death or wounds or material loss, but of defeat and the final ruin of Britain.”
On top of prayer gatherings, there were intercessors who were called of God to pray intensely for the nation. One of those was Rees Howells, along with the members of a Bible College in Wales. As the Nazis poured through Europe, Rees Howells and the College stood daily before God. In the book ‘Rees Howells Intercession’ by Norman Grubb, we can read the notes taken from Mr. Howells’ messages in these meetings.
On May 26, 1940, the National Day of Prayer, it was noted, “All you can do today when a cry will go up from the country is to be in a position to take the answer from God. The question this morning is, Can we take the answer? If you ever cried, you ought to cry today.”
Their intercessory prayers went on day and night until May 30th, when Howells declared, “From a worldly standpoint there is no hope of victory; but God has said it. I could not come tonight and ask Him to intervene, because we have already said that He is going to intervene. Instead of bad news about our soldiers, if He is on the field of battle, He can change that and make it very good news. Oh, for God to lift us up tonight! We are not to run into any panic thinking the Nazis are going to win: Germany must be delivered as well as England and France. We may have to go through far greater sufferings yet, but I am not going to doubt the final issue. We state in plainest terms: The enemy will not invade Christian England.”
I believe, as many others do, that prayer turned the tide and enabled the evacuation of Dunkirk to take place, which in turn affected the outcome of World War II.
“Former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wrote this in his diary: “May 26. Blackest day of all. This was the National Day of Prayer.” In reality, it turned out to be one of the most dramatic turning points of the war. At seven o’clock that evening, a critical order was issued to attempt a desperate evacuation of Dunkirk. Every tiny vessel and private craft was sent across the often treacherous waters of the English Channel with orders to rescue as many men as possible before the arrival of the Germans.
Hitler’s armies remained largely in place not only on the 24th, 25th and 26th, but incredibly, until early June. To this day, no one knows exactly why. The Fuhrer held victory in the palm of his hand, and yet he prevented his combat troops from finishing the job. The Germans were content to shell and bomb Dunkirk from the air and from a distance.
Then a storm of unprecedented fury broke over Flanders on Tuesday, May 28th, 1940, grounding the German Luftwaffe squadrons and enabling the British army formations, now eight to twelve miles from Dunkirk, to move up on foot to the coast in the darkness of the storm and the violence of the rain, with scarcely any interruption from aircraft, which were unable to operate in such turbulent conditions.
Despite the storm in Flanders, a great calm-such as has rarely been experienced-settled over the English Channel during the days which followed, and its waters became as still as a mill pond. It was this quite extraordinary calm which enabled a vast armada of little ships, big ships, warships, privately owned motor-cruisers from British rivers and estuaries – in fact, almost anything that would float – to ply back and forth in a desperate bid to rescue as many of our men as possible.
On May 29, 47,000 were rescued; on May 30, 53,000; on May 31, 68,000; on June 1, 64,000. In all, 336,000 men found their way to safety in the British Isles! The British leaders were jubilant-and astounded.” (Dobson)
None of this was included in the film. Unfortunately, as it is often the case ‘The God Factor’ was not recognized.
But for those of us who do recognize it, we give thanks for the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk.’ To Him be the Glory!
Let the film also be a challenge to us to commit ourselves to pray. Prayer changes things! Let us pray.
“The effective prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
– James 5:16b