At 2am on the morning of the 3rd of June 1940, General Harold Alexander searched along the quayside, holding onto his megaphone and called “Is anyone there? Is anyone there?” before turning his boat back towards England.
Tradition tells us that the dramatic events of the evacuation of Dunkirk, in which 300,000 BEF servicemen escaped the Nazis, was a victory gained from the jaws of defeat.
For the first time, rather than telling the tale of the 300,000 who escaped, Sean Longden reveals the story of the 40,000 men sacrificed in the rearguard battles. On the beaches and sand dunes, besides the roads and amidst the ruins lay the corpses of hundreds who had not reached the boats. Elsewhere, hospitals full of the sick and wounded who had been left behind to receive treatment from the enemy’s doctors. And further afield – still fighting hard alongside their French allies - was the entire 51st Highland Division, whose war had not finished as the last boats slipped away. Also scattered across the countryside were hundreds of lost and lonely soldiers. These ‘evaders’ had also missed the boats and were now desperately trying to make their own way home, either by walking across France or rowing across the channel. The majority, however, were now prisoners of war who were forced to walk on the death marches all the way to the camps in Germany and Poland, where they were forgotten until 1945.
Praise for Sean Longden'Forget The Great Escape. Forget The Colditz Story. This is the real thing.' Les Allan, founder of the ‘National Ex-Prisoner of War Association.’
‘A powerful indictment of the crimes perpetrated against men who had surrendered in good faith....Never again, after Mr Longden's excellent work, shall we see the plight of POWs as anything other than unremittingly monstrous.' Andrew Roberts, Daily Mail
‘Longden’s a master at building the big picture detail-by-detail, using veterans’ memories to good effect, creating an absorbing history of the period in question. He’s a historian to read, regardless of theme.' Sue Baker, Publishing News
Serves as a great and convincing riposte to the banner-waving tale that is normally told. --Catholic Herald
A meticulously-researched, very well written and deeply moving account of the experiences of the forty thousand British soldiers who fell into German hands during the Dunkirk campaign. --Andrew Roberts
In Sean Longden [the POWs] have found a sensitive and capable chronicler, and his sensitive book cannot fail to elicit sympathy for their suffering and admiration for their sacrifice. --Dominic Sandbrook, Evening Standard
The true story of the 41,000 British soldiers who were left behind after the evacuation of Dunkirk, May 1940.
My mum bought me this for my birthday. I read it in two long days! My Grandfather was captured at Calais (one of The Rifle Brigade). He wouldn't talk too much about it, only opening up a little towards the end of his life. He would talk for a while, then change the subject. He was very bitter about not being rescued like those at Dunkirk. I used to say to him, 'Had you been rescued, you might not have been here today, as you could have died elsewhere'. He felt let down by the government and therefore had no desire to try and escape. Until I read this book, I had little understanding of what he and others went through. I was not aware of the continued fighting and other rescues after Dunkirk, despite having read a lot about the War. Perhaps it was a shame it wasn't written earlier. I might have asked my Grandfather more before it was too late.
I have to admit that prior to reading this book I was totally ignorant of what our men experienced as POWs in the hands of the Germans. I couldn't put it down, and found it heartbreaking, fascinating and uplifting. The sheer strength of character that these men displayed to survive their horrific treatment by the Germans and their sense of betrayal at our own Government was amazing.
It's a story that needed to be told, as even now children at school are not made aware of those who were left behind at Dunkirk. Dunkirk is still always hailed as a victory due to the large number of men they successfully evacuated.
My main reason for buying this book was that my grandfather fought in the 51st Highlanders and was one of the rearguard. Luckily he was one of the few from the 51st who made it home without being captured, through sheer luck. He found himself, along with a few other men, separated from his platoon and they trudged through France to get to a port in the hope of finding a way home. He got one of the last 2 boats to leave from the port they reached and finally made it home 2 weeks after those from Dunkirk, by which time my great-grandmother and nana had been told he was missing and assumed to be either dead or captured! Unfortunately I don't know which port he made it home from as apart from telling us how after disabling the bren gun with hand grenades they made a run for it to the boat and how hunger during the trek to the port made them eat pig food, he refused point blank to speak about anything he experienced during WWII. Like another reviewer I wish this book had been available earlier whilst my grandfather was still alive in the hope that I could have got him to tell me a little more, even if it was just the name of the port. Although I can now understand totally why he didn't want to speak about his experiences. The entire time I was reading this book I kept thinking about how easily that could have been my grandfather I was reading about.
One thing for sure it has made me want to read more about this period of history.Read more ›
As I have grown older and watched the 'celebrations' for the anniversaries of Dunkirk unfold I have always had a little irritation that 51st Highland Division, still fighting, were largly forgotton. I have a particular intrest as my father escaped from St Valery through Le Harve as part of the redundant Ark Force. An uncle was killed well after Dunkirk and my fathers younger Brother was captured and endured 5 long years as a POW which resulted in his death soon after his repatriation. I have followed the 51st in their reteat from the Somme area and spent a few reflective days in St Valery. This book details the plight of many more of the men they left behind and is a worthy tribute to their fortitude. I noticed for the first time that the media at the 70th Anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation spent some time reflecting on the thousands, still fighting, who were still going strong almost two weeks after Dunkirk. Unfortunatly very many of those left behind at Dunkirk and all along the coast were captured and Sean Longdons earlier book 'Hitler's British Slaves' Was a must read after completing this one.
The narrative covers the immediate events leading to Dunkirk and many cameos may be remembered from the film Dunkirk. As Longden is at pains to point out, and the raison d'etre for the book, the battle for France did not end at Dunkirk. Longden uses the technique of a broadsweeping review that then focusses on the individual and frequently harrowing tales of individual soldiers. This is not a book for the faint hearted and will not feature high on German best-seller lists. It is well written, well researched and well sourced with a comprehensive list of sources making this a scholarly tome.
What detracts from the tale and is ultimately inexcuseable in a book that is intrinsically a first rate history are numerous howlers when he talks numbers. Britain is not 20 miles across the sea from Dunkirk. The nearest land is Ramsgate some 40 miles distant. The loss of 31 out of 71 bombers is a loss of 44% not 56%; 56% was the percentage that survived. Wholly indecypherable is the statement that two defensive lines were attempted around Brest, one at 100 miles (30 kilometres) and the other at 40 miles (12 kilometres).
Finally some 'shocking' figures are not as shocking as apparently presented. He evidenced that 76 prisoners had to share just 5 toilets. As recently as 1992 the Health and Safety at Work Act code of practice suggests 5 toilets for 76-100 workers. Now I accept that the provision in the Stalag would be rather more austere that a modern workplace but the numbers of toilets are actually quite good for a POW camp.
My criticisms in the previous two paragraphs should not however detract from the value of this book as an excellent reference to those that were left behind. If reprinted I hope the author corrects these errors.