|Troops wait in line for their turn to be rescued from the beach of Dunkirk|
One of the most widely-shared ones concerns the story of real-life Dunkirk hero James Campbell Clouston, a Canadian who grew up in Montreal and attended McGill University. Credited with saving close to 200,000 soldiers as German planes bombed the pier, he calmly ushered troops onto ships for five straight days. University of Ottawa professor Serge Durflinger reflects: "He's one of those great unsung Canadians who, in a pivotal moment in time, does extraordinary things, dies, and then goes completely forgotten."
After the release of the film this year, Clouston's son protested its lack of recognition of his father, saying that Kenneth Branagh's character should have had a Canadian accent and that his father warranted at least a mention in the credits. His efforts are being joined by other fellow Canadians who are lobbying Canada Post to issue a commemorative stamp, and for official government recognition of Clouston's role in the evacuation. War historian Jeffrey Street is also working on a book about Clouston.
|Ottawa resident Michael Zavacky has designed this image as a proposed stamp commemorating Clouston.|
Serge Durflinger elaborates: "Like clockwork, he would have 500 guys aboard in 45 minutes, and the vessel would take off. He had six to seven vessels lined up doing this all at the same time."
"After five straight days on the pier, Clouston went to England for a planning meeting. He could have stayed, but chose to return because close to 100,000 troops remained, and Clouston spoke French because of his Montreal upbringing. His 15-person motor launch was bombed on the way back, and he opted to stay with his crew instead of taking an early offer to be saved. He died along with 12 other crewmen of hypothermia, telling 'white lies' to the end to keep up spirits, one survivor recounted. He left a wife and two infant sons."
|CTV News Montreal|
According to the article, "Renee and Annie say they had been living with their parents in Antwerp, Belgium in the spring of 1940 when German forces invaded. Renee was 21 at the time; Annie was 17. Within days, the family decided to flee to Paris, but became trapped just across the French-Belgian in a town they'd never heard of before: Dunkirk. They spent the night in a small hotel, where Renee and Annie remember being so tired from the journey, they didn't hear a thing when German planes began bombarding the town. 'We woke up the next day and there was no roof on the hotel,' Renee told CTV Montreal. As the fighting between the Allies and German forces intensified, the locals of the town directed Renee and Annie's family to the beach where they had heard that French, English, and Belgian soldiers were being evacuated on ships that might be able to take along some civilians too.
But, by the time the family reached the beach, the ships were already steaming away for England. As the family stood on the beach, watching the ships leave, they found themselves in serious danger. German forces were still raining bombs and bullets down onto the beach, and Renee and Annie and their parents were trapped in a 'No Man's Land.' They took cover on the sand dunes, as bullets flew over their heads. 'You think about yourself, not others. It's not nice, but you think at the moment, 'How can I survive?' Annie said. The four eventually escaped the fighting and the beach with the help of two British soldiers who came to the aid of the exhausted family. When the battle ended, Germany had seized control of France. So the family decided they had nowhere to go but back to Antwerp, Belgium. The journey had to be made on foot and took a full three weeks. The family managed to survive the rest of the war, thanks in large part to the French resistance. The sisters moved on with their lives and had families of their own. But they say the release of the film brought back memories of what they'd seen on the beach in those days."
Finally, to give your eyes a break, I highly recommend checking out this interview with Dunkirk veteran Ken Sturdy, who saw the film recently: http://globalnews.ca/tag/ken-sturdy/
Content credits to National Post, CTV News Montreal, and Global News. If you haven't seen the film yet, please do, and let's keep the conversation going!
Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)