Warner Bros. (July 2017) have released a vivid and dramatic film focusing on the evacuation of over 300,000 British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940.
What many people may not know, however, is the vital part that the prayers of a humbled nation played in the miraculous rescuing of so many soldiers from the hands of the enemy.
(Photo : Imperial War Museum http://media.iwm.org.uk/ciim5/8/483/large_000000.jpg?action=d&cat=photographs)
The strategic and military danger in 1940
We need to understand just how serious - strategically and militarily - the situation was in 1940. One author has described it as a time of “grave crisis for the whole civilised world”, (1) as much of Europe was succumbing to the God-rejecting forces of Nazism. The Low Countries and France in particular were being quickly overrun by Hitler’s troops and the British Expeditionary Force, comprising the main body of the British army, was located in western Belgium and becoming trapped, with only one possible port to escape from, namely Dunkirk.
On Monday 27th May the German High Command asserted that “The British Army is encircled and our troops are proceeding to its annihilation” (2). So serious was the army’s predicament that Prime Minister Churchill initially expected that only some 45,000 men would be able to find shipping to get back to England.
May 26th - the National Day of Prayer
However, in God’s gracious providence this nation was blessed with a God-fearing king, George VI, who had called for a national day of prayer on Sunday 26th May. The response to this call was enormous. There were long queues outside of Westminster Abbey, with vast numbers of people desiring to participate in the time of prayer; and it was the same across the country.
For example, the Suffolk-based Beccles and Bungay Newspaper tells us that 1400-1500 people gathered in the parish church, and that this was “one of the biggest congregations in living memory”. The minister referred in his sermon to literally millions of people being gathered upon that day in churches and chapels, not only throughout Britain, but also around the world (3). The nation was being dreadfully humbled by a powerful enemy, but many, who had perhaps been careless spiritually, were at least now willing, in the nation’s hour of need, to cry out for help to Him who is the Judge of all nations.
“In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple” (2 Samuel 22:7).
The Dunkirk evacuation
The project to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force from France was code-named Operation Dynamo. It began on Monday 27th May, the day after the national day of prayer. A large German tank division was under 15 miles from Dunkirk, where over 300,000 British and French soldiers were either heading or congregating.
For some reason Hitler did not order his tanks to advance upon the retreating troops, probably because he thought that the Luftwaffe would adequately do the task of preventing the soldiers amassed on the beaches from escaping. However, on Tuesday 28th May a violent storm broke out over Flanders, and this meant that the German Air Force was unable to take off. This enabled the British soldiers heading towards the beaches to reach them without coming under attack from the air.
On Thursday 30th May fog was still grounding the Luftwaffe and the same German general who on the previous Monday had said that the British army was about to be annihilated now lamented that thousands of British soldiers were being rescued “right under their noses” (4).
There was a further remarkable occurrence in respect of the weather. The storm in Flanders notwithstanding, the English Channel during the period of evacuation became as calm as a mill pond. This enabled large numbers of “little ships” to cross the Channel to aid the evacuation process, ferrying troops from the beaches to the waiting destroyers. By May 30th 126,000 soldiers had already been rescued (5).
The evacuation would continue over 9 days until 4th June, and this enabled altogether a total of 338,226 soldiers to be rescued (6). What is particularly noteworthy for us is that at the time even the secular national press were prepared to acknowledge the hand of God in the rescue of many soldiers. For example, the Daily Telegraph stated, “The prayers of the nation were answered ... the God of hosts Himself had supported the valiant men of the British Expeditionary Force” (7).
What we are witnessing here is the hand of God in controlling the very elements to further His purposes of grace to a humbled people. This is a vital lesson which we must declare to our own generation, namely that the Lord whom we worship controls every aspect of the natural world, even using it as a factor in determining the destiny of nations. Our politicians must realise this. It is God who controls the climate, not man. As the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ once declared,
“What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:25).
The lesson of Dunkirk
The success of the Dunkirk evacuation shows us that when a people are humbled and cry out to God for mercy, remarkable things do indeed happen, which mere human ingenuity and skill could never have accomplished. It is a Biblical principle to learn from God’s dealings with men in history. We in Britain today must remember that we are under the Kingship of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ. If as a nation we defy Him, we shall never prosper. God is reminding us,
“Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand” (Jeremiah 18:6).
Contemporary Britain in all its God-rejecting political correctness should consider the truth that its prosperity - or lack of prosperity - is determined by the hand of the Lord. Each individual must examine his or her own heart and turn in repentance and faith to the only Saviour of men, the Lord Jesus Christ.
THIS ARTICLE IS AN EXTRACT FROM THE 12-PAGE PAMPHLET ENTITLED 'HOW GOD RESCUED A NATION' (THE LESSONS OF 1940)
2. Trumpet, Vol. 2, p48
4. Trumpet, Vol. 2, p51
7. Trumpet, Vol. 2, p51