British ships sail for Dunkirk 70 years after evacuation

27th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

A flotilla set sail from southern England Thursday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation, when a ragtag band of "little ships" rescued stranded Allied soldiers from northern France.

About 60 ships were making the journey across the North Sea from Ramsgate to Dunkirk, where a ceremony will be held for World War II veterans.

About 338,000 soldiers were rescued from the beaches of northern France during Operation Dynamo between May 27 and June 4, 1940, after becoming trapped by the advancing German army.

The hastily-arranged flotilla of about 700 boats, including fishing vessels, pleasure crafts, paddle steamers and lifeboats, picked up British, French and other Allied troops in shallow waters and ferried them to larger ships.

Brian de Mattos's father Basil was part of the rescue mission and he was on board one of the ships that set sail amid light rain from Ramsgate early Thursday morning.

"It's quite an emotional day to be following in my father's footsteps 70 years after he went out there -- obviously in slightly different conditions both in terms of weather and enemy action," he told the BBC.

"But it's a great opportunity for me to see this and the boat he commanded all those years ago."

Although the Battle of Dunkirk was a military defeat, the event is a key moment in Britain's history and the phrase "Dunkirk spirit" is still used to sum up defiant courage and solidarity in the face of adversity.

Wartime prime minister Winston Churchill called it a "miracle of deliverance" and the evacuation is seen as one of several events in 1940 that determined the eventual outcome of the war.

The flotilla is expected to arrive in Dunkirk by about 1300 GMT, and will return to England on May 31.

© 2010 AFP

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