DOVER Great Britain — When there was no Internet or TV two emergency pleas went out over radios and by word-of-mouth through every hamlet and home: Anyone who has a boat of any size bring it immediately to this small coastal town. And boats arrived by the thousands.
On a blue sky day 71 years later when we could see the French coast from here we stood underground with other tourists in Dover Castle in the very room where the ”little ships” rescue also called Operation Dynamo was run by Vice Adm. Bertram Ramsay.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill on May 26 1940 joined separately by King George VI asked every Brit to pray for the safety of British troops — to pray as urgently as they ever had in their lives.
Churchill’s lack of specificity about the exact circumstances of why boats of any size and organized prayer were urgent was calculated. He did not want to tip the Germans as to exactly how perilous the Brits’ situation was.
British and French troops were classic sitting ducks queued exhausted wounded and trapped stranded defenseless on the open beaches of Dunkirk France where German troops had forced them after efficient German invaders did better in striking Belgium than they or the French and British expected.
In what was termed ”a miracle” ordinary Brits in a small flotilla during a nine-day period ferried 338226 British and French troops to safety across the 22 miles of the English Channel separating England and France in what historians called one of the greatest if not the greatest large rescue in human history. Although large ship carriers did rescue soldiers they were too large to maneuver adroitly in the shallow waters where many soldiers waited for hours in waist-deep cold seawater hoping for rescue.
One of the most spine tingling benefits of a lifetime of world travel is to be in the places where extraordinary events unfolded — the Versailles window where Marie Antoinette stood watching rabble run toward her door stone altars where Mayan kings cut out the hearts of captured prisoners the ground at Carthage where Romans sowed salt in147 B.C.
A fun day trip about an hour from London tours of Dover Castle take half a day and there is a welcoming cafe for hot tea and soup. We had a reservation for a boat trip out to sea. Alas the captain decided not to go because of the high waves and wind.
We wanted to view from the sea the magnificent white chalk cliffs immortalized in story and art. The Grand Shaft a triple stairway that cleaves the cliffs with each stair reserved for use of a different military rank was on our agenda. But the wind was so strong we feared being blown off the stairs. So we did not go.
Other local attractions include the Dover Museum. In the afternoon visit a house from Roman times with beautiful paintings then have tea and hop the delightful British trains back to London for an evening at the theater.
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