Dunkirk evacuation wraps up, Churchill hails success

Wounded British soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk make their way up the gangplank from a destroyer at Dover, 31 May 1940. 'Walking wounded' British soldiers make their way up the gangplank from a destroyer, Dover, 31 May 1940.

The Dunkirk evacuation ended on this day in 1940, when British forces completed the evacuation of 338,000 troops from France.

Able seaman EJ Whitham, a 19-year-old, related his experiences working on a minesweeper which arrived off Dunkirk for the first time just as darkness fell.

He said most of the work of embarking the soldiers had to be done during darkness, because of the continuous waves of enemy bombers flying over each day and the heavy firing of the German shore batteries.

“We made a number of trips across and returned each time with as many men as could cram aboard,” said Whitham.

“Some of the trips were comparatively uneventful, but on the last one we had five attacks from well within an hour.”

“Bombs fell all around us, sending up water and making the ship rock. They did everything to hit us.”

He paid a tribute the spirit the BEF “They were worn out after days of fighting and marching, but they were a pretty cool lot,” he said.

To rally the morale of the country, Winston Churchill delivers, only to the House of Commons, his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech.