A Tribute to My Dad and a Memory of War
Dunkirk. Through the Eyes of Others…
We had a family trip to the movies recently to see this realistic, unrelenting even, portrayal of the events of June 1940.
All the way through, my mind was focused on my lovely dad experiencing what the young soldiers on the screen were sharing with us. He was there, on those beaches, only he didn’t make that first wave of evacuation.
After walking for weeks, his regiment — or what remained of it — arrived too late for the boats seen in the film. The Dunkirk beaches were deserted and, exhausted and hungry, my dad and his comrades were given orders to march a further 400+ miles to the west coast of France.
Finally, they made it on board the Lancastria, a requisitioned Cunard liner. My dad said he only remembers being surrounded by nurses, and probably by tears.
The Story Did Not End There…
But safety didn’t come quite yet. The Lancastria was bombed, in what’s been called Britain’s worst martime disaster. I’m not sure how many went down in that one event, estimates claim anywhere between 3,000 and 6,000, with as many saved, in part due to the RAF pilot who brought down the German bombers.
My dad survived.
He credits his survival to someone he doesn’t know, one of many boat owners who came in that flotilla of small boats from the English coast to pick up whomever they could — whomever survived — exactly as shown in the Dunkirk movie.
My dad remembered little about the events, other than the relief of getting home.
He never spoke about what went through his mind in those long days and weeks of May and June. He spoke only of the cups of tea and the camerarderie. I’m sure his thoughts went to darker places and I know he feared they would never make it back. But that was my dad, never blaming, choosing to be grateful, to see beyond circumstances and into the heart.
To me this wasn’t just one more war film. It felt very real and I felt so close to my dad, seeing on screen exactly what he must have experienced during that part of the war.
My dad survived that war, but many people, on both sides, didn’t. And don’t. Much has changed, and yet things stay the same.
We’re still in conflict, pitted against each other in the name of what we think is right. In a world where we know so much, where we have the technology to reach anyone anywhere, where there is so much to be hopeful for, we still find ourselves at war.
We Can’t Change History…
We can’t change the past, but, if we could, I wonder what we could would do differently? Or what we can do differently in the future?
I wonder if we can talk to each other differently, to stop and feel the pain we cause each other in the name of god and country.
I wonder if we can look at, maybe even take down, the walls that we build around ourselves and our communities.
I wonder if we can look for a connection across the separation we create, something to warm us through the fear that develops when we put distance between ourselves.
We Have Infinite Capacity to Do Better
We know that the human spirit is boundless, that it has the capacity for love and courage in the darkest times. And yet, I wonder, are we too quick to turn to aggression as the solution.
It wasn’t my dad’s way. He was a man who loved, who looked for the positive, laughed often, didn’t rush to judgement. He fought during that time, he volunteered for it, but he knew that fighting was rarely the answer.
Here’s to my dad and to all our dads, whichever ‘side’ they were on, or are on.
I love you.
About the author
Cathy Presland is an expert in transformative leadership. She has more than two decades of experience in government and international organisations and her focus now is to support passionate individuals and organisations who are making a positive impact with the work they do. Find out more at https://cathypresland.com