JF Ptak Science Books Post 1055
(Including a short tale of when Winston Churchill's nephew, John Spencer Churchill, wound up passed out on the back seat of my 1979 Chrysler New Yorker.)
This map pretty well tells the story of the perilous situation of Europe and England at the beginning of June, 1940. It appeared in the Illustrated London News on the heals of Churchill's "Blood, Soil, Sweat and Tears" speech, and was a very frank presentation of the wearing of the war. By this point in the war Nazi Germany had successfully invaded Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, sweeping across Europe in a broad westward movement, backing up British and French troops all the way to the sea at Dunkerque, where a monumental rescue operation ("Operation Dynamo") saved them. (There was an enormous amount of materiel left there on the beach, a devastating loss for the British Expeditionary Force, nearly crippling it.) This was a bad time for the Allies, this part of the war coined by Winston Churchill in 18 June 1940 in the House of Commons by: "The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin". There was very little good that came of these few months for the U.K and the Allies, though four things do stand out: (1) as I just mentioned, the saving of 300,000+ troops at Dunkerque; (2) the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, (3) the coming of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister of the U.K., and (4) the first deciphering of the Enigma at Bletchley. Other than that, the situation was dim, and these invasion routes (published at t he very time that Germany was studying such a feat in its "Operation Sea Lion", or "Unternehmen Seelöwe").
The endgame at Dunkerque took place almost four years to the day of the invasion of Europe, when the intent (though not placement) all of these arrows were turned around for the Allied operation at the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944..
It came to pass in 1985 that some friends and I had drinks with John Spencer Churchill, a man who was at Dunkerque and who reported on it to his uncle Winston. (A slightly longer story on this meeting with Mr. Churchill appears below.) After much else I finally asked Mr. Churchill if there was any particular sound that he remembered from being at Dunkerque. I do not recall his phrasing, but what he said was that the beach at Dunkerque was rocky, pebbly, and that the sound made by tens of thousands of boots on that shore was "disgusting". He also said that the mixture of petrol, wind and grit burned the eyes and tasted bad. It was of course fascinating to hear a first hand description, especially a memory of something so uncommon and visceral. It was unexpected to me, though now when i read about Dunkirque I can imagine its smell thanks to this encounter.First Address by Winston Churchill as Prime Minister.
After hearing Graham Greene read at Georgetown University in 1985, two friends and I decided to get a not-so-quick drink at the nearby Martin's Pub. Just as we settled in to a far spot of the bar a bit of a commotion started at its other end. An older gentleman was evidently being asked to leave, because, well, the many drinks he had consumed couldn't be paid for as he had forgotten his wallet (or something). The man without money looked extraordinarily like Winston Churchill. I commented on this to one of my friends who recognized the man instantly--"Oh my dear, that's John Spencer Churchill, Winston's nephew!".
We interceded on behalf of the man, who was slowly jovial and proper and thankful, and who then joined us for some more drink. My friend whispered to me that it was this very man who was removed from Dunkerque to report to his Uncle on the real situation on the beaches.
I don't remember much detail about that night, which grew long and--for Mr. Churchill--very stumbly (he needed some fair help to get to my car for the ride home). But what I do remember was a fair amount of talk about painting and such things (he was a major bon vivant back in England), and a little on actually being at Dunkerque, though nothing at all was said about his uncle. It is astonishing to me that in this world Winston Churchill's nephew would wind up poured in and passed out on the back seat of my car, winding his way through the streets of Georgetown to be delivered to the Dowager's house in which he was staying, by a youngish and lowly bookseller. But the great Equalizer was at work that night, all of us living the motto of "So it Goes". It goes that way, sometimes.