Special Feature: NL at Dunkirk

Special Feature: NL at Dunkirk

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With the rescue of Dunkirk a popular topic thanks to the worldwide blockbuster, The Herald examines Newfoundland’s role in the daring World War II evacuation.

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Christopher Nolan’s rousing war epic Dunkirk is the talk of Hollywood in recent weeks. The lean one hour and forty-seven minute flick is a siege of the senses and an emotional wallop in the depiction of the heralded allied rescue from the beaches of Dunkirk France, where 300,000 troops were evacuated amidst enemy bombers and treacherous waterways.

The effort was lauded as one of the more heroic in a war chalk full of heroic deeds, but did you know Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been credited in the rescue?

Newfoundland and Labrador was thought to have produced more volunteers for the Royal Navy than any other singular branch of the armed forces during the Second World War.

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Operation Dynamo

Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador reports that the men were scattered across various regiments, and among their more notable efforts, which included aiding in the assault landings in Normandy and Madagascar, Newfoundlanders were known to have aided in the rescue of allied forces at Dunkirk.

The Dunkirk Evacuation of 1940, codenamed Operation Dynamo and known today as The Miracle of Dunkirk, has been the subject of much study and discussion and Hollywood glamorization, long-before Nolan put his award-winning touch on the iconic event  in the summer of 2017. 

Earlier this year The Herald caught up with Canadian production company Cineflix, who were setting out to explore Canada’s involvement in the Dunkirk rescue, with part of that exploration involving an in-depth study into the Newfoundlanders involved.

Investigating Dunkirk

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“We’re working on a new documentary and we’re looking at Canadians who were involved in the Dunkirk rescue in 1940,” shared Producer Jeff Vanderwal during the interview in Spring of this year. “In the course of our research we discovered Robert Timbrell, who went on to become Rear Admiral Timbrell in the Royal Canadian Navy,” Vanderwal explains.

“He was there as a 20 year old, involved in the ship called the Llanthony and was integral in saving hundreds of people from the beaches of Dunkirk. As part of his crew on that ship we know there were several Newfoundlanders present, although we haven’t been able to identify any of them.

Examining Our History

“Further into our research we came across a number of articles and suggestions that in fact there were quite a few Newfoundlanders who were early enlistees to the Royal Navy that were there and trained up in Portsmouth that were dispatched and used in part of the rescue at Dunkirk,” added Vanderwal.

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While at this time we have not found the exact size and scope of the men from Newfoundland dispatched to aid in the Dunkirk rescue, The Herald aims to make the collection of this research and information a priority moving forward.

It is evident given the reflection of history and uncovered events that the conquests, valor and bravery of the men who served in the Royal Navy representing Newfoundland that we will be remembered as a strong and distinguished  force.

The Dunkirk Evacuation is remembered today as a time where allied forces united, where the common man made the effort to stand for king and country and rescue there brethren and a bright spot in an otherwise dark period. 

Readers with information regarding Newfoundland’s role in the evacuation of Dunkirk are welcome to email letters@nfldherald.com, where we would love any insights or uncovered knowledge concerning the subject. 

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Dillon Collins is a writer based out of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Multi-time MusicNL nominee for Media Person of the Year. Lover of heavy metal, hoppy beverages and the loveable canine.

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