(Above) A member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service on the plotting table in the Wartime Tunnels at Dover Castle. © English Heritage
English Heritage has launched a major project to record and preserve the memories of the remaining veterans of one of the most iconic episodes in British military history.
As part of the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, English Heritage staff based at Dover Castle are looking for survivors from the 338,000 troops plucked to safety from the Dunkirk beaches 70 years ago. They are also inviting Royal Naval personnel, merchant seamen, volunteers and headquarters staff who were involved in all aspects of the hazardous wartime operation.
The dramatic plan was masterminded from the Secret Wartime Tunnels hidden deep below Dover Castle, which served as the headquarters of Vice Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay, who directed the complex and dangerous evacuation, codenamed Operation Dynamo.
The memories and recollections will form the backbone of a new exhibition due to open in the Secret Wartime Tunnels in 2011.
After the dramatic collapse of France under the weight of the German Nazi blitzkrieg, which spread across Northern France and the low countries, thousands of soldiers from the British Army's British Expeditionary Force fell back on the beaches of Dunkirk, where they were miraculously evacuated under artillery and air bombardment during a tense 10-day campaign.
The miracle of Dunkirk has since passed into British folklore as the epitome of the nation's fighting spirit in the face of defeat.
The Secret Wartime Tunnels were the headquarters of Vice Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay, who directed the Dunkirk evacuation, codenamed Operation Dynamo. © English Heritage
"Sadly, time is running out for us to get first hand accounts of these desperate days when the situation for our troops seemed hopeless and the threat of invasion by Germany was very real," says Senior English Heritage historian Paul Pattison.
"The evacuation of Dunkirk is one of history's most significant and moving events and remains a symbol of pulling through against tremendous odds and achieving the unachievable – the rescue of 338,000 troops in just 10 days."
English Heritage has placed advertisements in national and regional press around the country to track down as many people as possible to tell their stories. A Memory Box – a video recording booth – also opens at the Secret Wartime Tunnel complex on Friday May 28, to start a week of events and activities marking the Dunkirk anniversary at Dover Castle.
The Memory Box will be in place throughout the year to collect personal experiences and recollections for use in the new exhibition, which will give future visitors a more detailed and intimate insight into Operation Dynamo and its impact on the war and those who lived through it. Those unable to visit in person can record their memories online at www.english-heritage.org.uk/dunkirk.