Chapter V, “The Deliverance of Dunkirk,” from Sir Winston Churchill’s book “Their Finest Hour,” begins with
“There was a short service of Intercession and Prayer in Westminster Abbey on May 26. The English are loth to expose their feelings, but in my stall in the Choir I could feel the pent-up, passionate emotion, and also the fear of the congregation, not of death or wounds or material loss, but of defeat and the final ruin of Britain.”
Sir Winston had placed the facts before his military Chiefs of Staff, asking their professional opinion of the situation. They wrote thirteen points, all of which indicated they were at a strategic and tactical disadvantage in virtually every category. Their final point
“To sum up, our conclusion is that prima facie Germany has most of the cards; but the real test is whether the morale of our fighting personnel and civil population will counterbalance the numerical and material advantage which Germany enjoys. We believe it will.”
When next he spoke before the House of Commons, he continues
“’The House,’ I said, ‘should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings. I have only to add that nothing which may happen in this battle can in any way relieve us of our duty to defend the world cause to which we have vowed ourselves; nr should it destroy our confidence in our power to make our way, as on former occasions in our history, through disaster and through grief to the ultimate defeat of our enemies.’”
He then invites 25 Ministers of Cabinet rank outside the War Cabinet to his room at the House of Commons. Sir Winston described all that was before them, and then says
“’Of course, whatever happens at Dunkirk, we shall fight on.’”
The reaction was heartfelt and immediate. Says Sir Winston
“I was sure that every Minister was ready to be killed quite soon, and have all his family and possessions destroyed, rather than give in. In this they represented the House of Commons and almost all the people. It fell to me in these coming days and months to express their sentiment on suitable occasions. This I was able to do because they were mine also. There was a white glow, overpowering, sublime, which ran through our island from end to end.”
***Forward now to May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe (VE) Day***
Britain and the entire western world congregated in the streets in sheer joy at the victory, and relief that the war was finally over. The BBC recorded the entry of PM Churchill onto a balcony overlooking the crowds at Trafalgar Square, London, England. Mr. Churchill said a few brief words, then they all started singing “Land of Hope and Glory,” with Mr. Churchill directing the “choir.” The audio file is easily found and well worth a listen.
Courage such as this, courage at the uttermost end of all things, when reason calls for despair and surrender, is profoundly moving to me.