Dunkirk: Retreat from the Brink of Destruction, by Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Major J. Selby Bradford (M.B.E., M.C.)

Six stars

First and foremost, thank you to Sapere Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Resurrecting a piece first published in 1950, this digital version allows the reader to connect with Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Major J. Selby Bradford (M.B.E., M.C.) in their recounting of events leading up to and the hands-on activities during Dunkirk, an important military campaign in the early part of the Second World War. Told from the perspective of members of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.), Butler and Bradford seek to recollect some of their memories so that the importance of Dunkirk is not lost on subsequent generations. The authors begin recounting their recollections of the B.E.F. as it traversed the French and Belgian territories, speaking less of the impeding German approach, but rather the soldier’s interactions with citizens in the various towns along the way. At times drawing parallels between the hospitality offered during the Great War and this conflict, the authors make mention of how welcoming the entire process appeared to be, though the looming defeat of the Belgian forces was never far from from narrative. The winter of 1939, which flowed into early 1940, led to a build-up of military conflict, with France becoming the new battlefield. Butler and Bradford recount the incoming Nazi armies and Air Force regiments targeting France and littering propaganda along the countryside. It seemed somewhat effective in leaving segments of the popular ill at ease about the Allied movement, even as the B.E.F. sought to support their French brethren. By the time military campaigns were in full swing, Dunkirk became the battlefield central to the Allied-Axis clash, at least as can be deciphered from the book’s narrative. An important early battle in the Second World War, Dunkirk proved a litmus test for both Nazi and B.E.F. soldiers, indicative of what would be a drawn-out war. Members of the B.E.F. offered their all (at times including their lives) to stave off the Nazi march to overtake Europe. Interesting in its approach, this is a short primer on the military morale in the region during 1939-40. The curious and attentive reader should be able to pluck out some interesting factoids and it is for those individuals that this book will surely be of greatest interest.

This is an interesting piece for the reader, on numerous levels. First, it was purposely written ten years after events to allow some time for history to settle. The authors explain this at the outset, in hopes of having a sobering view of events, rather than writing in the heat of the moment. Secondly, the book is a digitalized copy of the text from 1950, allowing yet another generation of readers to enjoy this piece with ease. On this note, I must admit that the language and delivery does not appear as dated as I might have expected for sixty-seven year gap from the original publication. The test of time has surely stood with this piece, allowing curious readers to feel completely at ease. The third area of interest is how one might label this piece of writing. It is not fictional (even though it has some dialogue at various points), and it is not entirely historical in its presentation. It is also not a journal-based storytelling of events for the reader to digest. Instead, it stands as a loose and somewhat entertaining narrative that pulls on memories, even if they are somewhat clouded by close to ten years’ delay. Historians may decry this as being a jaded account and surely it is a personal perspective told by two members of the B.E.F. However, I would not call this propaganda in the least. Let me be the first to admit that I was not entirely drawn to this piece, perhaps because it was not as hardcore historical as I might have liked, but I can respect this publication for what it is. I agreed to read this for the publisher and think that many might have a great fascination with this first-hand account. It just was not for me, at least at this point in time. I am sure there will be other pieces that will pull me in, but surely the publisher, keen on reissuing a piece from 1950, cannot be held accountable for the content of this piece. Anyone who has a great deal of interest in soldier accounts of war-time battles might find this a stellar piece and for them, I recommend this piece.

Kudos, Lt. Col. Butler and Major Bradford for your frank account of the events surrounding the British Expeditionary Force in the early period of the Second World War. I will pass the title along to others, who can laud your praises even more than I have been able to in this review.  

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