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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Dunkirk and the God of History

History, they say, is written by the victors.

Which is another way of saying that you can tell who is in charge by how the story is told. Christopher Nolan’s new film of Dunkirk is no exception. A tour-de-force of tension from second minute to last, it is the tale of British character under extreme pressure, a homage to our doughty resolve to meet any challenge, a paean to our plucky Heath Robinson ingenuity when traditional methods fail – to build a sea dock from trucks overlaid with planks, to send out pleasure boats to rescue an army.

Tombs’ much lauded recent The English & Their History is similar: focusing on the loss of German nerve, the stubbornness of the French rear guard, quiet English stoicism, and Churchill’s granite determination that there would be, could be, no negotiating with Hitler.

But it is not quite the way the country lived the story at the time.

So convinced were the military that disaster was inevitable that King George called the nation to a National Day of Prayer on Sunday May 26th. Millions responded. The Daily Sketch claimed, ‘Nothing like it has ever happened before’.

There followed a series of ‘fortunate’ events.

Hitler overruled his generals, and halted his armoured columns ten miles from Dunkirk, relying, Churchill believed, on airpower to annihilate the British Army. On Tuesday May 28th, however, a huge storm hit Flanders, grounding the Luftwaffe, and allowing the British troops to scamper, largely unharried, to the beaches. Despite the Flanders storm, an uncharacteristic calm settled over the Channel, enabling the armada of smaller ships to make the crossing. Over 335,000 men got back to Britain: ten times the original estimate.

A day of National Thanksgiving was declared for June 9th. C.B. Mortlock, writing in The Daily Telegraph, said: ‘the prayers of the nation were answered … the God of hosts himself had supported the valiant men of the British Expeditionary Force.’ Churchill, addressing the Commons, called it, perhaps more ambivalently, ‘A miracle of deliverance’. Many officers and troops were clearer: God had stepped in.

But time passes, values change, and the tale is re-told by today’s cultural victors who choose to suppress these inconvenient, now academically awkward, witnesses to the glory of the living God.

Our call, as Psalm 145:4 reminds us, is to commend God’s works to the next generation, whether we see his hand on the beaches, the landing grounds, the fields… we shall never stop praising his name.


Mark Greene
Executive Director, LICC



  1. We need to hear stories of this and to be reminded that the God of History is the God of today and of tomorrow, and that a nation on its knees is a strong nation. Thank you

    By Jill Garrett  -  4 Aug 2017
  2. I will read this to my grandchildren

    By Ken  -  4 Aug 2017
  3. Hi Mark
    Excellent commentary !
    I don’t think that Churchill accomplished what he did by being winsome …….. !!

    By Chris Thomson  -  4 Aug 2017
  4. Thanks Mark,

    Incredible how ‘history’ is trying to airbrush out God. Thank you for re-telling this like God delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians across the red sea. He truly is Almighty!

    By James Shand  -  4 Aug 2017
  5. This is really good but German people also prayed. Do we know anything about that? Have we any stories? Or, are we guilty of writing history as the victors? And given their economic and technical supremacy now…are we suggesting repentance and reward or what?? How does the message continue for the next generation and our message of God’s greatness for young people?

    By Ruth Brothwell  -  4 Aug 2017
  6. Praise God that he has given you the perception to make a distinction between ‘co-incidence’ and ‘God-incidence’. The officers and troops at the time of the evacuation were clearly blessed to know the difference.
    There is much in the world that we yet do not comprehend and my prayer is that the Lord will encourage us to ’see’ beyond what is worldly and scientifically acceptable, to that which is best recognised in the context of faith in our Lord and Saviour, even though we may still not be able to figure out what is going on!

    By Nick Dew  -  4 Aug 2017
  7. I remember, as a child I used to love to go to the bookcase and get out a small book called “The War, the Weather and God” which was all about what you have written. It made me think “Wow, that was God at work in such a miraculous way”, but I wonder whether the next generation – my children – then the grandchildren – will have that Wow factor. In desperate times people do turn to God more. Sadly the ‘we’ve never had it so good’ years make us less aware of our needs. The tide is turning as we see our world in chaos, but I think leaders would be afraid of calling for a national day of prayer.

    By Linda Hopper  -  4 Aug 2017
  8. The writer was a child of that generation and vividly remembers the national days of prayer, the contribution of the Canadians at Dieppe, the long convoys of military hardware on its way to the docks, the air raid sirens and the bombing. It was all a great national effort, but an international effort too, which must be remembered. Incidentally the Mulberry harbours were a great engineering effort too. God is not just the help of ages past but the hope of years to come!

    By Stuart Mustow  -  4 Aug 2017
  9. I love these “coincidences” . Just seen the film the other night so thanks for this – really timely and hits home.

    By Tony jowett  -  4 Aug 2017
  10. Great reminder of a forgotten reality, thanks

    By Bruce Gulland  -  4 Aug 2017
  11. Thank you Mark for explaining the likely intervention of God in this massive deliverance in the face of humiliating defeat. One other thing. The well known prayer warrior, Rees Howells, was on his knees with a small band of intercessors earnestly seeking God during these days. I think I am right in saying he had no idea what was going on in Flanders at the end of May 1940 . He just felt he, and others, should be praying for the British forces at this time. Knowing this in the light of the ‘coincidences’ you mention is a great encouragement to keep praying for our nation at this new time of need as we are assaulted, not by the army of a foreign power, but by varying ideologies inspired by the ‘prince of this world.’

    By John Ellwood  -  4 Aug 2017
  12. As succinct, accurate and God-glorifying as ever, Mark.
    Keep up the good work!

    By LIs Harries  -  4 Aug 2017
  13. Has any one collected the newspaper articles and copies of the official records to preserve evidence of
    these events and if so where are they kept

    G Wheeeler

    By GORDON WHEELER  -  4 Aug 2017
  14. The supernatural element is also picked up in Paul Gallico’s short story ” The Snow Goose”. A lovely story.

    By Richard Howard  -  4 Aug 2017
  15. Good twist of Churchill’s “fight them on the beach” speach at the end; but how apt a reminder. Brilliant

    By Ed Walker  -  4 Aug 2017
  16. This seems to conveniently ignore the millions slaughtered in the concentration camps and butchered by the the Japanese in the Far East. I think they would have appreciated God changing Hitler’s mind regarding his “final solution” or a monsoon to wash the Japanese off the Pacific islands and I’m quite sure that all those that suffered offered up many prayers.

    By David Young  -  4 Aug 2017
  17. A good reminder to be wary of today’s perspective, thank you Mark! What a great story of God’s faithfulness at Dunkirk, I pray for more.

    By James  -  4 Aug 2017
  18. Having watched the film and was immersed in the experience, clearly the movie does prompt the enquirer to ponder and search deeper for reason. As an Irishman of Ulster I will forgive you for the focus on the ‘English’ resolve. Clearly our Kingdom was called to prayer and experienced the ‘here & not yet’ of our Lords goodness and mercy. Thankyou for your post & indeed the wider call to give witness to what we as His Church should not shrink from declaring in an attitude of Gods ultimate control.

    By Andrew Lyttle  -  4 Aug 2017
  19. My Dad had his 25th birthday whilst on the beaches at Dunkirk ~ I have his books, his medals, his memoirs: “Arrived La Panne with the No. 1 Army Field Workshop (R.A.O.C.) on Sat. May 25th 1940. Left Dunkirk from the Eastern Mole on the destroyer ‘Express’ on Thursday May 30th. Arrived Dover in the afternoon.”

    Both my parents told me as I grew up about the King’s call to a ‘Day of Prayer’ and how significant God’s interventions had been.

    They have passed on to me a realisation of God’s glory and power which I have passed on to my children who are passing it on to theirs.

    We will remember Him (and them).

    By George Irving  -  4 Aug 2017
  20. Not sure there is any good, evangelical, Biblical reason to conclude that God helped the British win WWII. Isn’t a bit unBiblical to conclude that God picks winners and losers in what was a war between the great empires and nation-states of the world? The Bible only reveals God’s will in a limited set of historical events relating to his covenanted people of ancient Israel, and even then, only in the context of his overarching mission to redeem all people and restore the earth to be a place of His peace and justice. It does not seem to give us warrant to start deciding whose side he was on based on the weather during a current human battle. If we do this for WWII, do we have a theology of the weather for the Seven Years War? For Crimea? For wars in which we had no involvement, such as the Taiping Rebelliion? Do we identify and give glory to God for weather events in history where God stopped the British from winning because the British governmnet were in the wrong, or are we only interested in showing that God is on the side of the nation-state to which we belong? For example, Americans may claim fog was God’s judgment on the British at the Battle of Long Island during the revolutuonary wars: glory to God for the British defeat? Why or why not? Was God behind the bee swarm that led to British defeat — and German advance — at the Battle of Tanga in the East African front of the First World War? Did God (implored by his servant Joan of Arc) stop the wind blowing to allow Orleans to be relieved and the tide to turn against the English in 1428-9? In short, I think the secularists berated in this piece may actually be more inadvertently Biblical than Mark Greene allows in this piece, and his form of providentialism actually somewhat more secular, since it invokes God as a national deity of the British state, not the cosmic God of all people.

    By Martin Spence  -  4 Aug 2017
  21. Beautiful. Mark, thank you for this reminder!

    By Michelle McKail  -  4 Aug 2017
  22. Thank you, Mark, for your on-going commitment to writing thoughtful pieces like this. It is so encouraging to be reminded of God’s activity – in the past as well as in the present – in the midst of a secular society, and as we seek to honour God on our frontlines.

    By Nigel Grant  -  4 Aug 2017
  23. Thanks Mark for retelling history ss it really happened, it is “His story” and we give him thanks, as the nation once did.

    By David Patterson  -  4 Aug 2017
  24. I like this a lot Mark, well done.
    it seems to me that from the end of WW2 there began a shift away from God and His Ways.
    It was obvious that the nazi regieme was a evil one and one that was defeated by God and God fearing men and all due needs to be paid to those men, my late father being one of them.
    The devil lost this battle , so he starts a more suttle attack and continues today in this modern, technological, liberalised society that we live in.
    Anyway I don’t want to rant on but thank you again for your article , one I shall use a lot .

    By Arthur White  -  5 Aug 2017
  25. Thanks Mark, I hope that you and the family are well.
    David Price (Sarah’s Dad)

    By David M Price  -  7 Aug 2017
  26. I was a school girl in 1940. I well remember the days of prayer and i believe the wonderful affect of Gods blessing to us was the change in peoples hearts and minds allowing The love of God to rule thir hearts. to be aware that there were so called enemies also praying. Hitler was a very good stratgic warrior and his reasons for holding back the german advance during the evacuation were pragmatic and coincidentally saved lives on both sides. War is a terrible evil which taints the hearts and minds of the protagonists and our prayers hopefully touched all our hearts with Jesus command to love our enemies.

    By mary quenby  -  11 Aug 2017
  27. I feel Martin Spences’ comment (4th August) is spot on.

    By Bob Wilkinson  -  11 Aug 2017
  28. Two thoughts come to mind :- I thought physics for many years, and when we had rays of light coming through a convex lens ans coming to a focus, we called them”coincident rays”. There is no coincidence in their meeting at a focus; it is a law of nature – ordained! I feel that we often use the word “coincidence” in a totally wrong way. Secondly. I remember a Rabbi saying that God wept when the Egyptians were drowned when the sea ceased to be divided. God said, “They were my people too!”


    By George Luke  -  11 Aug 2017
  29. When I saw the film and the boats coming in to rescue the
    soldiers I was overwhelmed with emotion because I knew the
    background of the National Day of Prayer and I profoundly
    believe God’s hand was upon us as a Nation. I was born the
    year this happened but was fortunate enough to have had
    sight of a book about the miracle of Dunkirk. I did think the
    film could have made more about how the soldiers were
    welcomed back – crowds rushed to the stations and ports to
    welcome them home not as failures but as our brave people.

    By RAE CLOKE  -  15 Aug 2017
  30. In response to comments from Ruth, David and Martin that Mark’s piece implies God is partisan: in answering prayers to save the BEF and deter Hitler from invading Britain, God was not just delivering the British. If Hitler had succeeded, do you think Germany (or anywhere else in Europe) would have been the prosperous, peaceful place it is today? At Dunkirk, the cosmic God of all people responding to the prayers of a few of his people, acted for the eventual good of all.

    By David Stephens  -  9 Feb 2018
  31. “When Rees and his people were praying we were winning.” A quotation from Churchill, referring to Rees Howells and his people at the Bible College of Wales, Swansea. Thanks to John Ellwood – 4th August 2017 for his reference. If you know nothing about Rees or BCW you must read his biography “Rees Howells Intercessor” by Norman Grubb.

    By John Anthony  -  30 Nov 2019

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