Squinting my eyes to protect against the snowstorm of torn paper shreds and airborne stitches of discarded soiled clothing blowing in every direction by the brisk dawn breeze, I scan across the flotsam and jetsam of defeat littered beach.
They are literally naked now.
Heavy guns, lines and lines of disabled trucks, hundreds of abandoned and broken bicycles, countless mounds of inoperable rifles just tossed onto piles, and thousands of discarded warn-out shoes are strewn across a beach touched at water’s edge by dozens of sunken ships and boats.
An army lost everything here.
Vast piles of consumed as well as untouched canned goods intermingle with haphazardly deposited eating utensils, trash, and rotting food. We approach a huge pile of empty wine and whiskey bottles, most likely taken from an officer’s mess and downed by the men desperately and impatiently awaiting rescue from calamity.
“Here is the grave of British hopes in this war!” von Waldau declares as his shoe kicks a bottle out of the pile.
Fanning his right arm in an arc across our site-line of the bottle pile, he pronounces “And these are the grave stones!”
Shaking my head, I stare through the mist at wrecked British ships in the shallows and at the evidence of the British Army’s disarray all around.
Is he mad? This is debris and discarded detritus of war, but there are no bodies here. They may be unarmed at the moment, but that can change quickly.
“They are not buried yet,” I declare in a soft voice before pausing for a moment.
In an even softer voice, almost imperceptible to myself, I let escape “We have no time to waste.”
Early on the morning of June 5, 1940, two high-level officers from Germany’s Luftwaffe made their way along the broad, sandy beaches near the northern French port of Dunkirk. It was the morning after the last of an eclectic armada of naval and civilian vessels large and small from across England carried off the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force before the Germans captured Dunkirk. The two officers were General Hoffmann von Waldau of the Luftwaffe General Staff and General Erhard Milch, the administrator of the German air forces — the Inspector-General of the Luftwaffe, as well as deputy to its chief, Field Marshal Hermann Goring. That morning they met with Goring, convincing him that England needed to be invaded at once to take advantage of the low British morale and vulnerability from having left all of its military equipment in France. Goring was convinced, but he was not the man who made the ultimate decision.