Get closer to the story be­hind Dunkirk

In­spired by Christoper Nolan’s epic Dunkirk? With lit­tle ships from our coast­line go­ing to help the evac­u­ated sol­diers, the film has been a real hit among our read­ers. Mary Gra­ham takes a looks at the re­al­life places and sto­ries be­hind the film and Op­erat

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The di­rec­tor is fondly re­garded for plump­ing to use the nat­u­ral fea­tures of Dunkirk dur­ing 26 weeks of recre­at­ing Op­er­a­tion Dynamo, es­chew­ing us­ing stu­dios or an­other town. One of the places proudly boast­ing its con­nec­tions with Nolan is the La Co­cotte restau­rant on the seafront. Nolan and one of his lead­ing ac­tors vis­ited the cosy bistro to get a taste of the gas­tron­omy of the re­gion.

And that gas­tron­omy in­cludes pots of de­li­cious casse­role mixes, fea­tur­ing sauteed pota­toes, with a choice of seafood, ba­con and goats cheese, or Maroilles, a spe­cial­ity cheese from north­ern France.

La Co­cotte, digue de Mer 55, http://­co­cot­ 5. Head into the coun­try­side for the hor­rific story not por­trayed in the film

Two hours in the cin­ema will never tell you every­thing around Op­er­a­tion Dynamo and nor should it.

In Esquel­becq, around half-an­hour from Dunkirk, just 100 Bri­tish sol­diers were given or­ders to de­lay the Ger­man ad­vance to the coast to help the evac­u­a­tion.

Af­ter nine hours of fight­ing the Bri­tish sur­ren­dered – trag­i­cally not to reg­u­lar Ger­man army sol­diers, but into the hands of an SS unit. Af­ter be­ing made to walk through the coun­try­side, the pris­on­ers were herded into a barn and killed – first by grenades be­ing thrown un­der the canopy, then by fir­ing.

Just two peo­ple sur­vived – one by pre­tend­ing he was dead in a nearby pond un­til he could crawl for help.

A poignant re­minder of these tragic events of May 28, 1940 has been cre­ated at the spot, La Plaine au Bois, by vil­lagers who de­cided the episode should never be for­got­ten.

A recre­ation of the barn has been con­structed as a memo­rial, and a memo­rial mound in­au­gu­rated in 2004.


One of the most poignant and thought-pro­vok­ing sights has to be the im­mac­u­late rows of war graves.

The Bri­tish War Graves sec­tion of the cemetary just out­side of the town centre is the rest­ing place for hun­dreds of men who fought in the First and Sec­ond World Wars.

It also has a memo­rial cre­ated in 1957 to 4,528 sol­diers of the Bri­tish ground forces and six men of the In­dian army who do not have a known grave.

One of the best ways of com­bin­ing a visit to the nearby ceme­ter­ies with places giv­ing a true sense of the war is by a Dynamo coach tour cov­er­ing Dunkirk to Zuy­d­coote with a guide un­cov­er­ing the his­tory of each site.

Bri­tish Ceme­tery, Route de Furnes, Dunkirk /Dynamo Tour, from € 18 per per­son. Reg­u­lar tours run un­til Au­gust 26, ad­vance book­ing re­quired, see­tour 7. Have din­ner on board a pad­dle steamer in­volved in the evac­u­a­tion

The Princess Elizabeth, built in 1927, helped save 1,673 Al­lied sol­diers dur­ing four cross­ings in May 1940 and also fea­tures in Nolan’s Dunkirk.

To­day she is a float­ing restau­rant, moored up in Dunkirk’s ma­rina and on board is a Miche­lin star chef pre­par­ing re­fined lo­cal cui­sine with a Bri­tish touch.

Din­ers can choose from a reg­u­lar menu, or a special four-course menu with a nod to the 1940s, which fea­tured mack­erel gou­jons, veal, a lemon tart and a cheese dish but changes reg­u­larly Look out for the af­ter­noon tea lounge on the lower deck. Menu 1940, from 39.45 euros. Princess Elizabeth, Bassin de la Marine, https:// 8. The full story is con­tained at the Dunkirk War Mu­seum

One of the most com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tions of in­for­ma­tion and arte­facts on Op­er­a­tion Dynamo is housed at the mu­seum, lo­cated in for­ti­fi­ca­tions built to de­fend France’s coast­line in 1874.

Arms and mil­i­tary equip­ment, some of it aban­doned dur­ing the op­er­a­tion, are on show, while dis­play boards and pic­tures give a de­tailed time­line of how key events and bat­tles un­folded.

You come away with a bet­ter sense of how the war played out in May 1940, lead­ing France and Bri­tain to de­ploy vastly dif­fer­ent tac­tics.

Dunkirk War Mu­seum, https://­namo­mus 9. Re­fu­elling and re­fresh­ment

Good food and drink is easy to come by in France, but some rec­om­men­da­tions for meals dur­ing a short break in­clude Comme vous Voulez, a gas­tro­nomic restau­rant over­look­ing the seafront and beach, serv­ing qual­ity meat, fish and seafood dishes.

For a funky venue, try L’Edito, housed on a pon­toon in the ma­rina. A var­ied menu of­fers mus­sels, Thai dishes and steak plus the north­ern French spe­cial­ity Le Welsh, a stodgy cheese on toast, of­ten with ad­di­tions such as ham, mus­tard or beer.

Talk­ing of beer, if you find your­self in Esquel­becq, seek out the Thiriez brew­ery of­fer­ing real ale across the spec­trum of strengths and colours.

It was founded in 1996 by Daniel Thiriez, who took over build­ings used as a farm­house brew­ery un­til 1945. As well as tours, you can have tast­ings in a rus­tic mi­cropub where the pace of life slows nicely.

Comme vous Voulez: https://com­ / L’Edito: https:// www.restau­rant-led­ito-dunkerque. fr / Thiriez Brew­ery: http://www. brasseri­ 10. The need-to-know de­tail­sif you are plan­ning to go.

Get there with DFDS which of­fers sev­eral ferry cross­ings a day be­tween Dover and Dunkirk, with a jour­ney time of just two hours. A mod­ern fleet op­er­ates on the Dover-Dunkirk route and the French port is around a hal­fan-hour drive from the town and its at­trac­tions.

Prices for a car and up to nine peo­ple with DFDS start at £39 each way. Lat­est of­fers and timeta­bles can be found at

A good sight­see­ing base is the fourstar Ho­tel Borel, close to the war mu­seum, beaches, ma­rina and town – http://www.hotel­

Mary was a guest of DFDS fer­ries, which funded the trip

A group con­tem­plates the hor­rors dur­ing a tour of the memo­rial at La Plaine au Bois, Esquel­becq

The Princess Elizabeth in a scene from Dunkirk

A dis­play at the Dunkirk War Mu­seum

Comme vous Voulez restau­rant

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