Dunkirk was a great deliverance and a great disaster

There are many points to support both deliverance and disaster for Dunkirk. Sources A to G all show different things, some emphasizing deliverance, some disaster. Some of the sources may be regarded as inaccurate or biased. But each was made to convey a certain meaning.

Source A, for example, is a painting of Dunkirk beaches under attack. It is a composite painting, by official British war artist, Charles Cundall. As mentioned previously, the painting is a composite, meaning that the event portrayed never actually happened, rather it is a mixture of many different events, put together to show a certain atmosphere or to show the type of events which happened, through only one scene. Although the painting is useful in this effect, it also proves to be a drawback. Because the event pictured didn’t actually occur, we cannot use the ‘event’ as evidence, rather than the picture itself. Through the picture, we can gather a certain sense of either deliverance or disaster. From my point of view, I would say it emphasises disaster, rather than deliverance. Another point worth noting is the origin of the painting. It was painted by a British artist, this could indicate that this artist may have wanted to show Great Britain in a good light.

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Source B is a photograph, showing the men waiting to be rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. In a certain aspect, it agrees with Taylor, because it would seem to be a disaster for the British as they are shown in retreat, and also, it shows that the men will be rescued, and they are all ok, which is positive for the British. The photograph may show these two points, but, as a photograph, it only shows one split second in time. It only shows one scene, and straight after the photo was taken, something could have happened to change the meaning of this image. Overall, source B works alongside Taylor’s statement. It is equal for both sides, in that it shows one aspect of which it could be seen as deliverance, and one of disaster.

Source C is also a photograph, this time showing British troops firing on German planes. This source, like B, shows both deliverance and disaster. It shows that the British men are not helpless, and are fighting back, and also that they are trying to escape the Germans. On the other hand, it shows how vulnerable the men were on the beaches, and how ahead Germany is, as their equipment is evidently more advanced. The photo also seems reliable, it doesn’t look like it was staged. However, it could have been used for propaganda for the British public, to show how resilient the men were.

Source D is a speech by Anthony Eden, Minister of War 1940.

This source shows deliverance because the speaker is Minister of War and he wants the war to sound positive. This source, though, is not entirely accurate. It is also one-sided. The speech is useful, although biased, because it shows how the British used speeches to boost morale. Saying something like ‘The vital weapon of any army is it’s spirit’ makes the British public think that everything is going well, when this could not be true. The public just listened to their government and believed what they were saying, this proved that propaganda was a successful method. Although in parts, the speech could be seen as one-sided, Eden did admit to losses of equipment, but most likely knew that the public would rather hear about the ‘Spirit of the British army’ rather than technical details.

Source E is a British newspaper report, which emphasises deliverance. Saying something like ‘Tens of thousands safely home already’, people believe that everyone is ok, and that the war is going well. The government heavily censored what the British public saw and knew, as they wanted to keep morale high, and make everyone believe that the war was a success on the British side. The British public didn’t hear much from the soldiers, as their personal letters, too, were heavily censored. Source E is no different from any other British news report during the war, little information is given, but the public are made full aware of the good points.

Source F is an extract from ‘English History 1914 – 1918’ by AJP Taylor – a British historian. Taylor, who also said the statement from the question, has been known to be controversial in his writing. It fits with deliverance and disaster. Taylor describes how it was a deliverance; ‘It succeeded beyond expectation. However, he also said ‘BEF lost virtually all it’s guns’.

This is quite accurate because it mainly states facts, rather than gives opinions. The source is a balanced account, showing points for both deliverance and disaster. The writer was a historian, and would have studied lots of stories and accounts, and most likely arrived at a fair conclusion.

Finally, source G. This source is a video about the Dunkirk evacuation, from Film Century. It shows both British and German points of view. It showed the Spirit of Dunkirk, ‘Channel Incident’, which was a film made just after the war.

The German point of view showed Dunkirk to be a disaster, whereas the British made it out to be a deliverance. The film ‘Channel Incident’ was heavily censored, like other British media of the time, as the British wanted to show the Dunkirk Spirit, with the phrase ‘Never say die’.

After studying each of these sources, I have come to the conclusion, that I agree with AJP Taylor’s statement. Each source makes points, many from different origins, about Dunkirk being both a deliverance and a disaster. I believe it was both.

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