Your pieces marking the achievement of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 failed to mention the 40,000 soldiers who were not repatriated. The majority of these were forced to march to Poland as prisoners of war, to spend the next four years working in mines and on farms, to all intents and purposes as slaves, before they were marched back into Germany over the winter of 1944.
My father was one of those, having joined the military in 1939 as a Territorial Army soldier from his South Yorkshire mining village. He kept a diary of those times; it is sparse and mentions little about conditions and treatment, but on liberation by the American army in 1945, he weighed six stone.
He lived until he was 88 after a working life in the Ministry of Defence, as a translator in the de-Nazification programme (he learned German and Polish) and subsequently as a computer programmer and auditor, until his longed-for retirement at 61. He never much talked about his wartime experiences, but he suffered a breakdown in his early 40s when he became aware that many former colleagues were suffering serious ill health or dying. As a child, I could never understand why Dunkirk was celebrated as a triumph and, while it is possible to be thankful for the fact that so many soldiers were rescued, it strikes me as a failure, if only for the 40,000 men who didn’t return home in 1940. An occasional mention of their fate would not go amiss.