“But if not”

The story goes that in May 1940, British and French soldiers were trapped by German troops in the coastal town of Dunkirk. In the face of likely capture, a British naval officer transmitted this message to London via cable:

“But if not”

The brief cable was a reference to Daniel 3: 17-18. When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace, they responded, “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (ESV)

Smaller boats shuttled the men to larger naval vessels ready to take them to England.

The British launched Operation Dynamo with the hope of rescuing between 20,000 – 30,000 men before the Germans advanced. In fact, circumstances led to the evacuation of 338, 226 men safely across the Channel to British shores. The BBC reports that men were also rescued from other coastal towns, for a total of 558, 000. (See “In Context” at this link.)

In a speech on June 4, WInston Churchill called the evacuation “a miracle,” and the event is often called the “Miracle at Dunkirk.” However, Churchill told the British public, “Wars are not won by evacuations,” and braced the nation for a possible German invasion.

Men waited in line to climb on board the rescue boats. An eyewitness remarked on the discipline of the tired, hungry men waiting patiently in line.

A related link:

Bernard Stubbs’ radio report from Dover, May 31, 1940, as soldiers arrived from Dunkirk

Thanks to Randy for bringing this story to my attention.


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