When People Prayed: The Miracle of Dunkirk

The number of COVID-19 cases in Australia and around the world are rising each day. We are feeling exhausted, afraid, depressed, and uncertain about the future.
In this time of chaos and horror, let us remember times of faith, hope, and triumph; times when God responded to those who believed in Him, who called on His name.


The world was at war.

May 1940: Nazi forces had entered France.
Blitzkreig – ‘lightning war’. This was the term initially used by journalists to describe the speed and ferocity of the first German attack on Poland; a speed and ferocity that they would continue as they marched toward the English channel.

Men, women, and children were being slaughtered and made subjects of horrific medical experiments. Genocide. Public executions. Invasions. The world was at war.

The Allied forces and British Expeditionary Force in France were pushed back – cornered – to the coast of Dunkirk. Eventually, the decision was made by the British command to attempt an evacuation.

Operation Dynamo.
It was a race to evacuate the troops before the Nazis fell upon them. They had to be evacuated straight from the beach, and the shores of Dunkirk are shallow, making efforts slow and difficult, with the threat of an air force attack looming over the entire mission.
It was a last-ditch attempt, and it was estimated that only about 45,000 men might be rescued, at most.


May 23, 1940: After being briefed by Winston Churchill about the bleak situation, King George VI decided that the following Sunday (May 26) was to be a national day of prayer.

May 24, 1940: The King announced the day of prayer to the nation. “Let us, with one heart and soul, humbly but confidently commit our cause to God…”

May 24, 1940: Hitler ordered his troops to halt.
Nobody knows why. No explanation was given. Some suggestions have been made as to why Hitler ordered this halt (anxieties from his generals about a possible counterattack and assurance that an air strike would obliterate the evacuating forces), but the decision remains a mystery.
The German troops were ordered to halt, and the retreating soldiers gained three days’ time.

On May 24, 1940, decision were made by leaders which would alter the course of hundreds of thousands of lives.


May 26, 1940: National day of prayer.
People all over Britain swarmed to churches and places of worship to pray. Crowds were lining up in the streets because the buildings were overflowing. In an hour of darkness and desperation, a nation turned back to God.

May 26, 1940: Operation Dynamo began.
As ships and civilian vessels alike set out for Dunkirk on a desperate (and likely disastrous) rescue mission on May 26, while the nation prayed, a strange calm fell upon the English channel. Reports from sailors claim that the notoriously choppy waters were unusually peaceful, and remained so for the duration of the operation, contributing to the mission’s success.
The expected air strike never came, and there was enough time for patrols to search the evacuated beaches with a megaphone, ensuring no soldiers were accidentally left behind.

From May 26 to June 2 not 45,000, but roughly 330,000 Allied and British troops were evacuated from the shores of Dunkirk.


How could such a strained, under-resourced rescue mission with little chance of success turn into one of the most memorable success stories of the war? Why did Hitler order his forces to halt? How could the waters of the Channel have been so calmed?
Shall we try and explain the inexplicable events in any other way but a divine response to the desperate, unified prayer of a nation?

The evacuation was rightly hailed by Churchill, and throughout Britain, as a miracle.
It should be remembered that many lives were still lost in France over the following days, and the war raged on for 5 more years. I often wonder, though, what might have been had the nation prayed with such fervour for a week, or two, or more.
What might the world look like?

The day when a nation prayed.

I believe in the Bible, and I believe that the Bible shows us that when people earnestly turn to God in humility and believe that He will respond, He does.

In the times of crisis after crisis this year and last – with the drought, bushfires, floods, and virus – I have been utterly ashamed and distraught at my nation’s lack of unified prayer and repentance. At the individualism, apathy, unbelief, and division of believers who call themselves the one body of Christ.

Yet, I am still desperately hopeful that we might draw together as one and, with one heart and soul, pray. And I get lost in imagining what we might see in our nation when our hearts are so turned, so consumed by God.

Claire Welch, Rise and Fall of the Nazis: A Photographic Record of the Third Reich and its Downfall, 2008.
Encyclopedia Britannica: The Miracle of Dunkirk (https://www.britannica.com/event/Dunkirk-evacuation/The-miracle-of-Dunkirk)
History.com: The Battle of Dunkirk (https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/dunkirk)
English Heritage: Operation Dynamo: Things You Need to Know About the Dunkirk Evacuation (https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/history-and-stories/operation-dynamo-things-you-need-to-know/)

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