Dunkirk: The Men They Left Behind

Sean Longden
Constable, hardback, 480 pages, £20

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Author Sean Longden provides an in-depth analysis of the mystery behind why 40,000 British soldiers were left abandoned by their leaders during the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940.

In fact a whole battalion - the 51st Highland Division - were still fighting alongside their French allies and attempting to repel the advancing Germans as the final boat left its moorings in Dunkirk en route back to England.

Thousands more British troops were left stranded from their battalions and regiments throughout the French countryside, as well as many soldiers who had been hospitalised through injury or sickness. Many were later captured by the Germans and forced to spend a desperately grim five years in prisoner of war camps.

This book is about the defeat at Dunkirk and not the so-called victory trumpeted by the British propaganda machine at the time or via the subsequent movies made about 'the heroic struggle'.

It is broken up into four main sections: the experiences of the British troops in their training prior to going to France; the 'phoney war'; their involvement in battles before the evacuation by 300,000 soldiers; and the fate of three groups of men left behind.

The most harrowing part of the book is the description of the extreme hardships inflicted on the POWs on the march into Germany. Soldiers were routinely beaten, starved and in some cases murdered in cold blood.

It also vividly describes in chilling detail the five years that the surviving POWs spent in the camps.

One important question has to be asked about this story: why has it taken sixty-three years for the real truth about Dunkirk, and the memories of the misery suffered by many British troops and their families back home, to be revealed?

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