Dunkirk ‘He remembered lying in a drain outside, praying to die.’

As heard on liveline

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Christopher Nolan has spent in time in Gotham City with Batman, time inside dreams with Leonardo DiCaprio and time in space with Matthew McConaughey, but for his latest film, the British director has moved abruptly from speculative fiction to historical drama. His widely-acclaimed Dunkirk opened in Irish cinemas on Friday and Joe Duffy, on Monday’s Liveline, heard from callers whose relatives had experience of the traumatic events involving the defence and evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940.

The experience of Paula’s father was different to that of the 300,000 soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk – and whose stories are dramatised in Nolan’s blockbuster movie – as he was shot and captured by the Nazis. He was in a derelict house with several others and when they heard the German soldiers approaching, they left through a window at the back of the house. Paula’s father was the last to jump out and he was shot as he did so.

“He said he remembered lying in a drain outside, praying to die.”

Paula’s father spent four and a half years as a Prisoner of War in Poland and he carried two bullets in his body for the rest of his life. (As Joe pointed out, while the events depicted in the film were taking place, 40,000 French and 40,000 British soldiers were captured.) He used to say, Paula told Joe, he was a guest of Hitler for four and a half years.

“He joined the British army in 1938 and in 1940 he got three days’ leave to get married.”

After she got married in 1940, Paula’s mother waved goodbye to her new husband as he went back to war and then didn’t see him again until 1945. But that’s not the worst of it because, of course, neither she nor the British army knew he’d been taken prisoner in Dunkirk:

“My mother got a telegram saying he was missing, presumed dead… and she didn’t hear from him that he was safe, until the war ended.”

So, extraordinarily, for four and half years, Paula’s mother thought her husband – the man she’d spent three married days with – was dead. A different tale from the chaos and horror of Dunkirk in 1940, well told by Paula on Monday’s Liveline.

You can hear more real-life stories from Dunkirk and listen back to the rest of Liveline here.

Photo credit: Fox Photos/Getty Images



© The Listener 2017

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