Earlier this year I went with my son and one of his friends to see the film 'Dunkirk'. I must say I think it is a really good film although I know others who have disagreed. As we were walking out of the cinema my son turned to me and said "What did you think, Dad?" I opened my mouth to respond and found I could not speak.

It was a very powerful film, telling three stories from within the evacuation, with very little spoken narrative. (Spoiler alert)What had moved me so much was the recitation of Churchill's famous speech, not spoken by Churchill himself but by one of the soldiers reading from the newspaper report of the speech. Having spoken to others, I think that it's safe to say that this is one of the most moving parts of the film.

Two things struck me about the speech, the first almost immediately, and the second much later. Of course, we all have in our memories "We shall fight them on the beaches; we shall fight them on the landing stages... and we shall never surrender..."

But it was the end that struck me there and then, "and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

"In God's good time" It's probably true to say that whilst not an atheist Churchill was a fairly agnostic believer in divine providence.

Two things to note : Firstly even if everything was lost, not all was lost. There is a double faith here: both in God and the willingness of those in the new world to come to the rescue of the old. In addition I would note that "the old" is not specified - it's a general statement, I think about Europe as a whole.

It is to the more famous part of the speech I shall now return. "We shall fight them on the beaches..."

The first thing I noticed when reading this was that I had mis-remembered it. What he actually said was "whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,"

Notice the comma, and not a full-stop at the end. This is neither resignation nor triumph, but determination. Moreover, where is the word "them"?; although it is there in my memory, it is completely absent in the formal record of the speech (Hansard).

Now, of course, I am interpreting, but for me, that absence of "them" is rather significant. When we reduce our conflicts, large and small, to "us and them", we reduce something in our humanity. He begins the section with the words "We shall defend our island..." This was the purpose of the battle. Moreover, in a speech to Parliament later that month, he spoke of it being "Upon which depends the survival of Christian civilisation".


Vicar’s thoughts for November 2017