The Miracle Animals Of Dunkirk

The most hardened of men are softened by a dog. Montgomery and Churchill with Rommel the dog. Photo: Bosleys/BNPS

(ANIMAL RESCUES/ANIMALS IN HISTORY) When Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk hits theaters July 21, audiences will be treated to a different kind of war film.

“Dunkirk is not a war film,” the director explained to the Associated Press. “It’s a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film.”

Dunkirk was indeed a story of survival, for both soldier and animal.

The most hardened of men are softened by a dog. Montgomery and Churchill with Rommel the dog. Photo: Bosleys/BNPS
The most hardened of men are softened by a dog. Montgomery and Churchill with Rommel the dog. Photo credit: Bosleys/BNPS

The evacuation of Dunkirk took place from May 26 to June 4, 1940 and was a pivotal event in the Second World War. For 10 days, 933 allied naval and civilian vessels sailed across the English Channel as part of one of the biggest rescue operations in military history.

When it was over, 338, 226 allied troops and scores of animals had been evacuated from Dunkirk. The allies were granted, as Winston Churchill put it, a “miracle of deliverance.” And luckily this miracle extended to animals as well.

“Dogs were whining and running about, vainly looking for their owners,” wrote British officer British officer Second Lieutenant E. J. Haywood. “Other dogs had been left tied up, and barked furiously at us, or howled dismally. In the fields cows were mooing, begging to be milked.” On the beaches, scores of animals maneuvered their way onto rescuing ships.

Among the hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers are hundred of animals waiting to be rescued. Photo: Getty Images
Among thousands of allied soldiers are hundreds of animals waiting to be rescued. Photo credit: Getty Images

“There was a little dog, a terrier-type mongrel, who came on board with some of the soldiers,” remembered Seaman Stanley Allen. “He only understood French. When I spoke to him he wouldn’t leave me….

After Dunkirk was all over, Kirk was collected by a PDSA van to go into quarantine for six months before he was taken on to the staff of the parish where our sub-lieutenant’s father was vicar. All of us cheered the old dog off. It was a very nice human touch amongst all that carnage of Dunkirk – as though people, in spite of all, were still caring.”

Then there was Boxer the bulldog and his caretaker Captain C. Paytonsmith, who became separated in France, and later reunited in England; but only after Boxer was physically forced into a vessel due to his disdain for water.

These are just but a few of the stories that Journalist Clare Campbell shares in her book “Bonzo’s War: Animals Under Fire,” which tells the forgotten tales of the animals caught in the crossfire.

“I feel like Dunkirk is such a universal event and it involves so many (people) that to try to encapsulate the specific detail of the human experience wasn’t the way to go. What we decided to do was to really try and live in the moment of the experience … the very immediate and human desire to survive.” Nolan told the AP. “It’s the most human movie I’ve ever made because it’s about the desire for survival.”

At the end of the day, the Battle of Dunkirk was about survival for both humans and animals alike. On the battlefield, a life is a life–whether man or mutt.

— Israel Igualate, exclusive to Global Animal