3 May 2009

Pillar of Fire - Dunkirk 1940

The story of the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk is well known, however Ronald Atkin's book made me question how much I presumed I knew about the campaign in France and Belgium in 1940. Told using first person narratives, reproduced from a large number of sources and utilising interivews carried out by the author, Pillar of Fire provides an excellent account of the experiences of members of the BEF during the retreat to Dunkirk and the beaches of La Panne and Bray Dunes. The stories are, in the most part, from British soldiers, although there are a number of French and German accounts which add further levels of detail. These recollections are intertwined with the story of the historical events of 1940 - told clearly and without too much superfluous information which can sometimes make campaign accounts a bit dry.

While the popular perception of Dunkirk as a heroic withdrawl remains predominantly unchallenged by Atkin, the inclusion of occasional tales of less than honourable behaviour, and an examination of the British attitiude to the French Army, helps to provide a balanced account. The results in an extremely readable book that should be purchased by anyone with an interest in the human experiences of those caught in the chaos of the Dunkirk evacuation.

Available from:
Birlinn Ltd

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