In 1940 the war with Germany was not going well. Belgium, The Netherlands and France had all been overrun and by 26th May hundreds of thousands of British and French troops found themselves cornered in the French port of Dunkerque (Dunkirk). Over nine days, hundreds of ships and boats from the English side of the Channel managed to evacuate all but 40,000 of them, under the protection of the RAF overhead. Although this was a relief, the public were disheartened and pessimistic.
Winston Churchill had become Prime Minister of a war-time coalition government just a few weeks beforehand, in the midst of these disastrous events. It is said that some government members were in favour of pulling out of the war. However, Churchill’s exceptionally inspirational, stirring speeches to the House of Commons at that time brought everyone to renewed resolve and some to tears.
His “We shall fight on the beaches” speech was given on 4th June 1940, the final day of the Dunkerque rescue. It was quoted by a BBC newsreader later that evening on the radio. Sir Winston Churchill himself was asked to re-read it for a recording in 1949, when he was aged 75:-
(Image of Dunkerque the day before the speech: Wikimedia Commons)