June 1, 1940
DOVER (Routers) The evacuation of British and French troops from the besieged French city of Dunkirk was halted today, over concerns that many of the private vessels that had been deployed for the task were unsafe for troop transport.
Government officials ordered all soldiers to hold their places on the harbour waterfront and beaches, and those in the water were told to hold up boarding as well, until the various fishing and pleasure vessels could be inspected by the Home Guard, to ensure that there were sufficient life vests, fire extinguishers and other safety devices on each one. Each boat will also have to be tested for leaks before it will be deemed safe for the passage across the Channel.
“We can’t risk our soldiers’ lives on these cheap boats,” explained one official. “The Germans are firing on our ships, and we’ve already lost six destroyers to submarines and aerial bombardments, three of them just today. If all those non-military boats don’t have the proper safety gear, they won’t stand a chance,” he shouted over the din of incoming mortar fire from German troops only two miles away.
Many of the troops agreed. One of them, standing chest deep in the surf, holding his weapon out of the water, said “The Home Guard always knows best, that’s what I always say.” Ducking down at the sound of a nearby artillery shell hitting the beach, he came back up for air. “We can’t be expected to risk our lives on those floating death traps. The colonel said that some of those fishing boats have exposed hooks on the deck. We could stab ourselves something nasty if they go through our boots. And look at that rickety dinghy there. We’d probably spend half the trip to old Blighty bailing it. And think of the splinter danger.”
In response to concerns that the troops might be in danger if they remained much longer, the notion was pooh poohed. “Jerry knows how dangerous those boats are. That’s probably why they’ve held up on the final assault. It will only be a couple more weeks until we can get a shipment of life preservers and fire extinguishers in from Southampton. Nothing comes before the safety of our troops.”
[Copyright 2010 by Rand Simberg]