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22 July 2020

Letter of the week: The myths of Dunkirk

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

It is fascinating how the use of language can contribute to prevailing myths. This was illustrated in Peter Ricketts’s article (Observations, 17 July) on the summer of 1940, when German troops invaded France and “British troops were rescued from Dunkirk”. Films, books and articles sustain this interpretation of history, but more than 30,000 British soldiers did not make it back to Britain – they were in fact captured by Nazi forces and taken to prison camps in Poland. When Charles de Gaulle made his speech on 18 June 1940, my father was in a hospital wing of a prison camp in Torun, Poland, after being captured near Lille on 29 May. He spent ­the next five years as a prisoner, before being marched back into Germany in the winter of 1945 and finally liberated by American forces in April, the day after his 26th birthday. The belief that the Dunkirk evacuation was a victory no doubt contributes to the prevailing myth of British exceptionalism.
Dr Mike Davis

Going it alone

Peter Ricketts seeks to undermine the idea of “Britain standing alone in 1940” (Observations, 17 July). He refers to the work of David Edgerton and others who showed that “Britain was never entirely alone” and to the airmen of parts of the British empire who served in the RAF.

Yet I don’t think that “standing alone” is intended to mean Britain was friendless. Surely it means that among so many other defeated nations, only Britain – by mid-1940 under cross-party leadership – took up the cudgels to fight Nazi Germany. This is all the more remarkable when one recalls that both collaborationism and isolationism had their British proponents too.
Mark Victor Schuck
London N1

Hunt for answers

Jeremy Hunt tantalised us in the concluding remarks of his essay (“The new wobbly world order”, 17 July), moving from foreign policy into domestic priorities. Of course, the two are connected, but it left me curious. How about a follow-up piece on what “tackling the entrenched inequalities that have become so visible with the higher BAME fatality rate from Covid-19” and “giving young people a stake in the future, not least the ability to get on the housing ladder” could mean in practical terms?

Let’s hear how Mr Hunt might approach these topics, free from the day-to-day pressures of government, and how he might influence Conservative domestic policy.
Rob Marshall
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

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Missing link

My family has had tragic experience of fatal asthma, so I read with interest the report on asthma care (Spotlight supplement, 17 July). Any focus on improving care for this often underestimated condition is most welcome, but I was surprised to note that allergy was not mentioned at all in the report. Not everyone with asthma is allergic (and vice versa) but in many cases allergic factors and co-morbidities affect disease control. The UK has historically lagged behind comparable European economies in the provision of specialist allergy services, which means it can be difficult to access appropriate care and advice.
Claire O’Beirne
Chesham, Buckinghamshire

Stockport, still

May I contribute to your correspondence on Stockport (Correspondence, various). As the origin of the River Mersey, Stockport is divided by the river into a Lancashire and a Cheshire portion. Throughout Greater Manchester the correct form of the Loyal Toast is “The Queen, Duke of Lancaster”. Those born south of the river need only focus on the duchy rather than the county to avoid feeling bereft of Lancastrian status.
Dr Stephen Watkins
Oldham, Lancashire

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