September 15, 2015

1940. Edward R. Murrow Reports the Dunkirk Evacuation

Edward R. Murrow Reports from London on the Evacuation of Dunkirk

Edward R. Murrow

CBS London

June 2, 1940

EDWARD R. MURROW: This is London. The Allied rearguard is still holding Dunkirk against increasing German pressure. Heavy German field guns are pounding the beaches, and efforts to remove more men are continuing.

According to Mr. Anthony Eden, more than four-fifths of the British Expeditionary Force has been evacuated. The Air Force claims at least 125 German planes shot down in the Dunkirk area during the last two days. Today's score has given us thirty-five Germans down and eight British fighters lost.

Yesterday I spent several hours at what may be tonight—or next week—Britain's first line of defense: an airfield on the southeast coast. German bases weren't more than ten minutes flying time away across that ditch that has protected Britain and conditioned the thinking of Britishers for centuries.

I talked with pilots as they came back from Dunkirk. They stripped off their life jackets, glanced at a few bullet holes in wings or fuselage, and as the ground crews swarmed over the aircraft refueling motors and guns we sat on the ground and talked. Out in the middle of the field the wreckage of a plane was being cleared up. It had crashed the night before; the pilot had been shot in the head, but it managed to get back to its field. The Royal Air Force prides itself on never walking out of a plane until it falls apart.

I can tell you what those boys told me. They were the cream of the youth of Britain. As we sat there, they were waiting to take off again. They talked of their own work, discussed the German air force with all the casualness of Sunday morning quarterbacks discussing yesterday's football game. There were no nerves, no profanity, and no heroics. There was no swagger about those boys in wrinkled and stained uniforms. The movies do that sort of thing much more dramatically than it is in real life.

They told me of the patrol from which they'd just returned. "Six Germans down. We lost two."

"What happened to Eric?" said one.

"Oh, I saw him come down right alongside one of our destroyers," replied another.

The Germans fight well in a crowd. They know how to use the sun, and if they surprise you it's uncomfortable. "If twenty or so of them catch five of us, we stay and fight," they said.

"Maybe that's why we got so many of them," added one boy with a grin.

They all told the same story about numbers. "Six of us go over," they said, "and we meet twelve Germans. If ten of us go, there are twenty Germans." But they were all anxious to go again. When the squadron took off, one of them remarked quite casually that they'd be back in time for tea.

About that time a boy of twenty drove up in a station wagon. He weighed about 115 pounds. He asked the squadron leader if he could have someone to fly him back to his own field. His voice was loud and flat. His uniform was torn; had obviously been wet. He wore a pair of brown tennis shoes three sizes too big. After he'd gone I asked one of the men who'd been talking with him, "What was the matter with him?"

All he replied: "He was shot down over Dunkirk on the first patrol this morning. He landed in the sea, swam to the beach, was bombed for a couple of hours, came home in a paddle steamer. His voice sounds like that because he can't hear himself. You get that way after you've been bombed a few hours," he said.

An air gunner with grease and powder marks on his cheek and neck walked in from his plane, unwound his scarf, had a smoke, and sat down to talk over things with his companions.

I return you now to Columbia in New York.