Janet Christie's Mum's the Word

The family learn about their link to Dunkirk


Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk has been on my must-view list ever since I heard he was making it.

My dad was there on the beach with The Black Watch when he was 20, ages with my boys now, and like many of those who fought in the Second World War, he was never exactly forthcoming on the subject. There must have been tales to tell of a journey that took him from private to major but in my teenage self-absorption and belief my parents would be sticking around for leisurely interrogation (they weren’t – how selfish), I respected his reticence. Dunkirk was simply, “terrifying”, El Alamein “bloody terrifying” and Monte Cassino “absolutely bloody terrifying”. Apart from once when he saw me knitting a Fair Isle tank top (Northumbrian nights are long) and was moved to comment.

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“I had a jumper like that once. Left it on the beach in France in my army rucksack. Dunkirk. Had to swim out with a gun above my head, so…”

“Dunkirk? Really, tell me,” I said.

“Well, it was sleeveless, with a V-neck. Lovely pattern,” he said. “Shame. Still, they knitted me another one when I 
got back to Dundee... Aye...” And off he went.

But at least I knew my dad, unlike my kids who never met him, so I suggest we see the film. Everyone’s keen, plus there’s the added incentive for Youngest of 1D’s Harry Styles (“OMG, I don’t like them any more.” Yet when he appears I nudge her, and she smiles.)

Afterwards, as we stand in the foyer, stunned, I look at my kids, so full of potential, and feel a strangely maternal urge to protect another boy back on a beach in France as gunfire rained down from the sky.

“Well, he got back. Or we wouldn’t be here,” I say, or something equally trite, as we think about those who didn’t.

“So what did you think?” I say.

Eldest: “Amazing cinematography.”

Middle: “Inspiring. Not like the pointless wars we have now.”

And Youngest: “Horrible. But I’m glad we went.”

Breviloquence. It must run in the family.