The Pride Of Dunkirk

My great grandfather, Harold Cotterill photographed in the crews quarters of the A-class Royal Navy destroyer Hms Codrington in 1939 (Image 1: holding pack of cards) before embarking on a series of missions that were crucial to the events that occurred during the evacuation of France and the deliverance of the British Expeditionary force. Before the idea of operation dynamo was even conceived, Codrington transported king george VI to France and back in December to meet with the French Admiralty (image 2). One month later she embarked Winston Churchill on a visit to France at a time when Paris was still safely in allied hands. In February, she was nominated as the flotilla leader of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. This responsibility meant that on the 5th February, she was called upon to carry the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and several high-ranking military leaders to Boulogne for a war council meeting in the capital to discuss the potential threat of defeat at the hands of the Germans. As the Dutch surrender came into effect in May, Codrington began patrolling off the Dutch and Belgian coasts where she embarked members of the Dutch Royal Family at IJmuiden and carried them to safety in the UK where they remained hidden from the grasp of the Nazis for the remainder of the war. With Churchill now taking over the premiership back home, and the call to evacuate the entire British army now in full effect, the ship and her crew worked relentlessly over the grueling five days of operation dynamo, docking at the heavily bombarded Mole on the devastated French beach day after day, ending with her fifth and final trip across the channel on 2nd June having saved 3749 lives in the process (image 3). After gaining a heroic reputation at Dunkirk, whilst managing to return home as one of the only destroyers to successfully avoid Germans attacks, Codrington covered the subsequent evacuations of French Ports into Dover over the next month until the port came under attack on 27fh July, sinking the destroyer at the harbor. Miraculously, due to it being a non-direct hit there was no loss of life and the entire ship either managed to bail into the water or drop life boats into the shallows of the harbor, a result hailed as a triumph of spirit by the navy, including my Great Grandfather who recollected wading in the thick oil that flooded the waters as the ship began to sink. To protect public morale, Churchill ordered the loss of the navy's pride destroyer to be kept under wraps until five years later, when victory in Europe was just months away. Whilst the evacuation of Dunkirk was undeniably a crippling military defeat, without the deliverance of the British army back to home shores, the liberation of Europe that followed simply would not have been possible. To know that my Great Grandfather not only brought to safety some of the most important and influential figures of the free world before helping to save so many lives made watching Christopher Nolan's new movie all the more amazing, and proud to realise and witness such an important part of my family history. Harold Cotterill, a mere engine stoker, and his 184 shipmates on board, each and every one a hero.