LESLEY KEATING: I wish I'd asked dad about Dunkirk '“ but it's too late

Last week I went to see the movie Dunkirk.

Sunday, 6th August 2017, 6:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 12:14 pm
Part of a painting by Bill Montague depicting the chaos at Dunkirk

My Dad, Ron, had served at Dunkirk. He was also at Sword Beach during D-Day and flew in Horsa Gliders to Pegasus Bridge in Arnhem. Only 76 men survived Arnhem from his battalion.

Like many of his generation, he rarely spoke about what he did so most of what he’d seen remained locked in his head.

He didn’t talk about specifics, but he did talk in general about the war. A lot. However, as a self-obsessed teenager, I’d yawn, roll my eyes and change the subject.

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I refused to watch ‘boring war films’ with which he was fixated and which virtually catalogued his experience

We weren’t all that close so I hoped the movie might make me understand him a little bit more.

Crikey, I wasn’t wrong. What an horrific, terrifying and chilling experience.

To see the queues of exhausted, dishevelled soldiers losing hope, waiting in vain for warships to rescue them and to feel their terror and raw panic as they were mercilessly targeted from the air was truly shocking.

My dad was just 23 at the time… and he was one of the older ones. A trainee draughtsman and a quiet, introspective chap from the London outskirts who’d done nothing more adventurous than tennis, cycling, photography and dog-walking, suddenly thrust into what can only be described as a living hell.

I have absolutely no idea why I’d expected more order, more orchestration when it was actually just brutal; a case of ‘survive at all costs’.

Our daughter’s boyfriend is a similar age. It shocked me to consider how it would have been for him, bright, clever, talented and full of potential, yet running for his life, terrified, like all those other young boys?

I really wish I’d asked my dad more now, but it’s too late.

We walked out of the cinema like zombies, needing time to process what we’d seen.

Later, discussing it over dinner, a friend asked: ‘How did your dad get back from Dunkirk?’

I felt so ashamed when I had to say: ‘I’ve actually no idea’.


The phone rang and a chirpy woman said: ‘Hello Mrs Keating, our records show you have recently had an accident that wasn’t your fault’.

Aha I thought. Another of these annoying calls. I’ll have some fun.

I was determined to waste their time so decided to make up something crazy like a spaceship landed on my car bonnet or something equally daft.

‘Yes, I have had an accident recently actually,’ I agreed, giggling inwardly about what was to come and eagerly awaiting her response.

I didn’t expect this though…

‘Oh, OK thank you,’ she said. ‘We’ll take you off our records.’ And she hung up!

Anyone care to enlighten me why these people make these calls?


Have I been asleep for months and woken up in the middle of February instead of August?

British summer time is not renowned for being predictable, but this is a joke, right?

Today, instead of wearing a sleeveless top and taking the roof off my convertible, I trotted off to work, wrapped in a warm jacket as it was so cold and windy.

And as for the constant rain, let’s not even go there.

I might be feeling a little grumpier than usual though as, last night, I was kept awake by what seemed close to a hurricane.

A colleague said there were 65 mph winds on Southsea seafront!

Welcome to summer in Britain folks.

I can only imagine what foreign tourists are thinking…