The new war film Dunkirk opens with (small spoiler alert) six young British soldiers walking away from the camera down a deserted street when five of them are shot in the back one by one.
The sixth, clearly not long out of school, scrambles terrified over a tall gate and runs and runs until he meets a group of British soldiers behind a barricade.
He keeps running until he hits the beach….Dunkirk beach, where a confronting story of fear, bravery, weakness, strength and bloody mayhem was being played out.
The evacuation of more than 330,000 Allied soldiers (mainly British) from Dunkirk, came shortly after Germany launched its military might to kick-start the war in Europe in May 1940.
Dunkirk was an amazing achievement by the rescuers and one which many historians agree contributed (in a small way) to the eventual defeat of Germany.
So why do I wish more young people knew the full story of the wars that ravaged the world then, the millions of innocents that died and why schools today still keep the facts of those terrible times under wraps.
Knowing more about what happened in those wars may, just may help prevent a repeat, including the dropping of atom bombs on Japan in mid-1945 which brought hostilities in the Pacific to an end.
Schools study ancient and not so ancient history (much of it dominated by wars) as well as teaching students, quite rightly, of Australia’s part in Gallipoli (Anzac Day) and the Western Front in WW1.
Australia’s sacrifices at Tobruk, Singapore and the Kakoda Track in New Guinea in WWII are also remembered with a certain amount of detail. But that’s about it. There should be more.
For heaven’s sake, the end of WWII was only 72 years ago after claiming the lives of an estimated 60 and 70 million – men, women and children. There were more civilian than soldiers killed. So many women and children.
That’s up to ten times the Australian population at the time and more than twice what we are today. Think about it. I do. Every time I am reminded of the world-wide war by such stories as Dunkirk.
It’s not just the enormity of the conflict, which claimed so many lives, but the way it twisted the minds of mostly men leading them to treat others in such monstrous ways. There were massacres right from the start when captured British soldiers were lined up and shot at Dunkirk.
At the end of the war in Europe the world learnt about the biggest, most shameful massacre of all, 6 million Jews shot, burned and gassed to death in the Final Solution of Nazi Germany.
There is no need for school teachers to go into the detail of other atrocities that first began to unfold after Japan invaded China in 1931, leading Japan to eventually attack the US fleet in Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and its march south to the very doorstep of Australia.
Or the unspeakable murder of millions of defenceless people in the Soviet Union, the Balkans, around the Mediterranean and Africa.
Just tell them Japan’s state of mind behind what it did and touch on some of the absolutely terrible massacres and the 17 million dead in China and surrounding countries as a result of its policies as well as what motivated Hitler and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to purposely kill so many millions of civilians.
Most Australians, young and old, are aware that during WWII around a million Australians served in the armed forces and that of those in active service, more than 27,000 were killed in action or died, 23,477 were wounded, and 30,560 were taken prisoner of war.
In terms of total numbers, the Soviet Union bore an incredible brunt of casualties during WWII after Hitler broke a non-aggression pact and attacked it leading to an estimated 16,825,000 people dying ..more than 15pc of its population.
Germany lost 4 million soldiers and two million civilians, Great Britain lost 264,000 soldiers and 60,000 civilians (in bombing raids), Japan had 1.2 million battle deaths, 1.4 million soldiers listed as missing and almost one million civilians killed in bombing raids between 1944 and 1945. American lost 292,000 soldiers.
Today, the area of Dunkirk is helping to support women and children from war torn countries who are trying to escape the conflict and persecution. Back in January, the Refugee Women’s Centre in Dunkirk was built with entirely crowdfunded money, but unfortunately only lasted two weeks as criminal gangs burnt it down. After seeking donations they re-created the centre into a mobile organisation in June, hoping to provide even more women who are living in informal camps with care. Donations are still widely needed to help sustain a safe environment and to provide support for these women and children.
Click here to donate!
SheSociety is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.