Your Destination is Dunkirk

Screenshot of Mr. Dawson's Moonstone from the Christopher Nolan film, Dunkirk. (Warner Bros., 2017)

Screenshot of Mr. Dawson’s Moonstone from the Christopher Nolan film, Dunkirk. (Warner Bros., 2017)


The 700 little ships of Dunkirk included fishing boats, lifeboats, pleasure boats, private yachts and launches berthed along the River Thames and the southern and eastern coasts of England. There were three routes the boats could take, each journey with unique hazards.

Route Z (39 nautical miles) the shortest route, of two hours sailing time, took the vessels along the French coast and with the possibility of subjecting the craft to artillery bombardment from the shore.

Route X (55 nautical miles) avoided the French coastline but journeyed through a known heavily mined area that could not be used at night due to these spiked terrors and the risk of running aground on sandbanks.

Route Y (87 nautical miles) a sailing time of four hours was equally hazardous with the threat of being attacked by German Kriegsmarine surface vessels, U-Boats or from above by the Luftwaffe.

Apart from the British little ships, 39 Dutch coasters and 65 Belgian ships took part in the evacuation that saved some 324,00 British and French soldiers. An additional 220 ships of war took part.

Twelve original Dunkirk little ships were employed in Christopher Nolan’s new film; Caronia (1927), Elvin (1937), Endeavour (1926), Hilfranor (1935), Mary Jane (1926), Mimosa (1935), MTB 102 (1937), New Britannic (1930), Nyula (previously Betty, 1933), Papillon (1930), Princess Elizabeth (1927) and RIIS I (previously White Heather, 1920)…and they were grand to see…especially with Hans Zimmer’s score borrowing from Elgar’s Nimrod in one scene featuring New Britannic…ah these boats, these finely crafted wood structures upon the waves, whitecaps and rainbowed coloured sea.

Mr. Miniver (1942) and now Mr. Dawson (2017)

Winston Churchill said that the 1942 production of Mrs. Miniver did more for the war effort than a destroyer flotilla. Kay Miniver (Greer Garson) is married to Clem Miniver (Canadian-born actor Walter Pidgeon), the latter who owns a fine motorboat that is berthed at his private dock along the River Thames. Called upon for an unknown task Clem Miniver and other boat owners pilot their small ships to Ramsgate, Kent where they learn of their destination, Dunkirk.

Like Mr. Miniver, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) pilots his fine little ship, Moonstone, across the English Channel to Dunkirk, where he and his son assist in the rescue of soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force, British sailors and a Royal Air Force fighter pilot.  It is during the voyage that we learn that Mr. Dawson’s other son was a fighter pilot, sailing the skies in Hurricanes. Similarly, Mr. Miniver has a fighter pilot son who flies over his parent’s home cutting out the engine to let them know he is safe when returning from operations.

Moonstone is the focus representing one of the 700. As I watch Mr. Dawson’s graceful wood and white painted dream, I turn my attention to the boat’s name. Certainly, Moonstone was not one of the original Dunkirk vessels of which 12 were used in the film but methinks the name perhaps has meaning to the film?

Below: Mrs. Miniver film clip, Your destination is Dunkirk! (1942) from TCM. It takes a second or two to start.

The Gemstone

As I wander through the various interpretations of the gemstone I learn that moonstone is considered a stone of protection and associated with travel at sea. The gem represents calm not unlike the Rylance character Mr. Dawson, and is also synonymous with relief from stress which maybe the spirit of Dunkirk itself – achieving success from debacle – relief after stress.

Though I am tempted to learn if director Christopher Nolan and his creative team knowingly drew upon these moonstone definitions and representations, I rather hope it is serendipitous and like the Romans who felt the gem was created from the solidified rays of the moon, I hope upon the tides, that the Moonstone will continue its ride, its sheen like that of the sea of whose waves and whitecaps, like the gem are milky white, filled with the colours of the rainbow.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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