River of Stories

London page TtoD

The Dunkirk Project began in 2010 on the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk 1940. Every day from 26th May to 3rd June 2010 a dozen or so stories from Dunkirk were added to the River of Stories on the day they happened – vivid stories from eyewitnesses, memories of unforgettable sights, unpublished stories from archives as well as published accounts from contemporary and recent collections. And each day’s page ended with a poem.  My aim was to select from the overwhelming mass of material on Dunkirk a mosaic narrative built up from individuals’ experiences, and in doing so to create a panoramic portrait that would communicate the whole, wider story.

In this new edition of The Dunkirk Project for the 75th anniversary in 2015, a fully revised River of Stories has run live online each day from Tuesday 26th May to Wednesday 3rd June as the tale unfolds, and then continues on 4th June with stories from the aftermath. The day pages are presented as breaking news each day as the events happen, giving us the opportunity to follow stories through the extraordinary nine days and beyond – including the indefatigable rescue efforts of Captain G Johnson on board the Royal Daffodil, and the trying times of Gun Buster and his mates in Y Battery, stalwart rearguard of the evacuation and among the very last soldiers to leave.

Since 2010, thousands of people have visited the project, many adding their own stories and responses to the River. Now in 2015, I’m hoping that you will want to contribute yours. Maybe your grandmother was a nurse on one of the hospital ships, or perhaps your father was rescued by the Royal Daffodil, or you may have a poem, artwork or other imaginative engagement of your own to contribute. You can add your story either by leaving a comment, or email it to the.dunkirk.project[at]pottersyard.co.uk for me to weave in. Many people have already contributed generously to share moving accounts, precious mementoes, observations and responses – even to tell how reading The Dunkirk Project helped one long-silent survivor to share his own memories at last.

Read day-by-day news from Dunkirk 1940 here:

26th May 1940 – A very tight corner

27th May 1940 – An extraordinary armada

28th May 1940 – Out there

29th May 1940 – Nightmare

30th May 1940 – The view from the air

31st May 1940 – Lovely on the water

1st June 1940 – Homeward

2nd June 1940 – Tatter’d colours

3rd June 1940 – Towards the end

And then, stories from the aftermath:

4th June 1940 – Beyond Dunkirk

But many stories are still to be told. Now that the River of Stories is unfolded, you’re still able to add your own. The comment boxes for each day remain open, and all responses are welcome: stories, memories, comments and reflections. Each contribution adds to the diversity and scope of the project, the flow and depth of the river, and increases our understanding of how our lives today are affected by this almost mythic event of our island story.

Thames to Dunkirk (Thames side) fully open

from Fairacre

I dig with my friend in the ditch,

seeking treasure, and finding stones,

sometimes a fragment of clay pipe,

once a shepherd’s crown.


Black-headed gulls cry

as they pass overhead:

voices of the river,

of the sea and its tides,

voices that sound with other voices

in my mind, mixing

with what I remember, what I am told,


fact becoming story,

story becoming myth,

myth becoming part of us,

moulding our lives.


(by Jeremy Hooker, from Ancestral Lines, a forthcoming collection.  Jeremy Hooker’s ‘Landscape of Childhood’, a radio play for voices, is published in Adamah by Enitharmon Press)

8 Responses to “River of Stories”

  1. Reaching the edge, plunging into the sea, rescue…

    ‘There are times in every man’s life when he seems to become for a little while part of the fable, and to be recapitulating some legendary drama which, as it has recurred a countless number of times in time, is ageless.’ (WB Yeats)

  2. Riikka and Shepherds&co Says:

    Hello Liz,

    just wanted to congratulate on behalf of Shepherds Falkiners staff, great to see what you have done with the paper – turning it into amazing piece of art!

    Good luck with future projects!

  3. Rosie contacted The Dunkirk Project by email to say:

    I had a look at your Dunkirk Project and was blown away. It must have taken months and no doubt you will still be receiving contributions for a long time yet. I can’t offer you anything as my father was in North Africa then Italy, where he was wounded. It is so important not to forget and to make sure generations to come know about the sacrifices of body and mind. I am wondering what will happen to all that stunning work, it should become a national treasure.

    • Liz Mathews Says:

      Thank you Rosie; I completely agree that it’s so important to remember and try to understand those experiences. I’m proud to say that The Dunkirk Project has been selected for permanent preservation by the UK Web Archive; the archived version is regularly updated to preserve new editions and additions. And Thames to Dunkirk is now in the British Library, available for viewing, and was shown (opened out in an enormous case) in Writing Britain the BL’s major exhibition for Olympic year 2012.

  4. One of our readers linked us to your site. In our blog, http://www.aldershot1940.com we are posting the daily entries of our father’s wartime diary, kept while stationed at Aldershot England. The entries of late focus on Dunkirk.

    His regiment was on board ship, ready to set sail to Dunkirk when they were turned back. Through the blog, many readers have been sharing their stories, memories and history of the Evacuation.

    This blog and the interactive River is an incredible testimony to the courage and sacrifice of the evacuation.

    Well done!

    • Thank you! Private Reginald L Murphy’s story is fascinating, and the daily instalments of his diary bring it vividly to life. What a great memorial to your father and his experiences.

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