Thursday May 2nd was the National Day of Prayer for 2019. Back in 1952 a presidential proclamation under Harry Truman determined that a day should be set aside for national prayer. Although we don’t go back that far, my friend Audrey and I have participated together in person or spirit since the 1980s when the 1st Thursday in May was officially designated for this purpose.
My Dad, who was a Gideon, was a great promoter as well as participant in this prayer movement. I recall prominent posters tacked to his office and garage walls advertising these events. Indulging my nostalgia, it is no doubt that my dad contributed to my love for vintage and the classic movies I write about. In fact it was he that actually introduced me to the movie Mrs. Miniver, (on our 12 inch kitchen t.v.) in the first place. On that date I recall a black and white movie depicting a noisy flotilla of small motor boats moving down a river toward the sea. Not too interesting to a teen who had already seen Star Wars. All I really remember him saying at that time was that this was a true story and he thought I should watch it.
More accurately, Mrs. Miniver is an account of the effects of WWII on a fictional British family in a small village. My Dad’s “true story” declaration comes from the movie’s depiction of the Battle of Britain and the lesser known (to me at that time) Miracle of Dunkirk. Now thanks to movies like Atonement (2007) and Dunkirk (2017), we are more aware of that particular period in late May of 1940. But from the movies we only get part of the story.
If you were to have seen this Oscar winner in 1942, you would have been aware of the events that had recently taken place on the European Continent. Because it’s based on history, no spoiler alert is necessary. However, because I’m denied the use of any stills from this movie, my description must try to equal the eeriest of scenes, when in the middle of the night, local fishermen join hundreds of other small boats in the English Channel. Confronted by a seemingly deserted troopship, two sirens sound a warning. Then a disembodied voice, heard through a loudspeaker, charges these villagers with the task of rescuing some half million British troops off the coast of France. British high command deemed they must be rescued in order to defend England from inevitable German attack, so they devised “Operation Dynamo” which depended on civilian assistance. With risks for death in an open sea as well as constant air bombardment these civilian fishermen in their little boats bravely returned over 336,000 troops to their home shores.
But here’s the part that ties Mrs. Miniver to the celebration of a National Day of Prayer. Although historically accurate, it’s only implied in this film, that prior to launching Operation Dynamo, King George VI called for a “National Day of Prayer to be held on 26th May, 1940.” In a national broadcast he instructed the people of the UK” to turn back to God in a spirit of repentance and plead for Divine help.”(1) Because of the risk for imminent attack without their home based army, Britons took this request seriously and closed schools and businesses to allow for more participation.
When you become aware of the connection between that public ,corporate prayer behind Operation Dynamo and the events surrounding the civilian evacuation of military troops it’s hard to deny the supernaturally influenced outcome. These are the things my Dad wanted me to know when a country prays:
A significant storm blew up over the coastal town of Dunkirk which made it impossible for German aircraft to continue to fly and drop bombs on stranded soldiers.
Although the storm affected visibility for flying, at the same time the channel waters were inexplicably calmer than usual allowing for the civilian boats to repeatedly offload the troops.
Hitler also inexplicably ceased his advance of tank artillery against the town of Dunkirk a fact that continues to be debated at WWII round table discussions.
Civilian sea captains were able to rescue 336,000 soldiers instead of the 30,000 anticipated as a measure of success for Operation Dynamo.
The producers of the film were aware of these statistics and personally participated in the war effort. The “sermon” filmed in the bombed out church which marks the final scene of Mrs. Miniver was printed in pamphlets which were airdropped over England to increase morale. Winston Churchill was known to have declared that Mrs. Miniver did more for the morale of the British people that an entire fleet of destroyers ever could. On March 4, 1943 when the film Mrs. Miniver won 7 academy awards, William Wyler the film’s director was unable to attend because he was flying missions over the coast of Europe at that time.
Read the accounts. Watch the film. It’s chronicled as the Miracle of Dunkirk for a reason. And because America could do with a rescue right now, we offer up this movie as an encouragement for intercession for our nation.
(1) from National Day of Prayer at the time of Dunkirk 1940 by George Conger, June 8, 2015 in Anglican Ink