During the beginning of World War II, a large British military force on the European continent, as well as English citizens and diplomats, retreated to a French coastal port of Dunkirk.
With it’s back against the English Channel, the British army faced a German army that threatened to drive it into the sea.
To save what he could of his army, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for all available sea vessels, whether large or small, to evacuate the soldiers and civilians from the besieged French beaches and bring them back across the Channel to safety.
An incredible array of ships and boats raced to the rescue – fishing boats and cruise ships alike.
As the flotilla made its way to the beach to pick up the soldiers and then move out again, Nazi aircraft set upon them like vultures while German artillery pummeled them with shells.
Ships were strafed with machine gun fire, and some were blown out of the water altogether.
Three German Messerschimts attacked the defenseless Lancastria, a converted cruise liner whose decks and hold were packed with soldiers.
The ship held a capacity of 2,250, but it was estimated between 4-5,000 soldiers and civilians were packed on the ship to escape to safety.
One bomb dropped directly down the ship’s smokestack, tearing a huge gap in her lower hull.
Nearly 200 men were trapped in the forward hold of the now severely tilting ship.
No one doubted that the liner was going down.
Chaos, smoke, oil, fire, and blood, mixed with terrified cries of the men trapped below, created pandemonium on deck as those hopeful of surviving searched for lifeboats or simply leaped into the water.
Moving through the middle of this living nightmare, a young Navy chaplain quietly worked his way to the edge of the hold and peered in at the darkness below.
Then, knowing he could never get out, he dropped in the hole.
Survivors later told how the only thing that gave them courage to survive until passing ships could rescue them was hearing the strong, brave voices of the men trapped in the hold, singing hymns as the ship finally rolled over and went to the bottom.
Nobody knows for sure how many lost his or her lives that day because nobody knows exactly how many people were on board.
Estimates are that approximately 4500 or 5000 people died. Thankfully around 2500 were rescued.
It is the worst single loss of life in British maritime history and the bloodiest single engagement for UK forces (in terms of lives lost) in the whole of World War 2, claiming more lives than the combined losses on Titanic and Lusitania.
This true story testifies to the courage and compassion of one faithful Christian who gave his life to provide comfort, courage, and hope to the suffering.
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