Listen to eight survivors of the Dunkirk evacuation recount their stories in this audio gallery.
In early May 1940, during the first year of World War Two, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was positioned alongside French forces on the Belgian border. Everyone expected Germany to invade France from the east, but within six weeks Hitler's blitzkrieg ('lightning war') tactics had carried his forces through Holland and Belgium, and the invasion came instead from the north.
Surprised and outflanked, Allied troops fell back to the Channel ports. A makeshift escape plan was hurriedly put into effect by the British. Between 26 May and the night of 3/4 June, approximately 340,000 men were picked up by some 900 ships, many of them small, privately-owned vessels. Demoralised, starving and exhausted, the men waiting on the beaches of Dunkirk endured days of fierce bombardment, while many of the boats that came to their rescue were sunk, with heavy loss of life.
Ten days later the German army marched through Paris, but the evacuation from Dunkirk has since become a byword for triumph in the face of adversity.