By Sinclair McKay
When Churchill made one of the most inspiring speeches of the 20th century - 'we will fight them on the beaches' - he was giving thanks for the miracle of deliverance, the harrowing and breathless evacuation of over 338,000 troops from the beaches and harbour at Dunkirk. Churchill was determined it shouldn't be labelled a victory. He was already too late.
Hours later, broadcaster JB Priestley was to call it 'an absurd English epic'. Those days of Dunkirk are still invoked now whenever the nation finds itself in any kind of crisis. But there is a wider story too that involves a very large number of civilians - from nurses to racing enthusiasts, trades union leaders to dance hall managers, novelists to seaside cafe owners.
And even wider yet, a story that starts in September 1939: of young civilian men being trained for a war that was already 25 years out of date; and the increasing suspense - and occasional surrealism - of the Phoney War. The 'absurd epic' of Dunkirk - told here through fresh interviews with veterans, plus unseen letters and archival material - is the story of how an old-fashioned island was brutally forced into the modernity of World War Two.