At the start of the week, I asked the Madhouse kids where they would like to go for the first week of the holidays and was rather surprised when they said the war museum. Fair enough ! We trotted off to the Musée du Souvenir which describes what life was like for the soldiers and civilians in Dunkirk during the Second World War and, more specifically, the evacuation of Dunkirk, known as Operation Dynamo. We knew that the town was largely destroyed by the bombs but the 3D models of the ruined town centre really brought it home.
There were lots of exhibits including British and French military equipment that was abandoned on the beaches during the evacuation.
Pierre was surprised to see a female dummy and commented that "women don't go in the wars" - that opened up an interesting discussion about women in the military and also the role of the Resistance, which even the older girls didn't know much about. I couldn't help but think the dummy looked like the girl in Allo Allo though !
After a light-hearted moment, it was back to more serious ponderings. The numbers are mind-blowing - 102,570 French troops were evacuated by British "Little Ships" and 20,525 French vessels. In total, 338,226 men (including 123,000 French soldiers) were evacuated and snatched away from certain death.
The black and white photos are chilling. There are so many people, patiently waiting and desperately hoping against all odds to be saved.
It's strange to think that these are the very beaches where we now go to make sandcastles and eat ice cream.
Seeing a display of cap badges made it all seem more real to Sophie, who remembers her great grandad (my grandad) proudly putting his cap badges on the walls.
The first mobile phones?!
I couldn't help but laugh when the Madhouse kids asked if the soldiers listened to music to drown out the noise of the bombs !
It was nice to see the heroes' welcome that the soldiers got on their return to England, before heading back off to fight in France again.
They were all very intrigued by the mine - they had no idea what it was and were horrified when I explained it to them.
I was intrigued to learn that there are still wrecks of sunken ships around Dunkirk just waiting to be explored by divers.
The rather gloomy setting in Bastion 32, the headquarters for the French and Allied forces during the Battle of Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo, is perfect for setting the scene.
I could really imagine sheltering here during an air raid, hearing the noises of the bombers going overhead.
We've visited and discussed the bunkers on the beach before but the kids found it fascinating to learn of the important role that Dunkirk played in the war and of the horrors that went on here.
As an adult, I was shocked to see just how young some of the soldiers in the photos looked. This one on the left looks like some of the kids I teach at school.
The whole museum is trilingual, with displays in French, English and Flemish. You can find out more about the Musée du Souvenir here if you fancy a visit some time.
Other blogposts you may be interested in :