National Day of Prayer at the time of Dunkirk 1940


National Day of Prayer at the time of Dunkirk 1940


John Willans

This extraordinary photograph provides comforting reassurance that even in the most  frightening of  times there is always hope and help available, provided  of course,  it is sought for in the right place and in the right spirit.

When Britain was close to defeat during the 2nd World War, and the entire British Army was trapped at Dunkirk, in desperation George 6th 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.  Millions of people across the British Isles flocked into churches praying for deliverance and this photograph shows the extraordinary scene outside Westminster Abbey as people queued for prayer.  Two events immediately followed. Firstly, a violent storm arose over the Dunkirk region grounding the Luftwaffe which had been killing thousands on the beaches. And then secondly, a great calm descended on the Channel, the like of which hadn’t been seen for a generation, which allowed hundreds of tiny boats to sail across and rescue 335,000 soldiers, rather than the estimated 20-30,000. From then on people referred to what happened as “the miracle of Dunkirk”.  Sunday June 9th was officially appointed as a Day of National Thanksgiving.

National Days of Prayer where held at critical times throughout the War. After each one, God responded with His Blessing and protection. Looking back, the Bishop of Chelmsford Dr H.A. Wilson wrote, “If ever a great nation was on the point of supreme and final disaster, and yet was saved and reinstated it was ourselves…it does not require an exceptionally religious mind to detect in all this the Hand of God.”

But something has gone very wrong with our Country.  Nationally we have been reduced to a position of weakness in an increasingly hostile world, the UK experienced apocalyptic flooding during the winter of 2014, (the worst for 250 years),  has a National Debt of 1.5 Trillion pounds and the increasing demand for Scottish Independence is creating numerous constitutional problems. People are asking “What is happening to our Nation?” “What has gone wrong?”

This photograph starkly shows how the UK has changed since the end of the 2nd World War. It almost seems to be a different country. Sadly, since the end of the War, Britain has largely rejected the moral Laws of God which are clearly stated in Scripture.  In Ps 107 v 34 it warns “a fruitful nation will become impoverished because of the wickedness of its people” and in Proverbs Ch14v34 it adds “Righteousness will exalt a nation, but wickedness will destroy a people”.

Without God’s blessing of protection upon our Nation, we are no longer shielded from evil and disaster. In Deuteronomy Ch 31v17 when referring to an immoral and corrupt nation God said “I will forsake them…and many evils and troubles will befall them so that they will say at that time …‘Have not these disasters come upon us because God is no longer protecting us?’ “. This is precisely the position our Nation finds itself in today.

May we, like the Wartime generation before us, turn to God in a true spirit of repentance and plead for Divine help for our country. In 2nd Chronicles Ch 7v14 God promises, “If people humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land.”  If our country, once again sought God’s help as it did during Wartime, now, just as then, miracles of blessing and protection would begin to happen.

A version of this article first appeared at the Church Society and is reprinted with the permission of the author, a priest of the Church of Ireland.