The people who came out to see the Calgary premier of “Dunkirk” Friday night thought they were just going to see a film. As Global News reports, they also saw a bit of real history as 97-year-old veteran Ken Sturdy entered the Westhills Cinemas lobby to watch a movie about the historic battle that he fought in and survived in the fateful summer of 1940.
The new film tells the story of the evacuation of British forces from France when the German Army had driven them to the Atlantic coast with nowhere to go but into the sea. Thousands of private boats along with Royal Navy ships were tasked with evacuating over 300,000 Allied soldiers over a nine-day operation.
Sturdy entered the theatre wearing his Royal Canadian Legion jacket, covered with the battle and service medals he had been awarded. He told Global News that the movie was worth watching.
“I never thought I would see that again. It was just like I was there again,” Sturdy said.
“It didn’t have a lot of dialogue. It didn’t need any of the dialogue because it told the story visually and it was so real.”
For Sturdy, the movie brought him back to that day on the beach outside of the French town of Dunkirk.
“I was in those little boats picking them out of the water,” Sturdy said, who as a Royal Navy sailor helped get the fleeing troops from the beach into the ships and boats.
Sturdy says he remembers the pride of saving so many soldiers who lived to fight and defeat Nazi Germany. But he can also recall the men that did not go home as more than 68,000 perished in the battle or spent the remainder of the war in a German prisoner of war camp.
“I had the privilege of seeing that film tonight and I am saddened by it because of what happened on that beach,” he said, as he described the evacuation scene. “I was 20 when that happened, but watching the movie, I could see my old friends again and a lot of them died later in the war.”
The war continued for Sturdy as he fought in the Battle of the Atlantic on the ships that protected the British lifeline with North America. “I went on convoys after that in the North Atlantic. I had lost so many of my buddies. One of my mates was taken prisoner. He wasn’t killed on the beach. They marched him up to Poland. And he spent five years in a German prisoner camp.”
The Calgary veterans left a profound impression on many movie-goers as he shared words and shook hands with many who thanked Sturdy for his service.
“At the end of the movie I ran down the stairs and he was just wiping his tears away and I was able to shake his hand and give him a proper salute,” an emotional Kelly Kwamsoos told Global News.
“I really hope that the younger generations can understand what it was like and really count their blessings. We’re so lucky,” Kwamsoos said.