Montreal-born hero of Dunkirk honoured at park near his home
Published Thursday, September 21, 2017 2:18PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 21, 2017 7:44PM EDT
The Canadian-born hero of Dunkirk has been honoured with a plaque on the shores of Lac St. Louis.
Commander J. Campbell Clouston personally oversaw the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Dunkirk, France in WWII, but his role in this pivotal operation for Allied troops has largely been unknown outside of the U.K.
On Thursday the federal government honoured Clouston with a ceremony at the Lachine Canal that included the ringing of a ship's bell, a military band, and cannon fire.
His son, Moray, born six months after his father's death, flew in from England for the event, as did one of his grandchildren.
“It clearly affects my emotions but it's something I've lived with all my life. I'm just so pleased to be here and to be experiencing this and it's a great honour to be here,” he said.
Commander Clouston grew up in Pointe Claire and learned to sail and paddle boats in the waters off the coast of Lachine.
In 1918 he joined the Royal Navy during the First World War, and remained in the navy for decades, and ended up playing a pivotal role in the evacuation of hundreds of soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, in 1940.
As part of Operation Dynamo, Commander Clouston was dispatched to the eastern mole, which ended up being the only portion of the port that was not obliterated by German bombers.
For five days, Clouston maintained order in the troops as they evacuated the area, organizing lines and ensuring efficiency.
Clouston personally oversaw the rescue of 200,000 men, going days without sleep.
“It's a huge, complex organization and it's entirely improvised on the fly while under enemy fire,” said Dr. Jeff Noakes, a WWII historian at the Canadian War Museum.
He returned to England after the operation, and--because he grew up in Montreal and spoke French--was returning to France to oversee the evacuation of French and Belgium troops when his ship was attacked and it sank. He died in the English Channel.
His story was the inspiration for the character portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in the film Dunkirk, but there is no mention of Clouston in the movie.
"Personally I can't see why they couldn't have put an acknowledgement at the end of the film of various people including my father who played a pivotal role, or who played an important role, in the evacuation of Dunkirk. That, in my mind, should have been possible," said Moray Clouston.
Clouston's family did contact director Christopher Nolan and the film studio once they realized how their father--albeit unnamed--was portrayed in the movie, but by that point the movie was already in theatres worldwide.
The controversial decision to not identify Clouston ultimately shed light on his crucial role in the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk.’
“This is a great result, that the interest locally has been taken up and that's what's important, really,” said grandson Milo Clouston.