A Day of Prayer That Changed History

A Day of Prayer That Changed History
Intense National Prayer by Britain Saves 338,226 Soldiers at Dunkirk in France during WWII

It was May 24, 1940, and 338,226 British soldiers had been driven to the water’s edge by the mighty German army in the small town of Dunkirk (France). They were waiting for certain death or imprisonment.  It was at that desperate moment that the churches in Britain called for a national day of prayer. With the alarming deterioration of the military situation in France, many decided that it was, indeed, time to pray. On May 23 numerous political leaders, newspaper editors, and King George VI issued a call for a moment of prayer to be held on Sunday, May 26.[1]

No one could have anticipated what was to happen during those three momentous days. Just 24 hours after the call to prayer, Adolf Hitler inexplicably ordered his armies to halt, to the surprise and dismay of even his own generals.Two days later, on May 26, the nation gathered to pray. Church attendance skyrocketed, including a large gathering at Westminster Abbey, during which people pleaded with the Almighty to spare their husbands, sons and fathers at Dunkirk.[2]

Former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wrote this in his diary: “May 26, Blackest day of all…This was the National Day of Prayer.” In reality, it turned out to be one of the most dramatic turning points of the war. At seven o’clock that evening, a critical order was issued to attempt a desperate evacuation of Dunkirk. Every tiny vessel and private craft was sent across the often treacherous waters of the English Channel with orders to rescue as many men as possible before the arrival of the Germans.[3]

Hitler’s armies remained largely in place not only on the 24th, 25th, and 26th, but incredibly, until early June. Hitler still could have ordered an attack by his army infantry. Coincidentally, when Britain’s National Prayer commenced, Hitler became paralyzed from issuing the order to attack. He never made that critical decision for over a week. By that time the soldiers were successfully rescued. To this day, no one knows exactly why. The Fuhrer held victory in the palm of his hand, and yet he prevented his combat troops from finishing the job. The terrain around Dunkirk did not lend itself to a tank invasion. The decision before Hitler was, who will kill the 338,226 soldiers: either the air force or the tanks? A major tank division was less than 15 miles from Dunkirk at the time. Air force Commander Herman Goering persuaded Hitler to carry out the task using aircraft and Hitler agreed. This was a critical decision. If the decision had been made to use the tanks, the men would have been killed the very next day. Tanks are not subject to changing weather. Just before the German air force could commence their mission, thick fog overtook the French coast. Aircraft technology at the time could not fly in fog. The German planes could not fly until the fog lifted. The fog only abated partially until after the British soldiers were successfully rescued. It is also important to note that in fog the seas are flat and calm, making it easy for small boats to cross the English Channel. If the seas were rough, small boats could not have made the journey. Also, the beaches at Dunkirk had a sandy bottom which allowed the small craft to park on the beach while loading the soldiers. If the beach had a rocky bottom the boats could not have come close to the beach. If the seas had been rough, it would have made the rescue very difficult or impossible. God answered the intense prayers of Britain and Britain saved 338,226 soldiers from sure death or imprisonment. Hitler’s armies were halted by the same God who shut the mouths of the lions during Daniel’s night of peril. Just as the Lord heard the prayers of the Israelites so long ago, I believe He was listening when hundreds of thousands of believers in the UK were praying for divine intervention.[4]

On May 29, 47,000 were rescued; on May 30, 53,000; on May 31, 68,000; on June 1, 64,000.[5] The British leaders were jubilant and astounded. A total of 338,226 were successfully evacuated. Prime Minister Winston Churchill went on national radio to plead with all boat owners, even small boat owners, to rescue the soldiers. In fact, there were 6 destroyers and more than two hundred private boats, including small fishing boats and small pleasure craft.

The author of Five Days in London, John Lukacs, wrote this: “[Churchill succeeded] because of his resolutions and – allow me to say this – because of God’s will, of which, like every human being, [Churchill] was but an instrument.  He was surely no saint, he was not a religious man, and he had many faults.  Yet so it happened.”[6]

Time magazine, in its April 7, 1941 issue, in an article titled “Days of Prayers,” stated, “Thank God we were all spared the nightmare of Nazi tyranny. He heard the prayers of His people, not only in Britain, but in other parts of the world, during this time of tribulation. The outcome of the war, I am convinced, hinged at one critical moment on a National Day of Prayer in the Mother Country.”[7]

The same article stated, “Since the beginning of the war, Great Britain has observed two national Days of Prayer.  The first was the dark Sunday, May 26, 1940, Dunkirk, France. . . . The second Day of Prayer was Sunday, May 23, 1941, when Adolf Hitler’s Balkan advance seemed to have the implacable flow of volcanic lava. Four days later came the upset in Yugoslavia. The same week came the British capture of Cheren and Harar, the Italian navel defeat in the Mediterranean. Twice Britain’s prayers had been answered.”[8]

One of the greatest lies of Satan is that prayer is not effective.  Never believe it![9] God rescued 338,226 soldiers because of prayer. “The effective, fervent prayer of the righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

“For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and He attends their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12).

“And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matt. 21:22).

“Call to me, and I will answer you; I will tell you wonderful and marvelous things” (Jeremiah 33:3). 

“If any of you lack wisdom, you should pray to God who will give it to you” (James 1:5). 

“When you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matt. 6:6).

 “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7).

 “I urge that petition, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people” (Tim. 2:1).

“Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray” (James 5:13).

 “Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

“You have armed me with strength for the battle; you have subdued under me those who rose up against me” (Psalm 18:39).

God answers prayer, and this story at Dunkirk is testimony that prayer does, indeed, work.

By Jeff Yeargain

Newport Beach, CA


1-949-645 0150, November, 2008

[1]  James C. Dobson, “A Day of Prayer that Changed History,” Focus on the Family Newsletter, May 2000 (http://www2.focusonthefamily.com/docstudy/newsletters/A000000230.cfm).

[2]  Ibid

[3]  Ibid.

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Ibid. Gorton Carruth. The Encyclopedia of World Facts and Dates. New York: Harper Collins, 1993, 697.

[6]  John Lukacs. Five Days in London. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001,

[7]  “Days of Prayer,” Time magazine, April 7, 1941,

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  Dobson, op.cit.

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