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Dunkirk (Municipality, Nord, France)

Dunkerque, Duinkirk, Duynkercque, Duunkerke

Last modified: 2022-01-29 by ivan sache
Keywords: dunkirk | dunkerque |
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Flag of Dunkirk - Image by Ivan Sache, 25 February 2001

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Presentation of Dunkirk

The municipality of Dunkirk (in French, Dunkerque; in Dutch, Duinkerke; in local Dutch, Duynkercque or Duunkerke; 89,160 inhabitants in 2014; 4,389ha; municipal website) is located on the North Sea, 10 km south-west of the border with Belgium. Dunkirk is the cultural capital of French Flanders.
The municipality of Dunkirk was increased by the incorporation of several neighbouring former municipalities:
- as boroughs: Malo-les-Bains (separated from Rosendaë in 1881, incorporated to Dunkirk in 1970), Petite-Synthe (incorporated in 1972), and Rosendaël (separated from Teteghem and Coudekerque-Branche in 1856, incorporated to Dunkirk in 1972);
- as associate municipalities: Mardyck (incorporated in 1980), Saint-Pol-sur-Mer (separated from Petite-Synthe in 1877, incorporated in 2010), and Fort-Mardyck (incorporated in 2010).
The borough of Albeck was separated from Dunkerque-Petite-Synthe in 1980 and incorporated to the neighbouring municipality of Grande-Synthe

In the 7th century, a chapel was built by a small fishers' colony located in a small inlet protected by dunes; the place was named the dunes' church, in ancient Dutch duyn kerke. The legend says that the town was fortified by the Viking Allowyn, who was converted to the Christian religion by St. Eligiius, and therefore protected from the assault of the pagan Vikings. The first town wall was indeed built in 960 by Baldwin III the Young, the fourth Count of Flanders. The port, specialized in herring fishing, increased, whereas the hinterland was completely revamped by drainings, organized according to the wateringue system, and a dense network of polder canals, locally known as watergangs.
Surrounded by thick walls, Dunkirk experienced several sieges, for instance by the French in 1558. The wealthy town was highly coveted by the great powers, and Dunkirk was successively ruled by Flanders, Burgundy, Austria, Spain, Britain and France. During the famous Battle of the Dunes, won by Turenne on 25 June 1658, the town changed three times of sovereign: Turenne seized it from the Spaniards but Louis XIV delivered it to England on the evening of the battle.

Dunkirk was eventually purchased from England and incorporated into the Kingdom of France in 1662; the town was personally favoured by King Louis XIV, who needed its corsairs, known since the 14th century. The most famous of them, Jean Bart (1650-1702), nearly ruined the Dutch maritime trade. Serving in the Dutch fleet under Admiral De Ruyter until 1674, Bart joined the Marine Royale in 1679, when the war between France and Holland broke out. He campaigned in the Mediterranean Sea against Spain and later in the Channel against England and Holland. On 18 June 1694, Jean Bart won the battle of Texel, recapturing 80 French ships laden with grain escorted by eight Dutch war vessels; this act probably saved France from famine. On 5 July, the son and the brother-in-law of Jean Bart presented to the king in Versailles the two Dutch ensigns captured from the flagship Prince of Friesland.

Dunkirk, nicknamed "The Heroic Town", was the seat of the Dynamo Operation in May 1940. In nine days, 338,226 allied soldiers were evacuated from the "Dunkirk hell" by the sea.
On 20 May 1940, two German Panzer divisions commanded by Guderian reached Abbeville and the sea, respectively, therefore splitting the allied troops into two parts: one million of French, Belgian and British soldiers were caught in the trap. On 24 May, the German panzers set up six bridgeheads on river Aa and reached the town of Bourbourg. An order by General Von Rundstedt, confirmed by Adolf Hitler, who was only interested in seizing Paris, stopped the breakthrough up to 27 May. The Allies grouped their troops in a 100 x 40 km stripe between Lille and Dunkirk. The French General Weygand proposed to counter-attack but the British War Cabinet, supporting General Gort's plan, ordered the evacuation and set up the Dynamo operation. Commanded by Vice Admiral Ramsay from a cellar of the castle of Dover, the operation lasted from 26 May to 4 June. On 29 May, the stripe was reduced to a thin piece of land between Dunkirk, Bergues, Nieuwpoort and Veurne.
The Royal Navy commissioned 39 destroyers and several auxiliary ships. However, the flatness of the beaches forced the big vessels to moor at a distance from the coast. The famous "Little Ships", that is some 370 ferries, trawlers, tugboats, barges and yachts, shuttled the soldiers to the big vessels. The evacuation was protected by the Royal Air Force but the German bombers, supported by stukas, systematically bombed the town of Dunkirk, the beaches and the big vessels. On 29 May, 400 bombers sunk 250 ships and two modern French torpedo boats, the Jaguar and the Sirocco. Fortunately, the cloudy weather and the smoke caused by the blazes prevented the Luftwaffe to fly except on 27, 29 May and 1 June.
The evacuation was made even more complicated by the limited number of ships compared to the number of men. On 4 June, the Shikari completed the evacuation, some seven hours before the entrance of the German troops into the port of Dunkirk. The Germans could capture "only" 35,000 soldiers, mostly French troops involved in rearguard action. The operation was celebrated in London as a great success, even if Churchill mentioned that wars cannot be won with evacuations. The New York Times wrote (something like): "As long as English is spoken, the name of Dunkirk shall be pronounced with the greatest respect".
[Jean-Pierre Azéma, 1939-1940, l'année terrible. Dunkerque : sortir de la nasse, Le Monde, 27 July 1989; Association of Dunkirk Little Ships website]

The port of Dunkirk (website), totally rebuilt along with the town after the Second World War, is the first port in France for ore and coal imports, fruits traffic, and cargo tonnage other than oil products, and the second port in France after Calais for trade with the United Kingdom. It is made of the Eastern (traditional, behind locks) and Western (tidal, dredged in 1972) Ports. The organization of a Port Authority (incorporated in 1966) traces back to the creation of the Chamber of Commerce of Dunkirk by King Louis XIV in 1700. The first modern basin (bassin du commerce) was dredged in 1848.

Dunkirk has preserved a very vivid carnival. Two centuries ago, there were two main festivals in Dunkirk: the carnival, scheduled for Mardi-Gras and, following the European tradition, with street parades, and the foye, a banquet offerred to the seamen by the shipowners before the leave for the grande pêche in Iceland. The foye was progressively incorporated into the carnival, which has therefore both Flemish and maritime roots. The carnival of the port of Dunkirk was already famous all over France in the early 19th century.
Several of the carnival brotherhoods, called bandes, have kept Flemish names such as the Kakernesches (the younger children), the Snustreraers (the martens) and the Visscherbende (Fishers' brotherhood) and the local Dutch dialect is still used on their songs. The main street parade, led by the masked masquelours and the musicians wearing the traditional fishers' dress, stops in front of the Town Hall and claims 450 kg of kippers. From the balcony, the Mayor throws six (plastic) lobsters down to the crowd. The happy few who can catch one of six threwn lobsters is awarded a real lobster, but most of the winners prefer to keep the plastic trophy. The throwing event is a common feature of several most carnivals in the north of France and Belgium. The parade ends near the statue of Jean Bart where a special dance and song are performed. During the parade, most bandes stop at "chapels", which are indeed houses whose inhabitants offer food and beverages to the. Like in Binche and elsewhere, the intrigueurs and figuemans, dressed so that they cannot be identified, mock the spectators and tell them a few plain truths, one of the main traditional aims of the carnival. The parade then goes to the different boroughs of the town, and fish is also threwn form the balcony of the former town halls: herrings (80 kg) in Petite-Synthe (80 kg) and Saint-Pol-sur-Mer (250 kg) and dried whitings (150 kg) in Rosendaël. It is considered that some 930 kg of fish are released in Dunkirk during the Carnival.

Dunkirk is the place of the cyclist race Les Quatre Jours de Dunkerque (Dunkirk Four Days; website), won for the first time by Louis Deprez in 1955. The list of the winners of the race is quite impressive, including Jacques Anquetil (1958, 1959), Freddy Maertens (1973, 1975, 1976, 1978), Bernard Hinault (1984), Stephen Roche (1990, Johan Musseuw (1995, 1997), Alexandre Vinokourov (1998), and Christophe Moreau (2003). The race is mostly a French (26 wins) and Belgian (23 wins) affair.

Ivan Sache, 2 March 2017

Flag of Dunkirk

The traditional flag of Dunkirk, made of six horizontal stripes, white-blue-white-blue-white-blue, is one of the oldest town's flags in France, shown in ancient flag charts (for instance Danckert's flag chart [ca.1700] [dan05], flag #77, labelled "Vl. van Duynkerken").
The flag is hoisted over the balcony of the Town Hall, along with the French and Flemish flags (photo).

Olivier Touzeau, 2 March 2017

Former corporate flag of Dunkirk


Former corporate flag of Dunkirk - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 26 July 2004

In July 2004, the historical flag of Dunkirk hoisted over the balcony of the Town Hall was replaced by a white flag with the municipal logotype. THe motto "Les grands horizons" means "Great Horizons / Forecasts".
This flag is no longer hoisted ar the Town Hall; moreover, the town changed its logo in 2016.

Olivier Touzeau, 2 March 2017

Historical, unidentified flag of Dunkirk


Historical, unidentified flag of Dunkirk - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 July 2004

Beside the historical, striped flag, Danckert's flag chart [ca 1700] [dan05] shows an other flag for Dunkirk (#79, Franse Vl. van Duinkerk - French flag of Dunkirk), white with a red cross placed in a square canton outlined in black.

Ivan Sache, 18 July 2001

Yacht Club de la Mer du Nord


Burgee of YCMN - Image by Ivan Sache, 13 June 2010

Yacht Club Dunkerquois was founded in Dunkirk soon after the end of the Second World War. Beforehand, the yachtmen from Dunkirk sailed with the Yacht Club du Nord de la France (YCNF) in the neighbouring town of Calais. The two clubs eventually merged under the flag of the YCNF.
In 1958, the Dunkirk section of the YCNF seceded to form the Yacht Club de la Mer du Nord (YCMN; website). In 1963, the club was awarded the national Neptune d'Argent, as the most dynamic and competent yacht club of the year. The YCMN-registered sailing boat Dunkerque, won three times the Tour de France à: la voile (1979, 1980, 1981). In 1983, four members of the YCMN won the World Quarter Ton Cup on the Comte de Flandres.
The match-racer and skipper Bertrand Pacé learned to sail and skip with the YCMN.

The burgee of the YCMN is in proportions 1:2, white with a light blue cross, the colours of Dunkirk, and a black Flemish lion in canton.

Ivan Sache, 25 December 2004

Former Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Dunkirk


Flag of the former CCI Dunkirk - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 29 March 2004

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) of Dunkirk was established in 1700 by King Louis XIV, as the Chamber of Commerce of Dunkirk. It was merged in 2011 with the Chambers of Commerce of Boulogne-sur-Mer and Calais to form the CCI Côte d'Opale.

The flag was made of the logotype of the CCI on a white field, with the hoist and the fly delimited as if the white field was made of ellipse on a blue field. The limit between the white and blue fields are of c. 1/4 of the length at the upper hoist and lower fly, and of c. 1/8 at the upper fly and lower hoist.

Olivier Touzeau, 2 March 2017