Today's Letters: Canadian Link with Dunkirk Film

Ottawa Citizen, 1 August 2017

'Dunkirk' has strong Canadian angle

In the film Dunkirk, Kenneth Branagh plays Cmdr. Bolton, Royal Navy, the Pier Master at Dunkirk. With stoic courage and taut discipline he controls the loading of ships at the portís lone jetty ó the only place they could come alongside ó often while under attack from enemy aircraft.

In a July 22 interview with USA Today, director Christopher Nolan explained that Boltonís character was a composite of several officers who performed heroically during the evacuation, but mostly Cmdr. James Campbell Clouston.

Clouston was Canadian. Born in Montreal on Aug. 31, 1900, James Campbell Clouston joined the Royal Navy in the midst of the First World War. The Royal Canadian Navy was a fledgling service at the time, and it was not unusual for young Canadians who wanted to serve at sea to cast their eyes across the Atlantic to the navy regarded the finest in the world.

Clouston did well as he advanced through the service, qualifying as a gunnery specialist, considered the cream of the navy. In 1937, he became captain of the modern destroyer HMS Isis, which was undergoing refit when Dunkirk broke in late May 1940. Clouston immediately volunteered to help, and he was appointed pier master in the beleaguered port. From all accounts he gave extraordinary service, working around the clock under the most demanding circumstances to evacuate as many soldiers as possible.

He stayed until no more could be evacuated but was killed in the English Channel on his way back to England when the vessel he was on was attacked by enemy aircraft.

In July 1940, Clouston was awarded a Mention in Despatches, the highest posthumous award for valour after the Victoria Cross.

As they watch 'Dunkirk', Canadians can give Cmdr. Bolton a nod of respect, knowing he is based on one of their own.

Michael Whitby, senior naval historian, Directorate of History and Heritage, DND

Back to Dunkirk page | Back to Articles Listing | Back to the Compendium