Irish actor Kenneth Branagh plays the piermaster on the east mole in *Dunkirk. The real piermaster was Cmdr JC Clouson, a Canadian

Irish actor Kenneth Branagh plays the piermaster on the east mole in the hit film*Dunkirk. The real piermaster was Cmdr JC Clouson, a Canadian
Photo Credit: screenshot-Warner Bros. *DUNKIRK"

The Canadian hero of Dunkirk:  some recognition at home

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Parks Canada honours Commander James Campbell Clouston 

The Montreal-born British Royal Navy commander’s family was on hand for the ceremony, including his grandson Milo Clouston, left, his son, Moray Clouston, right, and Moray’s wife, Maggie Clouston.
The Montreal-born British Royal Navy commander’s family was on hand for the ceremony, including his grandson Milo Clouston, left, his son, Moray Clouston, right, and Moray’s wife, Maggie Clouston. © (Jay Turnbull/CBC

It was known as the “miracle of Dunkirk”. Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers were evacuated from the beach at Dunkirk at the outset of World War II.

Had those hundreds of thousands not been rescued, the outcome of the war could well have been very different.

The recent feature film Dunkirk portraying that event has been received with acclaim and has been a major success.

Most of the over 330,000 trapped British and Allied soldiers were rescued from the beach aboard larger ships which could approach the “east mole”, a long stone protective barrier extending into the sea with a wooden jetty extending further.

Clouston organised the soldiers in groups of 50 to prevent congestion and thereby speed up embarkations.
Clouston organised the soldiers in groups of 50 to prevent congestion and thereby speed up embarkations. © Archives de Dunkerque – Centre de la mémoire urbaine d’agglomération

The mole was never intended to dock ships, but served that vital purpose during the evacuation.

While the film has been lauded for keeping relatively closely to the facts, and amazing aerial scenes, one of the important figures was a bit misrepresented.

The east mole at Dunkirk 2009. One can walk to the end of the concrete jetty or mole but the wooden jetty was destroyed by a strom in the 1970’s.
The east mole at Dunkirk 2009. One can walk to the end of the concrete jetty or mole but the wooden jetty was destroyed by a strom in the 1970’s. © Paul Reed-WW2 battlefields- wiki commons

The man who took control on the mole, the piermaster, is portrayed as British and of course speaks with a British accent, but in fact that man was Cmdr J Campbell Clouston of Montreal, a Canadian born and raised officer in the Royal Navy.

Today, Parks Canada unveiled an interpretive panel at the Lachine Canal National Historic Site in Montreal honouring the Canadian.

 The interpretive panel that was unveiled today at the Lachine Canal in Montreal, Cmdr Cloouston’s home town.
The interpretive panel that was unveiled today at the Lachine Canal in Montreal, Cmdr Cloouston’s home town. © Parks Canada

It is part of the Parks Canada Hometown Heroes programme. The effort honours the courage of individuals from all walks of life who made unique contributions to the war effort. Their exploits are told through panels, exhibits and special events across the country.

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