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The scene of a remarkable, though ignominious, retreat by the British army in World War II. Dunkirk, a town on the northern coast of France, was the last refuge of the British during the fall of France, and several hundred naval and civilian vessels took the troops back to England in shifts over three days.
Note: The term Dunkirk is sometimes used to signify a desperate retreat.
town, seaport, in the Nord departement, Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, northern France. It lies along the Strait of Dover between Calais and the Belgian frontier, 49 miles (79 km) northwest of Lille by road. First mentioned in 1067 as Dunkerk (Flemish: "Church of the Dunes"), the town was besieged and sacked six times during the Middle Ages and was in the centre of conflicts between France, Spain, England, and Holland in the 16th and 17th centuries before it was finally recovered by France in 1662. Louis XIV had important fortifications built there to make it a safe base for Jean Bart and other famous French corsairs who pillaged foreign ships. Forced to demolish the fortifications by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, France was not allowed to rebuild them until the late 18th century.