The World War II evacuation of Dunkirk — the subject of Christopher Nolan’s critically-acclaimed new film — remains a memorable moment in European and world history, largely for the fact that civilians successfully helped rescue members of the British armed forces when they were nearly trapped by Nazi forces in May of 1940. Only 30,000 to 45,000 were expected to be rescued, but more than 300,000 troops were able to get off the beach.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the situation, relatively few photographs of the operation on the beach exist. But there are a few, which help capture the danger of that moment in time.

To mark the film’s release, TIME commissioned freelance photo editor Sanna Dullaway — who has previously worked with photos of women’s suffrage marches, Pearl Harbor and much more — to colorize images of the evacuation.

Sanna Dullaway is a photo editor based in Sweden. See more of her work here.

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at

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