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A good day in the defence of freedom

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British pilots in Spitfires (pictured) and Hurricanes fought above England to repel Nazi invasion.
Image: Second World War Planes

This is the day in 1940 when the Battle of Britain ended. On October 31st, the desperate and gallant stand of British men and women against Nazi Germany, which had begun in the summer, stopped Hitler's plans to invade Britain.

Below the RAF, in the Channel, the destroyers and battleships of the Royal Navy had formed another line of defence. On the ground, I Canadian Corps stood between the German Army and London. But first the Nazis had to be stopped in the air.

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Wing Commander Christopher Frederick 'Bunny' Currant, one of the RAF's ace fighter pilots. He helped to intercept Nazi attacks in August and was in the heaviest fighting in September 1940. He survived, stayed with the RAF after the war and became the father of three sons and a daughter.

The essential course information of each raid was plotted by WAAFs who received information via a telephone system. The resulting coordination and communication, which allowed pilots to respond to massive Nazi German attacks, was remarkable.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few". They were remembered, but not at first by any memorial.

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Image: Battle of Britain Memorial Trust

The Memorial was created only recently -

The idea for a National Memorial to The Few came from one of their number. Wing Commander Geoffrey Page had been a 20-year-old Hurricane pilot with 56 Squadron in the Battle. On 12 August 1940 Pilot Officer Page was shot down and baled out into the sea with terrible burns.

Geoffrey went on to become a founding member of the Guinea Pig Club for RAF personnel treated at the Queen Victoria Hospital by the team of plastic surgeons led by Archie McIndoe. Determination and courage ensured that Geoffrey returned to operational flying. He was awarded the DFC and bar and at the time he received the DSO in 1944, he was credited with destroying 15 enemy aircraft. A crash late in the war seriously injured him again and he returned to East Grinstead.

His growing belief that The Few must be remembered led Geoffrey to the area of Dover and Folkestone - "Hellfire Corner" in 1940 - over which so much of the fighting had taken place. The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust was established and fund raising began.

The site that was chosen at Capel le Ferne had played its part in both world wars.

On July 9th 1993, Her Majesty the Queen Mother opened the Memorial and Geoffrey’s dream was realised. He died in August 2000, shortly after attending the Memorial Day marking the 60th anniversary of the Battle.

Teenagers fought in the Battle, and so did men in their 20, 30s and 40s. One air gunner was 51.



The countries represented in Fighter Command in 1940 included Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Ireland, Jamaica, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Poland, the Rhodesias, South Africa and the United States. Many were not officers – among the high scoring NCO pilots of the Battle were Sergeant “Ginger” Lacey (501 Squadron), Sergeant Jim Hallowes (43 Squadron) and Flight Sergeant “Grumpy” Unwin (19 Squadron). 



After the Battle it was decided that every Allied airman who took part should be entitled to the “immediate” award of the 1939-45 Star with Battle of Britain clasp. The qualification that was decided on for this award was that a airman must have made one authorised operational flight with a designated unit. There were 71 under the control of Fighter Command between July 10th and October 31st.

We owe each and every one our thanks.

It's a good day for the British Constitution Conference in London, which aims to defend Britain's freedom today. We plan to publish a report.

If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves. -Winston Churchill


Comments (1)

Roger :

Thanks for an excellent post. It might be worth reminding at least a younger generation of readers of Guy Hamilton's brilliant 1969 film 'The Battle of Britain', which is available on DVD and which has Laurence Olivier in what I think is his finest role, as Air Marshal Dowding (also Trevor Howard as Keith Park). It also has the finest air combat scenes I've ever seen.

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