Battle of Britain Day…
This Wednesday – 15th September – marks the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This date was chosen as it was the day that massive German attacks on London were broken up by dogged and determined defence by the Royal Air Force’s Spitfire and Hurricanes. So much so that the German Luftwaffe received their highest losses in one day (185 enemy aircraft were claimed by the RAF) and thus forced a major tactical rethink by the Germans.
In essence it showed that their plan to defeat the RAF was not going to work. They had already switched to massive bombing of London instead of focussing on the RAF itself, and the losses received on the 15th showed that the RAF was not beaten. It wouldn’t be beaten, and was capable of inflicting major losses against the attackers. It made Goering do a serious re-think, and by the 17th September the potential invasion of Great Britain was cancelled indefinitely.
The Luftwaffe limited itself to fighter-sweeps across southern-England, and to large scale night-time bombing of British cities. The Battle would continue, rumbling away, for another month, and the bombing would last into 1941, but the major part of the Battle was won.
The RAF had beaten off the threat of destruction. And this threat wasn’t just the destruction of itself. The threat was, as Churchill himself stated, against civilisation. It was a threat against the British way of life and, potentially the way of life of freedom loving people all over the world.
Despite revisionist authors, it is still clear that the RAF had to be defeated before there could be any chance of a German victory in the Second World War. Whilst I don’t think that the tide of the war changed in the Battle of Britain – that happened when the Germans unleashed the whirlwind of the Russians by invading in 1941 – it was certainly slowed. If the Nazis had been able to defeat the RAF, the potential to defeat Britain was far greater, and so if we had been knocked out of the war…and they had been able to concentrate totally on the invasion of Russian…if…
But that never happened. The Few of the RAF stood in their way. Britain stood proud and some 2927 young British, Commonwealth and Foreign Volunteers stopped them. Much has been written by far more eloquent people than I to eulogise these Few. And I am without words to be able to match those words. I am in awe. I am beyond words in gratitude to each and every one of those men.
Equally, I am in awe of the Ground-Crews, the engineers, fitters, armourers, drivers, clerks, cooks, plotters, spotters and firemen. These ‘Many’ were the men and women who were the backbone of the RAF. They were the ones who repaired the aircraft, fed the crews, administered them, protected the airfields, drove the fuel trucks, and plotted the battles on the tables in the HQs. All these men and women who, despite being called Airmen and Air Women, stayed firmly on the ground. But without these Many the Few would not be able to have got off the ground. They are often forgotten, but for me, anyone who had any role to do with the defence of Great Britain at that time, becomes part of the Few. Be, they ne’er so vile. They were part of the Few.
I am a great believer in the fact that people are just ordinary. People are the same the world over. They have the same fears, dreams, hopes, desires. They basically want a happy life. They want to get on with things. But the Battle of Britain was an extra-ordinary thing at an extra-ordinary time. And the participants in it were mostly just normal, ordinary, young men. There were a few notably great men, names that trip of the tongue like Dowding, Park and Leigh-Mallory who led Figher Command and the frontline groups, and othes like Glowaki, Lane, Lacey, Unwin, Tuck, and Sinclair, who flew and fought in the air.
But mostly the Battle of Britain was ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things. And it is this that sobers me. Meeting veterans of the battle is sobering. These ordinary young men were changed forever by the events they were caught up in. Tomorrow night ‘First Light’ – the story of Geoffery Wellum is shown on TV and you’ll be able to see just how young mens lives were changed by what they did.
And what extra-ordinary things they did. Flying, fighting. Defending their country. Their way of life. Our way of life. And it makes me proud to be part of something which has that as part of it’s tradition. I wear the same uniform as those fighter-boys. I wear the same badges. I wear the same colour shirts, put on a similar tie. Polish similar shoes. Again, my words fail me for how proud this makes me feel. A deep pride to be part of something that…that big.
So this Wednesday evening I will be commemorating the battle, with a pint of Spitfire beer. I’ll raise a glass to those 2927 who have come to symbolise the battle and participated wearing the same uniform as I, and then I’ll raise another glass to the 544 who lost their lives during the Battle (and then another 791 who survived the Battle, but not the war).
And I’ll do it with pride. I urge you to do the same.
You can help out too. The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF) is organising a ‘Day of Action’ for Wednesday 15th September. You can show your support by visiting this page and having a go at following some of the things to do there http://www.1940chronicle.com/day-of-action/ I’ll be playing my part – but you could add a Twibbon to your Twitter avatar, or even change your photo to one of the RAFBF’s 1940 characters. What else I will be doing on Sept 15th to mark the day? You’ll have to follow me on Twitter and wait til Wednesday to find out…