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An RAF Airman's Blog

The Night Before…

Tomorrow is Battle of Britain Day.

I’ve taken a bit of prose and tweaked the words a little. I don’t think it’s stayed in Iambic Pentameter but I think the sentiment of this text created hundreds of years ago for a battle that was even earlier fits that of the battle 70 years ago…so, with my excuses and apologies to William…

It is the night of the 14th September 1940. Air Vice Marshall Keith Park, Air Officer Commanding 11 Group, is visiting his bosses office at RAF Bentley Priory. He walks into Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh ‘Stuffy’ Dowdings office, salutes and presents the intelligence report for the next days operations. It is not good news. It suggests the Germans Luftwaffe will send across several massive waves of fighters and bombers.

PARK
Oh, I wish we had a few more fighters and pilots for the morning.
I fear that the Germans will hit us hard.
There are so many people doing nothing, and so few of our fighter boys.

DOWDING
What’s that, that you are wishing for?
No, my dear Park.
If they are marked to die, there are enough of them
To be a loss to our country. And if they live,
Well, the fewer men, the greater the share of honour.
Goodness me, man! Please! Don’t wish for one more man.
I don’t care for money or fame. I don’t care if people wish bad things on me,
And feed on my bones when I am gone.
I don’t care who wears
my uniform!
All these things don’t figure in my dreams.
But if it is a sin to desire honour,
Well I am the biggest sinner alive.
No, have faith my dear Park,
Don’t wish for another man in our aircraft.
God! I would not lose so great an honour as one more man.
NO! Send out a signal to all my Fighter-Boys,
That he who doesn’t have stomach for the fight tomorrow,
Well he’s stood down on leave. He can go without a problem.
I’ll even pay for his trainfare.
We won’t fight in a man’s company
Who fears his life to die for us.
Tomorrow will be called The Battle of Britain Day
And he that outlives that day, and comes home safe,
Will stand tall, and square his shoulders, when the 15th is mentioned!
He that shall live out tomorrow, and see old age,
Will yearly on the night before that day
Share a beer with his family and friends and say,
‘Tomorrow is Battle of Britain Day.’
And he will strip back his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘THESE wounds I got on Battle of Britain Day.’
Old men forget things: and younger ones don’t learn,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day!
Then our names, familiar in his mind
As household words, Dowding, Park, Leigh-Mallory
Bader, Lane, Lacey and Unwin,
In their pints glasses and their toasts be newly recalled.
This story the good man shall teach to his son;
And Battle of Britain Day shall never go by,
From this tomorrow until the end of the world,
Without all of us being remembered.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he that flies and sheds his blood for me
Shall be my brother, whoever he is.
This day will make a gentleman of him,
And men in Britain now asleep
Shall think themselves cursed because they weren’t there,
Flying in machines of power and beauty
And they’ll hold their manhood cheap, and be ashamed,
When anyone who speaks, that fought on this
Battle of Britain Day.

(Original text from Henry V, Act 4, Scene III, William Shakespear. He could write that, lad…)

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7 thoughts on “The Night Before…

  1. Fantastic post and very poignant. I can’t begin to imagine how they must have felt the night before. The anticipation; the fear and goodness knows what else. But I bet not one of them walked away and got the train. They faced this with such bravery.

  2. Well written, Mr Shakespeare would have been pleased to include it in any of his plays! It expresses the curage f those Few to whom we we s much

  3. LoveMy911 on said:

    Simply brilliant! Made me feel quite emotional. All those brave boys, we have a lot to thank them for.

  4. Ian Massey on said:

    A great play with words & very suitable for the 70th Anniversary of The Battle of Britain. I enjoyed reading, WS certainly did conjure up magnificent prose about the Eve of Battle, the few, the honour, immortality.
    It is right that we will never forget the debt we owe, for the Battle of Britain was a great & glorious Battle, fought magnificently in the name of Freedom for our great Land. Well done the RAF!

    PS The RIP begins soon, can’t be long before you deploy. Good luck & enjoy your tour.

  5. Welshracer on said:

    I wonder how Baldrick in Blackadder 4 would structure a poem about the Battle of Britain?

    “Hear the planes that fly, meeeeeeeooowww, ack ack ack ack
    eee ow said the pilot he cry”

  6. Gareth Clark on said:

    A novel and interesting take on Shakespeare….!

    I’m reading ‘Flying Start’ by Hugh Dundas and he recalls an event 2 years after the battle, hosted by US flyers in London at which Dowding made a speech in which he claimed to be able to speak with all the pilots who had died previously. Apparently the common consensus was that Dowding had ‘gone round the bend’.

    • Dowding was heavily interested in the supernatural and in Humanism towards the end of his life.

      He was treated quite badly actually by Churchill, who probably rightly, thought that he had never really handled the differences that Park and Leigh-Mallory had between them. For a pilot, Dowding was a bit of a techie – and would nowadays probably be thought to be a bit of a geek – he certainly wasn’t comfortable about people – hence his nickname ‘Stuffy’.

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