This week we celebrate the Battle of Britain with a formal ceremony in Martin Place involving myself and a few others from here at RAAF Base Richmond. Why? Surely after seventy years, for a battle that took place on the other side of the world, there is not much relevant to us? WRONG! The fact is it still has a lot to teach us, but sadly most Australians in the 21st century know very little about it. So here is your crash course to wet your appetite.
The name ‘Battle of Britain’ stems from a famous speech by Prime Minister Winston Churchill who announced to the House of Commons: “The battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin…” (June 18, 1940) and shortly after it did! The battle lasted from 10 July 1940 to 31 October 1940, and is usually celebrated on 15-16 September, to commemorate the turning point in the battle.
Most historians consider this battle a watershed event in air power studies because it was the first battle fought entirely in the air. The aim of the German Luftwaffe was very clear, to gain total air superiority as a prelude to invasion. The British aim was to survive and keep getting up one more time. The statistics are shocking, for both sides, but in this battle of attrition the biggest loser was Germany, and it never really recovered.
There were many who felt that England could never survive such an onslaught, but inspired by leaders such as Winston Churchill they beat the odds, and over time won the war. It was of this battle and particularly fighter command of the RAF that Churchill said:
“Never in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”
(House of Commons, 20 August 1940).
Sometimes it is all too easy to just latch onto one liners like that and think you have the whole story. If you want to know more, take the time to read the context of this and other speeches of Winston Churchill. A recent book called “Speeches that changed the World” (ISBN1 74045 663 7) is a great resource to do just that. To go one step further, have you recognised that you have power to change the future through your words, your vision and passion? Consider, what would it take for you to lay down your life for your country or to call others to do it? Churchill offered only “blood, toil, tears and sweat” and in this short time Wikipedia lists Britain as losing 544 aircrew killed, 422 aircrew wounded and 1,547 aircraft destroyed…
We need to know our history or as someone once said we will be doomed to repeat it.
Chaplain Ian Whitley