Tributes take place to mark 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain
By Mike Bedigan
A variety of tributes and commemorations will take place across the UK to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on Tuesday, despite limitations caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Special exhibitions from the Imperial War Museum, a radar-based lightshow and the addition of several new “unusual” sites to the National Heritage List, will all celebrate the contributions of those involved.
The Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought in the skies over the UK in 1940 and was the first battle in history fought entirely in the air.
Though the battle took place between July and October 1940, September 15 saw the British Royal Air Force (RAF) gain a decisive victory over the Luftwaffe in what was Nazi Germany’s largest daylight attack.
Some 1,120 Luftwaffe aircraft were sent to attack London but were repelled by just 630 RAF fighters and two days later Hitler postponed his plans to invade Britain.
Some 544 RAF aviators and 312 RAF ground personnel lost their lives during the battle and the airmen became known as “The Few” following a tribute by then prime minister Winston Churchill, who said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
Only one member of The Few, John Hemingway, is still alive today, aged 101.
Commemorations are limited this year due to coronavirus restrictions, though alternating Union and RAF Ensign flags will fly on The Mall, at Buckingham Palace, from September 15 to 20, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
The annual Westminster Abbey Battle of Britain service is still due to take place on September 20, though attendance will be significantly reduced.
The MoD, in collaboration with the National Archives and the RAF museum, has also produced a special episode of the On The Record podcast, called Untold Battle of Britain.
The episode focuses on lesser-known figures from the battle, including two pilots who enlisted from overseas, to highlight the wider efforts of those who contributed to the military campaign.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The Battle of Britain is one of the nation’s greatest and most important victories.
“For more than 100 years the Royal Air Force has defended the UK, and 80 years ago, alongside our allies, they experienced one of their toughest endeavours.
“The strength displayed during the Battle of Britain is a testament to the UK Armed Forces and all they continue to do at home and abroad.
“This anniversary provides an opportunity for us all to honour those involved and reflect on their bravery and the unimaginable sacrifices they made to ensure freedom for future generations.
“I am incredibly proud of our Greatest Generation and all they achieved in that heroic effort 80 years ago.
“Lest we forget.”
Elsewhere, an aircraft hangar has been transformed into part of an exhibition at Imperial War Museum Duxford, The Ops Block: Battle of Britain, on the site of a Sector Station which was active during the conflict.
The museum highlights Duxford specific stories through interactive displays, and will even allow visitors to get up close to Second World War aircraft including a German Messerschmitt Bf 109.
But the annual Duxford air show to commemorate the battle has been cancelled this year due to safety concerns.
A special radar tribute highlighting the achievements of women and other “unsung heroes” will form the centre point of celebrations run by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF).
The “emotive” lightshow will take place at two sites, RAF Bawdsey, a former radar station in Suffolk, and RAF Buchan in Scotland.
It will feature archive footage, photography to “bring to life” the stories of those who served on the ground during the Battle of Britain.
“Bringing attention to those men and women, and particularly women, who served during the Battle of Britain is important for us this year,” said Chris Elliot, controller of the fund.
“The women who served at the RAF airfields were doing it under fire, those airfields were being bombed by the Luftwaffe on a daily basis sometimes.
“So they’re not the heroes that we potentially think about, but these are the people we should be recognising as well, especially on this significant anniversary.”
The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) also listed four new heritage sites and upgraded three others in tribute to the generation that fought for the country’s freedom.
The new sites, which will now have special protections due to their historical significance, include a colourful air raid shelter in Surrey, and a cleverly disguised bunker in Northumberland.
UK Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “The Battle of Britain affected every corner of our nation and it is right that, as we mark its 80th anniversary, we protect the sites, memorials and buildings paying tribute to those who fought and those who lost their lives.”