The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall met veterans of the Battle of Britain at a service to remember the decisive Second World War air victory. Ex-servicemen and dignitaries gathered in Westminster Abbey in London to remember the airmen who died defending British skies at a service of thanksgiving and rededication to mark Battle of Britain Sunday.
During the service, the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour was escorted to the Sacrarium by airmen who had fought in the battle, and prayers were said for those currently serving, and those recently killed, in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Royal Air Force Archdeacon Raymond Pentland told the congregation it was important to remember the "few ordinary young people who, when the time came, did extraordinary things". "They stepped forward and did their duty. It‘s often in adversity, against the odds, that our humanity shines through and ordinary people do extraordinary things," he said.
The Archdeacon went on to say it was important to recognise that service and sacrifice were still needed to protect our way of life against those who would destroy it. And we must strive to preserve peace, freedom and justice in the world, he told the congregation. Between July 10 and October 31, 1940, the RAF and the Luftwaffe fought for supremacy over Britain. The RAF pilots were often scrambled to do battle three, four or five times a day. Of the events, Winston Churchill famously declared: "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed - by so many - to so few".
The few were 2,353 young men from the UK and 574 from overseas. 544 lost their lives in the battle. Flight Lieutenant Keith Lawrence DFC, who was just 20 during the battle, said what he remembered most was the waiting "around the airfield, waiting for the phone to ring with the order to scramble whenever there was a raid".
He said: "This is an important day that should be remembered always, I think, because the Battle of Britain was won in the fact that by the middle of October Hitler realised that he could not mount an invasion." He added it was a "privilege" to meet The Prince of Wales and escort the Roll of Honour during the service. Squadron Leader Doug Nicholls DFC, who fought in the Battle of Britain and in Java, Singapore and Burma, said he also remembered the waiting, and the companionship, most clearly.
"Once you were in the air, you were too busy to be bothered," he said.
Asked about his memories of the battle, Flight Lieutenant Owen Burns, who was 24 during the battle, said: "We were all very young, it was a totally different world we were living in." He added: "This is our great day, to remember the deceased."