The 76th Anniversary to commemorate the Battle of Britain was held on 3 July 2016 at the National Battle of Britain Memorial, at Capel-le-Ferne, Kent.
It was a well attended ceremony in sunny conditions. Guests included Viscount De L’Isle MBE; Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford KCB CBE ADC RAF, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon GCB CBE; Chairman of the Battle Of Britain Memorial Trust, Battle of Britain pilots W/Cdr Paul Farnes, , S/Ldr Geoff Wellum, relatives of some of ‘The Few’ , local dignitaries, invited guests, representatives of the Polish Airmen’s Association, Polish Airmen’s Memorial Association, Air Training Corp squadrons from around Kent and South-East London and a large number of veteran servicemen and women and well wishers
The ceremony commenced at 13:15 with the Central Band of the RAF leading into the parade area. Numerous Association Standards were carried by representatives of the veteran ex-Service Associations in the South East, the Kent Wing Air Training Corps, and also the Polish Air Force replica standard.
A Colour Party from the Queen’s Colour Squadron of the RAF Regiment, escorted the RAF Silk Ensign was presented to Guest of Honour Air Chief Marshall Sir Andrew Pulford, who took the Royal Salute, at 13:30.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon proceeded to inspect the assembled parade of Standard bearers and Air Training Corp cadets. On returning from the inspection, he gave a short speech welcoming all to the ceremony.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, in what is his last visit to ceremony before retiring as Chief of the Air Staff, gave a speech outlining the endeavours of that the Battle of Britain pilots had accomplished in that summer of 1940. He highlighted how those achievements had been the foundation for RAF service since then and that 2016 was the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Air Training Corp.
A Service of Commemoration followed, conducted by the Venerable Ray Pentland, CB, Hon Chaplain Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and Battle of Britain Fighter Association, Reverend (Sqn Ldr) Matthew Buchan RAuxAF and the Reverend Brian Williams, Priest of St Radigunds, Capel-le-Ferne.
Wreaths were then layed at the Pilots Memorial by Viscount De L’Isle, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, Air Vice-Marshall The Rt Hon Lord Beaverbrook RAuxAF, local dignitaries, representatives of numerous RAF Associations, the Polish Airmen’s Association and the Polish Airmen’s Memorial Committee, Capel-le-Ferne primary school and Defence Attache’s representing Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, New Zealand, Poland, Slovak Republic and the United States.
The eighty-eight Czechoslovak Battle of Britain pilots were remembered by their homeland with wreaths being laid by Col. Jiří Svatos, Czech Defence Attachée, and Col. Milan Gavlas, Slovak Defence Attaché, on behalf of their respective London Embassies.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford took the salute of the march-past as the Standard bearers lead the Air Training Cadets and the Central Band of the RAF from the parade.
Relatives of ‘The Few’ then went to the Christopher-Noxley Memorial Wall where Mr Thomas Walker read his grandfather’s poem ‘Our Wall’. Guests then laid their red, white and blue flower tributes by the Memorial Wall. The floral display was further enhanced with by well-wishers who laid their own flower bouquets.
The Ceremony closed at 15:00 with the return of the Spitfire and Hurricane for a flying display.
The Battle of Britain, where 2,936 RAF pilots – British, from the Commonwealth and those from occupied Europe – fought during the Summer of 1940 to defend Britain against the onslaught of the Luftwaffe . Since the outbreak of WW2, the Luftwaffe had destroyed the Polish Air Force in September 1939 and when Germany invaded Holland, Belgium and France in May 1940 they continued to dominate the skies over Europe.
The Battle of Britain was a critical battle for Britain and was to become a turning point of the war; for the first time the in the war the Luftwaffe was defeated causing Hitler to cancel ‘Operation Sealion’ the planned invasion of Britain. It was Churchill who said on 20th August 1940: ‘The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’
The victory was described by Sir Winston Churchill as Britain’s “finest hour”.
Support a Czechoslovak Battle of Britain pilot
You can sponsor any of the above Czechoslovak pilots, or any other pilots named on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall. More information here.