Senior royal figures, politicians and civic dignitaries joined Battle of Britain veterans and hundreds of worshippers at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 19 September to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Following the service, a parade of over 300 serving RAF personnel and a flypast by a Spitfire, Hurricane and four Tornado jets brought the event to a close.
Members of the Royal Air Force Queen’s Colour Squadron formed the lining party as newly-qualified RAF Search and Rescue pilot Prince William joined his father and the Duchess of Cornwall for the service of thanksgiving and rededication along with Prime Minister David Cameron, Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton.
In a moving and poignant ceremony the Fighter Command silk ensign was paraded for the last time before being laid in the Royal Air Force Memorial Chapel.
Air Chief Marshal Dalton said:
The Battle of Britain continues to inspire the Royal Air Force - not least those who are deployed on operations today in Afghanistan and the South Atlantic.
Whilst the current threats Britain faces are very different, the air power that the Royal Air Force delivers today continues to provide the security of our skies and the critical and precise support of our soldiers and marines on the ground. Just as in 1940, the spirit, courage and determination of our airmen and women sustains our success on operations.
The service, led by The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster Abbey, included an Act of Remembrance during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour was borne from the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in the Chapel of St George and escorted to the Sacrarium.
The Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force, The Venerable (Air Vice-Marshal) Ray Pentland, delivered the sermon:
70 years ago our nation stood on the brink of invasion. Churchill declared: ‘I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.’
This turning point in our nation’s history is the story of victory and of salvation. It is the story of Cam’s Hurricane, Mitchell’s Spitfire, Dowding’s preparation, Park’s strategy and Churchill’s leadership. It is the story of the thousands who plotted and planned, who engineered and served, who loved and lost, who fought and won. It is the story of victory against all odds. It is the story of the few and the debt we owe.
Could they have dreamt that it would really become our finest hour? Could they have imagined that the work of their hands would become the salvation of our nation? Through their bravery our freedom was won.
Following the service, over 300 personnel marched through the streets of London as His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales took the salute and a Spitfire, Hurricane and four Tornado GR4s from 31 Squadron, RAF Marham, in Norfolk, flew overhead.
Hazel Gregory, aged 89, a war room plotter in the Uxbridge operations room during the Battle of Britain, said her most memorable experience during her time in service was 15 September when the battle was at its height and was the main turning point during the war.
We came on duty and it was fairly quiet but the plotters covering France, Belgium and Holland were seeing big numbers formating up and they started coming over. Then it went completely mad for a couple of hours. Towards lunchtime, they were either all home or shot down and then there was a second raid in the afternoon.
The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely in the skies. When the battle was over, 544 RAF pilots and aircrew were dead.
The conflict brought together a truly multinational force comprising 574 British personnel, 139 Poles, 98 New Zealanders, 86 Canadians, 84 Czechoslovakians, 29 Belgians, 21 Australians, 20 South Africans, 13 French, 10 Irish, plus others from the USA, Jamaica, Palestine and Southern Rhodesia.
Over 23,000 civilians were killed and 1,700 enemy aircraft were destroyed in the Battle of Britain from 10 July to 31 October 1940 but the victory provided a strong morale boost for the allied forces.
In addition to frustrating the immediate threat of a German invasion, the battle represented the first strategic defeat of the Nazi war machine - until then regarded by many as an unstoppable force.