It ended seventy-nine years ago today, though they probably didn’t know it was the last day. They expected the bombers back to continue the Battle of Britain.
As they had every day since July 10, 1940, Nazi Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe, had bombed British targets. Unprepared for war, the few fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force, the RAF, had fought against a much superior enemy and held them off.
It might have been the biggest David and Goliath story of the twentieth century. Certainly it was a turning point in world history. If Britain had lost that battle, the Nazis would have invaded England, quite possibly winning.
With the British defeated there would have been no two-front war; the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union might have been successful. The Nazis might have conquered the world.
As time passes though, I wonder if the significance of those old battles fades. The generation that lived through the event is almost gone; their children too are fading. What do their grandchildren remember?
When I was a child, those who fought in the First World War were middle aged. Stories of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele could be heard at the barber shop; they were not yet solely confined to the history books.
That was more than half a century ago. There are no First Word War veterans alive to tell their stories. First-hand recollections of Second World War battles such as Dunkirk or D-Day are the sole preserve of a small group of aging men. Their generation too will soon be no more.
On the banks of the Thames River in downtown London is the Battle of Britain memorial. It is bursting with life.
You see eagerness on the faces of the young men rushing to the planes to head out to battle against an overwhelming force. They know they are outnumbered, but they also know their cause is a righteous one.
For more than three months they would take to the air on a daily basis. The fate of their country was in their hands. They shouldn’t have been able to win – but they did.
You can see that joy in this memorial. Today though, how many people will stop and remember the end of the Battle of Britain?
The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, 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. All our hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day. – British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.