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Prince Charles and Camilla join ‘The Few’ remembering the Battle of Britain

September 21st, 2014

The annual service remembered the bravery shown by the pilots who overcame almost insurmountable odds to claim victory against the German Luftwaffe and 544 RAF pilots and aircrew who died.

British pilots were joined by others from the world, with men from Australia, Belgium, Canada, France and more taking part in the battle which raged from July to October 1940.

Having thwarted the German invasion, the fighters inspired Winston Churchill’s famous claim that “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Those who fought in the battle became known as “The Few”.

Jonathan Chaffey, RAF chaplain-in-chief, told the congregation the battle was a daily routine of “adrenaline and fear,” and “camaraderie and loss” but said it highlighted the strength of the human spirit.

He said: “(There was) the sacrifice of ‘The Few’ but also the industry and determination of the many, a whole force in a great cause.

“The Battle of Britain deserves a special place in our corporate minds.”

After the service Spitfire pilot Ken Wilkinson, 96, who served with inspirational Second World War flying ace Sir Douglas Bader, said of the Battle of Britain: “It was a damn close thing.

“We were lucky that Hitler decided to invade Russia. He knew that he would get beaten here so he sloped off.”

Mr Wilkinson, of Solihull, stood near Prince Charles during the flypast and said later: “My eyesight is not too good but I heard them, and that brings back memories.”

Those who served in the battle did not feel like heroes, he said, adding: “We knew that the war was coming, only someone with half a mind could not have thought that the war was coming.

“I joined the RAF volunteer reserve to get some flying in because I knew it was needed.

“The lady in my life at the time who I thought I was going to marry objected because she thought she would not see me but I thought it was my duty to get the flying hours in.”

As the number of remaining veterans gets ever smaller, Mr Wilkinson hopes there will be a renewed emphasis on teaching youngsters about the Battle of Britain and Second World War.

“There needs to be some method so that the memories are not lost,” he said.

Other RAF veterans watched in wonder yesterday as the last two airworthy Lancaster bombers in the world flew over the reservoir where they trained for the famous Dambusters raid.

The Lancasters passed Derwent Dam in Derbyshire three times in tribute to the Dambusters crews and those killed in World War Two.

They have been united for a series of events in the UK this year with one, Thumper, is based in Lincolnshire, while the other, Vera, has been shipped over from Canada.

Crew members who flew on the Dambusters raid included 29 Canadians, adding to the significance of the flypast.

Retired Sqn Ldr Stuart Reid, who has flown the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Lancaster, said: “It was very much a British and Foreign and Commonwealth attack against the dams, as was much of the bombing campaign fought against Germany during the Second World War.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel another major milestone of the Second World War was being remembered.

In Holland, veterans were joined by schoolchildren who lay wreaths in Oosterbeek War Cemetery to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, in which allied forces were dropped behind German lines near Arnhem and defeated after days of fighting.

The battle, in which thousands of lives were lost, was the inspiration for the film A Bridge Too Far.

Private Steve Morgan who fought in the Battle of Arnhem with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, and was said to be the last man off the bridge, attended the service alongside other veterans including Colonel John Waddy.

World War Two

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