Comrades, we have recently observed just a small number of the major Canadian Military milestones of World War with services of Remembrance at our Cenotaph in April, May, and June. We will do so again in August and September on dates to be finalised.
Depending on any arrangements for the August Peacekeepers’ Ceremony in Calgary, we may gather at the Cenotaph on Sunday, August 16th and again on Sunday, September 15th for our remaining Ceremonies before November 11th.
This week marks the 80th Anniversary of the onset of Battle of Britain which involved more than 2900 Allied Fighter Pilots. Over a hundred of them were Canadian, some of whom flew with RAF Squadrons while others were posted to multi-national squadrons and a few manned singular Canadian Squadrons. Of those Canadians who fought in this four-month long battle, 23 were killed. Many more would die as the war progressed.
Following the evacuation from France in June 1940, July 10th is recognised as the start of the battle and September 15th is the day on which we commemorate Battle of Britain Day. It lasted much longer than that – in fact until the end of October 1940.There were raids much later of course through 1944. They were smaller and aimed at targets such as Coventry and the industrial North where I was living. Following D-Day, the V1 and V2 rockets were the scourge of the South.
September 15th then would seem a strange date on which to Remember. It comes about because it was the day on which the Luftwaffe sent more sorties over England than ever before or again in two massive and separate raids. It is the day on which Churchill happened to be at Fighter Command HQ to hear from Dowding that there was not one plane remaining in reserve.
Failing to obtain the Air Superiority that Goering had promised as a result of targeting airfields alone, and following the RAF Raid on Berlin, Hitler had ordered the change which saw the fight taken to London and other centres of British population such as Exeter and Bristol in what was known as “The Blitz.” The change allowed the RAF to expand beyond what was possible while the targets were the RAF Airfields.
At the outset, the Luftwaffe had outnumbered the RAF by more than 2 to 1 in planes and by a greater margin in pilots: German pilots too were highly trained and experienced. By contrast, defenders were often in combat with less then 20 hours training on the aeroplane in which they were fighting. Life expectancy was short. Figures would suggest though that by October 29th., German casualties and losses were much higher than those of the defenders.
So, we have Churchill’s famous, and oft misquoted words: “Never in the Field of Human Conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” (As illustrated in the foreshortened version shown on the WWII Recruitment poster published a short time later which forms the background image for this post)
On a personal note, the College Chapel and dorm in which I lived at Exeter following my RAF service had been destroyed by German Bombs and only restored shortly before I arrived there.