Service marks 70th anniversary of Battle of Britain

Robert Hall describes the scene as the flypast goes overhead

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Veterans from RAF Fighter Command have attended a ceremony to mark 70 years since the Battle of Britain.

From 10 July 1940, the Luftwaffe began bombing south-east England, but some 3,000 British and Allied airmen fought back to stop a possible invasion.

Winston Churchill said: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

About 5,000 people attended the Battle of Britain memorial service in Kent.

Prince Michael of Kent, who is patron of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, and chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton were among those at the event at Capel-le-Ferne near Dover.

View from the scene

Under a blazing Kent sky, veterans gathered to remember the bravery of those Winston Churchill called "The Few".

A former WWII gun emplacement at Capel-le-Ferne now serves as a memorial to some 3,000 airmen who fought during that period.

Only about 90 remain and about 20 of those, most aged in their 90s, were welcomed by Prince Michael of Kent and the air chief marshal, Sir Stephen Dalton.

Many did not realise the significance their actions had at the time, while others did.

"As far as we were concerned we saved the world," said squadron leader Tony Iveson.

Hundreds encircled Harry Gray's statue of a seated airman as 77 standard bearers and the central band of the RAF presided over a wreath-laying ceremony.

The day was best captured in a poem by Battle of Britain veteran Fl Lt William Walker.

His tribute, captured in stone, reads: "Behind each name a story lies of bravery in summer skies.

"Though many brave unwritten tales were simply told in vapour trails."

In addition to the ceremony, which included the Act of Remembrance and wreath-laying, there were flypasts by a Spitfire and Lancaster bomber and a parade involving veterans and current air cadets.

The Spitfire involved was the oldest airworthy one in the world, and the only one to take part in the Battle of Britain which is still flying.

Malcolm Triggs, of the Memorial Trust, said the annual event was the biggest memorial day yet and 19 veterans had attended, some of whom took part in the parade.

"There's been a complete mixture of people here, young and old, lots of families, aircraft enthusiasts," he said.

"It's particularly important for youngsters to understand the history and to see the veterans here and be able to get an idea of the bravery they showed. This anniversary is a very significant event."

Officially, the conflict took part between 10 July 1940 and 31 October that year, when the Luftwaffe called off bombing raids due to mounting losses and bad weather.

Churchill called the battle Britain's finest hour, and it helped change the course of World War II.

In total, some 544 British and Allied airmen lost their lives during the period.

Only about 100 of the "few" who took part in the battle are thought to survive.

For many in their 80s and 90s, this could be the last major anniversary commemoration they attend.

Group Captain Patrick Tootal on why it is so important that memories of the Battle of Britain are preserved

Group Captain Patrick Tootal, secretary of the Memorial Trust, said: "The Battle of Britain was, for this country, arguably the most important battle of the 20th century.

"We pay tribute each July to the men of RAF Fighter Command - 'the few' - who were at the forefront of preventing a possible German invasion, as well as to the many men and women who supported them and helped to ensure that we all live in freedom today."

The Battle of Britain memorial stands on the white cliffs between Dover and Folkstone.

It includes a wall with the names of those who flew and a statue of a seated airman looking out over the sea towards France surrounded by the badges of the Allied squadrons and other units that took part.

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