Sermon on the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain
19 September 2010 at 11:00 am
The Venerable Raymond Pentland QHC RAF, Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force
70 years ago our nation stood on the brink of invasion.
‘I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.’ But:
Could there be hope in the midst of uncertainty?
Could there a glimmer of light in the midst of threatened darkness?
Could there be victory against the might of an enemy within bombing range of our nation’s capital and beyond?
Could there be salvation?
This turning point in our nation’s history is the story of victory and of salvation.
It is the story of Cam’s Hurricane, Mitchells spitfire, Dowding’s preparation, Parks 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.
For the young men of Fighter Command, it was bravery that drove them to climb into their aircraft for sortie after sortie, knowing what was waiting.
It is impossible imagine what they felt, what they experienced, however, the few speak of the overwhelming sense of physical and emotional exhaustion during the battle - and yet the kept going.
Geoffrey Wellum in ‘First Light’
‘In most lives, I suppose there comes a time when one has to make a supreme effort that calls for every morsel of more and more endeavour and more than not that effort has to be sustained. With me I am certain that my time came with my 3 years as an operational fighter pilot in our country’s finest hour. I grieve for my lost friends in the Sqn, I had reached the pinnacle of my life before the age of 22.’
They found an inner strength to do what needed to be done despite exhaustion, despite fear. It was an example that would soon be followed by Bomber Command, and is emulated by today’s RAF in Afghanistan.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even when we grow weary the Lord our God will not. ‘The Lord is the everlasting’. Here is the birth of hope, here the light against darkness: here is where strength is renewed, here is the strength to soar on wings as eagles. Here is the promise of God’s provision – available for all.
When we feel we can take no more, give no more, when we are emotionally and physically drained, God provides for our wellbeing. This is where can we find strength for ‘those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will run and not grow weary.’
Through their Sacrifice our freedom was won.
Bravery often results in sacrifice. This is the cost of service. This is the example we have before us.
We remember today the 544 members of Fighter Command who made the ultimate sacrifice and of the many others who died during the Battle. However, many others sacrificed life as they knew it, and suffered and continue to suffer physical, mental, and spiritual pain. This is the cost of our freedom.
The sacrifice we commemorate today is to be seen in the successors of the few, who still step forward to serve in the cause of freedom, who patrol and protect our skies, and operate in places of danger.
Of course we can serve and make sacrifices without any reference to God, however again Isaiah challenges us
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
Here is a God who loves us so much that he became one of us, who put on the uniform of humanity, who lived and taught love and a set of values so radical that he was crucified, but conquered death and lives today. Here is sacrifice.
Through their Bravery and Sacrifice, our Freedom was won.
70 years ago our Freedom was threatened. We may sing ‘Britain never, shall be slaves’. But only because the Victory we celebrate today stopped that possibility in its tracks. Just as for the Christian, without Christmas there is no Easter, without the Battle of Britain, there is no D day; no VE; no VJ day. This is the beginning.
The few were called upon to fight and resist an evil power, which sought to quench the very breath of freedom which enlivens us. There are those who would seek to do the same today.
The threat today may be different, but it is no less real. There is again the threat of darkness, there is again uncertainty in so many different ways.
The response must be just as clear and decisive as it was then.
St Paul declares; ‘stand your ground, stand firm – put on the armour of God.’ It’s advice worth taking!
We are here in this house of God, this place of prayer, because 70 years ago, a generation of young men, supported by the many, took to the skies, and through their bravery and sacrifice won our Freedom. Today for which we salute the Few, and give thanks to God for
BRAVERY, SACRIFICE AND FREEDOM.