Abbey marks 81st anniversary of the Battle of Britain

Sunday, 19th September 2021

Abbey marks 81st anniversary of the Battle of Britain

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall attended a Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication on Battle of Britain Sunday at Westminster Abbey.

The Battle, a 112-day battle for control of Britain’s skies between July and October 1940, was the first decisive battle in history fought entirely in the air, and one which proved to be a dramatic turning point in the Second World War.

The service was led by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, who said in his Bidding:

Once again we come together on Battle of Britain Sunday in this House of Kings and House of Prayer to give thanks for the dedication and heroism of members of the Royal Air Force and the allied air forces in that remarkable struggle for air supremacy over Britain in October 1940. Their courage marked a turning point in the war, for without their bravery it is hard to see how the Second World War could have been won.
As we reflect today on their gallantry and fortitude, we remember all who have served and still serve in the Royal Air Force. We honour all who fight in the service of freedom; we express penitence for the suffering and destruction caused by armed conflicts; and we renew our commitment to work for justice, freedom, and decency.

At the start of the service, the Standard of No 3 Squadron of the Royal Air Force was borne through the church and laid on the High Altar.

The service included an Act of Remembrance during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour was borne through the church by Squadron Leader Stephen Worth, escorted by serving Royal Air Force pilots and aircrew including serving descendants of Battle of Britain Airmen. The roll contains the names of 1,497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded during the Battle, including 449 in Fighter Command, 732 in Bomber Command, 268 in Coastal Command, 14 in other RAF commands and 34 in the Fleet Air Arm. Among them are the names of 47 Canadians, 47 New Zealanders, 35 Poles, 24 Australians, 20 Czechoslovaks, 17 South Africans, 6 Belgians and one American, as well as those from the United Kingdom and Colonies.

The Address was given by the Venerable (Air Vice-Marshal) John Ellis, Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force, who spoke of the power of hope: ‘September 1940 saw a continual onslaught of enemy planes in our skies and still, even after weeks of fighting, they were continually met by the pressure and resistance of the Royal Air Force. A Force that was very much carrying the collective hope of a nation that faced losing its freedom particularly in light of unfolding events in Europe. This collective hope was being shouldered by those who served in the air, on the ground, in factories, those who came from across the world to serve and combine their strengths in an effort to fulfil the hope and set us on a path to freedom... As each of us face the challenges of the present and those of the future, I pray that we may find the hope that lies in the promises of Christ.'

Senior Aircraftsman Jessica Williams and Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff, gave readings.

Before pronouncing the Blessing, the Dean led an Act of Rededication ‘to building a world where there is justice and peace for all, and where women, men and children live a life of full human dignity.’

After the service, a Spitfire and a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight took part in a flypast over the Abbey.

Honouring the sacrifice

Westminster Abbey has been central to remembering the sacrifices made by the RAF since the first Battle of Britain Sunday service was held here in 1944. The annual tribute has been paid every year since then, often in the presence of senior members of the Royal Family, to remember the heroism of the young pilots and aircrew, many of them in their teens, who defended Britain’s skies in the summer of 1940.

In 1947, a chapel at the east end of the Abbey was dedicated to all those who lost their lives in the Battle. The chapel was unveiled by George VI and includes a stained glass window, designed by Hugh Easton, with the badges of all the fighter squadrons that took part. The ashes of Lord Dowding, who led Fighter Command during the Battle, are buried in the chapel, and before Sunday’s service a wreath was laid at his memorial.

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