A Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication to mark the 83rd anniversary of the Battle of Britain was held at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 17th September 2023. His Majesty The King was represented at the service by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton.
The Battle of Britain, 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.
About the service
In his Bidding, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, said:
‘We meet in this Abbey church, where our nation so often gathers to remember, to celebrate and to mourn. Here, we give thanks for the dedication and daring of members of the Royal Air Force and allied air forces during the Battle of Britain. Their sure courage halted the advance of a terrible tyranny. They held fast in days of greatest danger. For their resilience and their skill we give thanks, for their pain and loss we grieve. Once again, we commit ourselves to the duty of an honest remembrance.’
At the start of the service the Standard of No. 32 Squadron of the RAF was borne through the Abbey church and laid on the High Altar by the Dean.
The Dean receives the Standard of No. 32 Squadron of the RAF
The Address was given by the Venerable Dr (Air Vice-Marshal) Giles Legood MBE QHC RAF, Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force.
The Chaplain in Chief of the RAF gives the Address
Flight Lieutenant Louise Tagg RAF read Exodus 14: 19–end, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton KCB ADC, Chief of the Air Staff, read Romans 14: 7 - 12.
The service included an Act of Remembrance during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour was borne from the Grave of the Unknown Warrior to the Sacrarium, escorted by serving descendants of Battle of Britain Airmen, serving Royal Air Force Aircrew from former Battle of Britain Squadrons, and a contingent of Royal Air Force Cadets.
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 Battle of Britain Roll of Honour is processed through Westminster Abbey
The prayers were led by the Reverend Robert Latham, Minor Canon and Sacrist.
Before he pronounced the Blessing, the Dean led an Act of Rededication:
‘to building a world where there is justice and peace for all, and where each may live with full human dignity.’
The service was sung by the Choir of Westminster Abbey conducted by Andrew Nethsingha, Organist and Master of the Choristers. The organ was played by Peter Holder, Sub-Organist. The Central Band of the RAF, conducted by Wing Commander Piers Morrell, also played at the service.
Order of Service
Honouring the sacrifice
The 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. Since then, the annual service has recalled 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.
Lady Dowding in the RAF Chapel