Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This hugely significant date had completely passed me by until I stumbled upon a documentary last night featuring actor Ewan McGregor and his RAF pilot brother Colin.
The documentary, which was originally filmed on the 70th anniversary, takes us through the key moments of the Battle of Britain, when ‘the few’ of the RAF faced the might of the Nazi Luftwaffe.
With boyish enthusiasm and a real sense of brotherly love the McGregors fly the historic planes, explore the tactics and technology and discover the significance of the battle.
Most importantly they meet the veterans who fought in the historic battle – sadly and, somewhat poignantly as the closing credits confirm all those that were featured are no longer with us.
What heroes they were, how they changed the world for the better and how lovely it was to see our woke BBC saluting them.
I can’t figure out why I feel so moved these days when I see anything to do with the Second World War.
As a young man the war seemed liked ancient history and yet the Battle of Britain was only 20 years before I was born. Now as an older man used to seeing years slipping away really quickly it seems very recent history.
Fought over the skies of the UK in 1940, this was the first battle in history fought entirely in the air.
Around 1,120 Luftwaffe aircraft were sent to attack London and other cities – but were stopped by 630 RAF fighters, forcing Hitler to postpone his plans to invade Britain.
The airmen became known as “The Few” following a tribute by then prime minister Winston Churchill, who said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Only one member of The Few, John Hemingway, is still alive today, aged 101.
Although today is marked annually as Battle of Britain Day – and sadly commemorations were limited this year due to coronavirus restrictions – the conflict actually took place from July 10 to October 31, 1940.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The Battle of Britain is one of the nation’s greatest and most important victories.
“For more than 100 years the Royal Air Force has defended the UK, and 80 years ago, alongside our allies, they experienced one of their toughest endeavours.
“The strength displayed during the Battle of Britain is a testament to the UK Armed Forces and all they continue to do at home and abroad.
“This anniversary provides an opportunity for us all to honour those involved and reflect on their bravery and the unimaginable sacrifices they made to ensure freedom for future generations.
“I am incredibly proud of our Greatest Generation and all they achieved in that heroic effort 80 years ago.
“Lest we forget.”
I couldn’t agree more.