The Battle of Britain (3)

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There is no better person to tell the story of the Battle of Britain that the greatest ever Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill:

“The Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science” :

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“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

He produced a second speech which gave us another memorable phrase:

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.”

We actually know exactly how that phrase “Never in the field….” came about.

On August 20th 1940 Churchill was travelling in a car with Major General Hastings Ismay to give a speech about the Battle of Britain in the House of Commons. Churchill was reading the speech out aloud to Ismay and it was originally “Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few”. Ismay interrupted him and said “What about Jesus and his disciples?” Churchill concurred and immediately changed it to its present form “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”.


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Politics

27 responses to “The Battle of Britain (3)

  1. This must never be forgotten

  2. That battle will be studied for centuries to come!

    • It wouldn’t surprise me if it were. Just for the benefit of future generations, the fact that the Luftwaffe stopped attacking the RAF and changed to attacking London instead is what cost them what may well have turned out to have been a relatively easy victory, as we gradually ran out of trained pilots, fighter aircraft and runways without bomb craters in them.

  3. Do you think he had any help with writing those speeches?

  4. I couldn’t agree more with Derrick!

    • Absolutely. It is not difficult to recognise the real villains when they arise and all decent thinking people immediately know that something must be done about, for example, men who cause explosions at pop concerts attended by hordes of 10 year old girls, as happened in Manchester, England, recently.
      What would be a better option though, would be to have a world fair enough for everybody, where the seeds of crazy hatred always fail to find enough soil to germinate.

      • I’m so focused in my own life to live Peace and to emulate that in my life, that it is so difficult for me to know how violent a world this really is, John.

  5. It was, indeed, the finest hour of the British people.

    • Well, I’m just thinking now of any better farewell performances we have had, and really, I can’t. That was as good as it got for the British Empire. We shouldn’t forget though, the long list of other nationalities who were there, such as Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and a lot of Czechs, Poles and even some Americans who were a neutral country at the time. I bet too, that somewhere out there, there was somebody from British Guiana doing his or her bit!

  6. Fascinating as always John. Churchill was in my eyes, one of the greatest leaders we’ve ever had. A politician with a backbone and the ability to rouse a nation. If only we had more!

    • He has his detractors, of course, but I’m happy enough to take my Dad’s word for it that if it hadn’t been for him, we would have gone under, helped out by a good number of pro-Hitler fascists in our upper classes and politicians who could not recognise that the moment had come to stop giving way, to find some sand, draw a line in it and then shoot the first German to step over it.
      I still think that without Churchill, we would have accepted Hitler’s offer of peace talks after Dunkirk, and his plan of “Germany will take Europe and Russia, and you can carry on with your colonies across the world”.

      • Most definitely John. Agreement would have looked more capitulation and given Hitler a free reign across the continent. Who knows where else it would have gone and how safe would we have been, Hitler was not known for keeping his word!

  7. I never knew about that re-write. Great post John.

    • Thank you, Lloyd. It’s always difficult to know when to stop changing what you have written and I think that Churchill, or rather Major General Ismay, got it absolutely right!

  8. Chris Waller

    Churchill is a contentious figure and was certainly not admired by the miners of Tonypandy. That said, had it been left to the chinless wonder Lord Halifax, we would have capitulated. At the time of the Battle of Britain the threat of defeat hung over us like the sword of Damocles. Whatever his other faults – and they were many – at least Churchill had the backbone to lead Britain through its darkest period since the Spanish Armada. As Lord Acton said, “Great men are almost always bad men.”

  9. It’s strange how in one way Hitler and Churchill had similar visions for themselves. Hitler believed he was the “Pied Piper” figure who would lead a shattered Germany to its rightful place as the top nation. Churchill believed that one day he would save his nation and that Destiny was protecting him for this purpose. I watched a TV series recently based on the memoirs of his personal bodyguard, Walter H Thompson and it was quite obvious that he believed he was impervious to hostile gunfire whether the IRA in Hyde Park or the Egyptians in Cairo.

  10. Great post John. And especially the extra bits added by all the comments. A truly heroic victory brings out the great writers.

    • Thank you very much! I prefer the shorter post which provokes comments rather than the 1,000 word posts which nobody reads because they are using a mobile phone or because the bus journey only lasts 20 minutes. And with reader comments I can reply to somebody’s specific questions rather than leave them thinking “I wonder why…..

  11. Sweet shots of the Mk 1 Spit, and the Hawker Hurricane.

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