RAF’s Chaplain in Chief, compares key workers in the pandemic to wartime victors, saying both were “quiet, often humble, unnoticed by many”
The heroic airmen who helped defend the country and prevent a Nazi invasion in the 1940 Battle of Britain will forever be remembered as ‘The Few’.
So it was perhaps fitting to have the 80th anniversary of their feat commemorated at Westminster Abbey on Sunday marked by just a handful of determined visitors who waited outside unable to get a ticket.
He came to pay his respects to the friends he made during his National Service after the war, when he was posted to RAF Maintenance Unit 103.
He drew a faded brown envelope of pictures from his jacket pocket and flicked through them, finding a photo of a small brick block of flats in South London.
A bomb fell on the building on September 15, 1940, or Battle of Britain Day, when the RAF finally called a victory over the Luftwaffe after two months of fighting.
“I remember being rescued on the shoulders of the fireman”, said Mr Smith, who was four at the time.
His mother, father and brother escaped from the ruins of their flat through a first floor window.
However, they were still not safe – in 1944, the windows of their new home were blasted out by a ‘doodlebug’, or a Nazi V-1 flying bomb.
Mr Smith has attended the service for the past few years with a group from the RAF Association, which he joined during his National Service after the war.
He is hoping that coronavirus restrictions will be lifted enough by November that they will be able to commemorate Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph, as they usually do.
Fewer than 100 people went to this year’s Battle of Britain remembrance service, compared with 2,000 who come in a normal year.
Inside, they sat on individual chairs spaced two metres apart, and face coverings were compulsory – save for those at the pulpit.
Among the select guests was the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who removed a black face covering to deliver a reading from the Epistle to the Philippians, which calls for unity and humility before a greater cause.
Although somewhat subdued, this was the first event of its kind at Westminster Abbey since the Commonwealth Day service on March 9, which was also the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s final engagement as working members of the Royal family.
Inside, John Ellis, the RAF’s Chaplain in Chief, drew parallels between the Battle of Britain and the country in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just like The Few who won in 1940, he said that key workers today are making “sacrifices” which are “often quiet, often humble, unnoticed by many”.
The pandemic was not enough to keep away Claire Aston, 77, who has been coming to the service every year for the past two decades.
She said it was a great shame that the 80th anniversary had to be marked in such a low-key way.
With the lack of a ticket, she made her own commemoration this year, paying a visit to the Battle of Britain Memorial in Embankment on September 15, which was 80 years to the day since Battle of Britain Day.
Ms Aston was born in London during the war. She says her parents told her stories of the windows of her housde smashing during the bombing.
“I was in the Victoria and Albert museum yesterday and I saw where the bombs fell on it”, she said.
Music pooled out onto the street, and guests stood around in small groups, clutching their orders of service, but not shaking hands.
Dozens of people sat on a wall facing the cathedral, enjoying the unusually warm September sun.
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News – Determined few pay tribute as soul-stirring flypast marks 80th anniversary of Battle of Britain