Battle of Britain heroes honoured in National Capital Region
By Joanna Calder
Seventy-seven years have passed since the “Few”, as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called them, took to the air over southeast England to thwart a planned Nazi invasion of Great Britain.
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 . . .
On September 17, 2017, members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Veterans, Royal Canadian Air Cadets and the public again gathered to honour the courage and sacrifice of those who served during the Battle of Britain, which took place in the summer and fall of 1940. In the National Capital Region, this year’s commemorative ceremony was held, for the first time, at Vintage Wings of Canada, located at the Gatineau-Ottawa Executive Airport in Gatineau, Quebec.
The solemn ceremony marked the first time that the new Royal Canadian Air Force Command Colour – a special, consecrated flag – was displayed on parade since it and the RCAF’s Queen’s Colour were presented to the Air Force by Governor General David Johnston fewer than three weeks previously.
“The most hotly contested day of fighting took place on September 15th. Two days later, the invasion was postponed and eventually other priorities drew German attention. And that is why we celebrate on the third Sunday in September – on or near the 15th,” explained Lieutenant-General Michael Hood, commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, during the ceremony. “The Battle of Britain was the first Allied military victory of the war, won by the slimmest of margins.”
The national ceremony was marked by several flypasts: a CC-177 Globemaster III flew past as the RCAF’s Honorary Colonel Loreena McKennitt sang “O Canada”, and a Spitfire Mk IX and a Hurricane Mk IV from Vintage Wings of Canada as a piper played “The Flowers of the Forest” (“Piper’s Lament”), which followed the two minutes of silence and the playing of the “Rouse”. Two CF-188 Hornets flew past at the end of the commander’s remarks and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds aerobatic team closed the ceremony by flying past in the “missing man” formation.
The Snowbirds also put on a flying display after the ceremony concluded, and there was an unexpected flypast during the British High Commissioner’s remarks. “I can guarantee that I can’t take credit for that Canada goose flypast,” quipped Lieutenant-General Hood.
Major (retired) Des Peters, who served with the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, read the “Act of Remembrance”, which is a stanza from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen”. Flight Sergeant Jacob Ferguson of 75 Barrhaven Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron responded with the “Commitment to Remember”.
The Act of Remembrance
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.
The Commitment to Remember
They were young, as we are young, They served, giving freely of themselves. To them, we pledge, amid the winds of time, To carry their torch and never forget. We will remember them.
“Nearly 3,000 Allied fighter pilots were awarded the Battle of Britain clasp of which more than 100 were Canadian,” said British High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allergeershecque. “Sadly, fewer than 10 of these brave men remain alive today. Another 200 Canadian pilots fought with RAF [Royal Air Force] Bomber Command and RAF Coastal Command during the period, and approximately 2,000 Canadians served as groundcrew. And let us not forget that one of the most successful squadrons, the Polish 303 Squadron, was commanded by Canadian John Kent of Winnipeg, known as Kentowski by his Polish comrades . . .
“But of course winning a battle takes more than bravery and heroism,” she continued. “With dozens of fighters shot down in desperate aerial combat over southern England, the Battle of Britain would not have been won without the capacity to replace destroyed aircraft. Alongside fresh pilots, Canadian resources and the production of factories slowly turned the tide . . . Led by the Canadian newspaper magnate [Max Aitkin] Lord Beaverbrook, as minister for air, production was so successful that despite losses of more than 100 per cent of its strength, the RAF still ended the Battle stronger than it went into it.”
“Twenty-three [Canadian pilots] made the supreme sacrifice during the Battle and approximately 35 more of those would lose their lives by the time victory was won in 1945. In other words, as the war progressed, more than half of those Battle of Britain pilots never came home,” said Lieutenant-General Hood.
“Today, as we honour the bravery of those who fought in the Battle of Britain, let us also remember all our airmen and airwomen – past and present – who serve Canada and Canadians, at home and around the world, in the cause of freedom and security. And as we do so, let us also always keep the words of our Air Force motto in our hearts: Sic itur ad astra. ‘Such is the pathway to the stars’.”
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