On an overcast September afternoon, around 100 surviving pilots and ground staff looked on as a memorial dedicated to their efforts 65 years ago was revealed for the first time. The memorial was dedicated to those pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain and was unveiled by the HRH Prince Charles the Prince of Wales. Set against the 21st Century backdrop of the London Eye, the elderly men and women veterans most displaying their military decorations watched as the drapes were pulled off a dramatic sculptured monument that they hope will forever cement their place in history for generations to come. The £1.65m London monument was commissioned by the Battle of Britain Historical Society and funded by public subscription.
The monument was a concept that originated from the thoughts of the founder of the Society Bill Bond some eleven years ago and it is only through his determination, the will to see it through and countless hours of hard work that finally, we can now see before us a monument that will rank as one of the finest in Great Britain. And quite rightly so, because this monument commemorates the 2,936 Battle of Britain aircrew, most of them young and according to Battle of Britain veteran Group Captain Leonard Bartlet who stated "I don't think any of us really understood the importance of the battle at the time."
Images courtesy of: Phillipa Ettore
Squadron Leader John Rogers was visibly moved by thought of friends who died during the Battle of Britain, while the ceremony also gave him the chance to see old friends. Back in 1940 they were all the about the same age and doing the same job and knowing what the consequences were and there was a special bond between us, it was the same with most squadrons, young inexperienced pilots coming in that were turned into men in a matter of months. But for many of these young pilots, their life span was suddenly reduced to just two or three weeks.
But there were also many that died, not because of their inexperience, but because of the intensity of the fighting. At over 300mph a fighter would flash across in front of you and you had only a split second to decide if he was was Spitfire, Hurricane or Messerschmitt. The fighter pilot spent as much time avoiding the enemy as he did in firing his guns at him. Most Battle of Britain pilots will tell you that they have no idea as to how or why they survived the Battle of Britain. It may have been luck, it may have been experience or it may have been providence.
Squadron Leader John Rogers continued "We're gradually dying out - there is a smaller party of us veterans every year, so this memorial is a good idea. Young children should be able to come here on school trips to understand what we did." "I hope this monument will mean something to younger generations, who seem to know practically nothing about the war," said veteran Battle of Britain pilot Group Captain Len Bartlett who said that he praised the Battle of Britain Historical Society and the Monument Committee and hoed that it would be an inspiration to younger people.
But even though the London Monument was dedicated to those pilots of Fighter Command who flew such aircraft as the Spitfire, Hurricane and the Blenheim, the monument also pays tribute to all those other services that were responsible in 'other duties' that were of valuable assistance to the success of the Battle of Britain. Wing Commander "Bob" Doe who flew with 234 and 238 Squadrons summed it up very well in stating that "we are not looking for accolades or to be called heroes, all we ask is that we be remembered for what we done" and that Wing Commander is the motto carried on every page of this website:
The comments that have been received have been nothing but worthy praise from everybody. The unveiling ceremony was moving as well as touching but the comments from those that were there best describes how it was accepted by those that witnessed the event. From our Discussion Forum Chris Brooks wrote:
The monument itself is FANTASTIC and it was nice to be able to wander round it and hear Paul Day speak about it to the media - clearly he "got" what it was all about and was able to channel his thoughts and feelings into his work.
Eleanor Mortimer stated:
The monument is wonderful, words failed me when I saw it up close. It certainly will feature in all manner of things and I would imagine it has become known almost the world over by now!
Gerry Burke also noted some hungry inconsiderate autograph hunters:
What a fantastic day September 18th turned out to be. The Battle of Britain London Monument finally unveiled, and what a Monument!! Shame then that some people saw it as little more than than an opportunity to exploit veterans, to sign their books, prints etc. Approaching them barely minutes after the unveiling with neither thought nor care for their feelings.
And from Peter Pool whose father Fl/Lt Peter Pool flew in the Battle:
To Bill Bond, Ted McManus and his team and Lord Tebbit.
CONGRATULATIONS. We were very proud to be there on Sunday and see my father's name on the wall, a very moving moment.A wonderful time and a very memorable service, as always.
Then to seeing the Monument unveiled by Prince Charles and Camilla and talking to some of 'THE FEW'
Now with the monument that will no doubt become one of the icons of London, maybe the Society can hold a memorial service around it every September 15th or the weekend closest as seems to be the norm these days. It is our monument so let us use it for the purpose it was intended......to remember those that served in the Battle of Britain.
[ VIEW THE OFFICIAL IMAGES OF THE MONUMENT UNVEILING ]
We do well to remember that the privilege of dying for one's country
is not equal to the privilege of living for it.
SIR ARCHIBALD McINDOE