“Victory rests on their shoulders”

News Article / September 23, 2016

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By Joanna Calder

Flags waved, military aircraft flew across the sky, and speeches were read.

And, amidst the pomp and ceremony of a military parade, the heroes of the Battle of Britain were remembered and, perhaps, a few tears were shed.

The national ceremony marking the 76th anniversary of the pivotal battle, took place Sunday, September 18, 2016, at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

The Battle of Britain was fought in the skies over southeast England and the English Channel from July 10, 1940, to October 31, 1940. More than 100 Canadian pilots and an estimated 300 Canadian groundcrew served side by side with their colleagues in the Royal Air Force to fend off Nazi domination of the air space over Britain and prevent a planned invasion of Great Britain.

Twenty-three of those valiant Canadian pilots didn’t come home during those dark days, and another 35 or so of the Battle of Britain pilots would lose their lives by the war’s end.

“Thus,” said Major-General Al Meinzinger, deputy commander of the RCAF, “about half of the Canadian pilots committed to the Battle never came home. Day after day, night after night, these brave Canadians fought for the freedom we appreciate today. Guided by their courage, they achieved the impossible.

“The Battle of Britain was also won by the valiant groundcrew and support personnel and we must pay tribute to their bravery and dedication. They worked tirelessly to keep the aircraft combat-ready and their efforts – often under enemy fire – were monumental.

“Victory also rests on their shoulders.”

It was the first time in the Second World War that Nazi forces were defeated in combat, marking a turning point in the war. And it was the first time in history that airpower alone won a victory, as well as the first time that the Royal Canadian Air Force had committed a formed RCAF unit to combat: No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron.

“Remember,” said Major-General Meinzinger, “our Air Force was only 16 years old at the time!”

Only one pilot from the Battle of Britain is still living in Canada. Flying Officer (retired) John Stewart Hart, who lives in British Columbia, celebrated his 100th birthday a week before Battle of Britain Sunday. But many veterans, from the Second World War and later, were present at the ceremony to honour the memory of the airmen that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill dubbed “the few”.

“We were young,” said Colonel (retired) Harold “Dutch” Holland, a Second World War veteran who attended the ceremony told CTV News. Dutch served in the RCAF later in the war and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his “skill and courage”.

“We were ready to face anything that came. We took our chances, and lost lots of friends.”

Today’s youth were a strong presence at the Battle of Britain ceremony, with Royal Canadian Air Cadets marching alongside members of the Royal Canadian Air Force to remember those who served.

Squadron Leader (retired) Lloyd Hunt, a veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War, read the familiar words of the “Act of Remembrance” to the personnel on parade and the assembled spectators:

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.

And in response, two of the youngest participants in the ceremony, Flight Corporal Ashtyn Ribble and Sergeant Antoine Guibord, from 632 “Phoenix” Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, read 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
.

“This day should be a celebration and a commemoration,” said Wing Commander Simon Hulme, who represented the British High Commissioner to Canada at the ceremony. “A celebration of the achievements of ‘The Few’ who, in the long summer of 1940, despite overwhelming odds, inflicted the first strategic defeat on the forces of the Nazi Third Reich. And also a commemoration of the tremendous sacrifice they made to secure our future.

“It is often said that Great Britain stood alone during that the summer of 1940 but nothing could be further from the truth. The names of 2,936 airmen from 15 countries are recorded on the Battle of Britain Memorial on the Victorian embankment in London.  

“Indeed it was Number 303 Squadron, a Polish squadron, that scored the most victories during the Battle . . .

“They were young men once,” he continued, “but sadly barely 100 of the Battle of Britain veterans remain alive today.

A highlight for everyone at the ceremony – from children in their parents’ arms to the oldest of the veterans – was the two flypasts.

First came the vintage aircraft, at the conclusion of the playing of the Last Post, the two minutes of silence, the playing of the Reveille (Rouse) and the Piper’s Lament (Flowers of the Forest).

The flight comprised the Avro Lancaster Mk X (one of only two Lancasters flying in the world) from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario, flanked by a FG-1D Corsair and a North American Mustang IV, both from Vintage Wings of Canada in Gatineau, Quebec.

Then, as the ceremony came to a close and the marched off the tarmac, today’s RCAF aircraft soared overhead: a CC-150 Polaris, flanked by two CF-188 Hornets.

“The Battle of Britain was a crucial victory for the allied air forces and in this, the 76th anniversary year, we remain as ever in the debt of ‘The Few’,” said Wing Commander Hulme in his remarks. “I would also like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the men and women I have the honour to serve alongside of each and every day. And also to the veterans present here today for their past service, and to all those who have paid the ultimate price in the service of our two nations.

“Lest we forget.”

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