“We give thanks, as we have since 1943”

News Article / September 20, 2019

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Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger

The national Battle of Britain commemorative ceremony was held September 15, 2019 in Ottawa. The commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force was the reviewing officer and keynote speaker. Here are his remarks.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome.

Thank you very much for joining us on this very special day, and thanks again to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum for hosting us once again at this wonderful venue for this Battle of Britain parade.

I want to take just a brief moment to give a quick shout-out to two veterans who have really been instrumental in the success of this event over many, many years. My sincerest thanks to Mr. Desmond Peters and Mr. Matthew Carson. Thanks again for all your support, gentlemen.

And my sincerest thanks to Captain (Navy) Krzysztof Książek, for underlining the enduring friendship between our air forces and our two nations, as embodied by the example of Canadian John Kent and the Polish airmen of 303 Squadron.

More than 100 Canadian fighter pilots flew during the Battle of Britain, and 23 made the supreme sacrifice.

They flew in RAF squadrons such as Number 242 “Canadian” Squadron, as well as the RCAF’s Number 1 Fighter Squadron.

Concurrently, Canadians also served in Bomber and Coastal Commands, protecting Great Britain and taking the fight to the enemy.

Today of course, we also remember the ground crew and support personnel, both airmen and airwomen. They worked tirelessly under horrifically dangerous conditions to operate the radar stations, keep the aircraft flying and the airfields functioning, tracking and directing the pilots, and so much more.

We aren’t sure how many Canadians served on the ground, but their contribution was immense and essential to eventual victory.

In June of this year, one of our Battle of Britain and World War Two heroes, Squadron Leader John Stewart Hart, the last living Canadian Battle of Britain pilot, slipped the surly bonds of earth.

He was an amazing 102 years young.

John joined the Royal Air Force in January 1939, a few months after his best friend, Alec Trueman.

Sadly, his close friend Alec was shot down and killed during the Battle.

Squadron Leader Hart survived the war, commanding two RAF squadrons during his final three years of service and eventually receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exemplary service.

The RCAF has never forgotten his service. In fact, when he turned 100, 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron conducted a Hornet flypast to mark his milestone birthday.

But Squadron Leader Hart was incredibly humble about his role in the Battle of Britain and the war. I’ll quote him from a couple of years ago:

“I just happened to be accepted to the RAF in 1939 and ended up flying Spitfires in the Battle of Britain, and I survived.

“I would like to take this recognition and dedicate it to those who fought and died and to those who survived, that we do not forget them,” he said.

So why DOES it matter that we do not forget people like John Hart and Alec Trueman?

The first Battle of Britain ceremony took place in 1943, when King George the Fifth proclaimed September 26th as Battle of Britain Sunday to commemorate the deeds of Royal Air Force personnel and civil defence workers. King George also directed that it be a ceremony of thanksgiving.

In 1947, the RCAF also issued an order formalizing the ceremony and setting the third Sunday of September as the day of commemoration.

But that was long ago and, for us in Canada, the Battle was far away.

Why do we continue to gather here—79 years later—to honour the aircrew and the groundcrew of the air forces who turned the tide during the Battle of Britain?

What difference does it make to our lives today?

In my opinion, there’s no doubt that our lives might be very different today, if they had not answered the call and fought against oppressive forces. But we also recognize that the heroes of the Battle of Britain and all those who have served—and continue to serve, like those of you on parade today—since the dawn of military aviation inspire us to be better members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, better Canadians, and better human beings.

I am also convinced that the successful fulfilment of our air force mandate today is underpinned by a strong understanding of our history and heritage and the great men and women who came before us. This history and inspiring legacy creates the cultural glue that binds us together, builds our esprit de corps, and guides us forward as we continue to create a legacy for the future.

In addition, understanding, examining, and preserving our history and heritage is of strategic importance. The lessons learned, the examples, enable us in building a better and more effective Air Force.

As a wise man said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

The RCAF of today will not allow this to happen. We are here today to bear witness that we DO remember, we DO learn, and we WILL continue to carry the torch for future generations. And we continue to honour the sacrifices of those “few” to whom “so many owe so much”, as Winston Churchill put it.

They deserve our most sincere gratitude, and respect for the sacrifices they made to ensure our freedom. And we give thanks, as we have since 1943.

And as we will in 2024, when we mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

As we pay tribute to those who served in the Battle of Britain, we also honour ALL veterans—some of whom are with us today—who have served in times of war, in times of conflict and times of peace. You are our true heroes.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you sincerely for attending today’s ceremony and pausing to remember the heroism and sacrifices of our brave predecessors.

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