Battle of Britain: The national events taking place to commemorate 80th anniversary

Victoria Bell
·4-min read
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A variety of tributes and commemorations are taking place across the UK to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. (Getty)

A variety of tributes and commemorations are taking place across the UK to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on 15 September, despite limitations caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Special exhibitions from the Imperial War Museum, a radar-based lightshow and the addition of several new “unusual” sites to the National Heritage List, will all celebrate the contributions of those involved.

The Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought in the skies over the UK in 1940 and was the first battle in history fought entirely in the air.

Though the battle took place between July and October 1940, 15 September saw the Royal Air Force (RAF) gain a decisive victory over the Luftwaffe in what was Nazi Germany’s largest daylight attack.

Some 1,120 Luftwaffe aircraft were sent to attack London but were repelled by just 630 RAF fighters. Two days later, Adolf Hitler postponed his plans to invade Britain.

Sir Winston Churchill with his wife Clementine at Loughton. in June 1945, having declared, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few". (PA)
Sir Winston Churchill with his wife Clementine at Loughton in June 1945, having declared: "Never was so much owed by so many to so few". (PA)

Some 544 RAF aviators and 312 RAF ground personnel lost their lives during the battle and the airmen became known as “The Few” following a tribute by then prime minister Winston Churchill, who said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

Only one member of The Few, John Hemingway, is still alive today, aged 101.

Buckingham Palace, London

Commemorations are limited this year due to coronavirus restrictions, though alternating Union and RAF Ensign flags will fly on The Mall, at Buckingham Palace, from 15-20 September, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

The annual Westminster Abbey Battle of Britain service is still due to take place on 20 September, though attendance will be significantly reduced.

The MoD, in collaboration with the National Archives and the RAF museum, has also produced a special episode of the On The Record podcast, called Untold Battle of Britain.

The episode focuses on lesser-known figures from the battle, including two pilots who enlisted from overseas, to highlight the wider efforts of those who contributed to the military campaign.

Duxford

Elsewhere, an aircraft hangar has been transformed into part of an exhibition at Imperial War Museum Duxford, The Ops Block: Battle of Britain, on the site of a Sector Station which was active during the conflict.

The museum highlights Duxford specific stories through interactive displays, and allows visitors to get up close to Second World War aircraft including a German Messerschmitt Bf 109.

A view inside the ops room during the press preview of The Ops Block: Battle of Britain at IWM Duxford, an exhibition that marks 80 years since the German Luftwaffe began its long series of air attacks, signifying the start of the Battle of Britain.
The ops room at 'The Ops Block: Battle of Britain' at the Imperial War Museum Duxford. (PA)
Embargoed to 0001 Tuesday September 15 File photo dated 18/08/20 of Samantha Archetti, Collections Care Technician, cleaning a Hurricane ahead of the reopening of the Battle of Britain exhibition at IWM Duxford, which marks 80 years since the German Luftwaffe began its air attacks at the start of the Battle of Britain. Issue date: Tuesday September 15, 2020. The battle was a major air campaign fought in the skies over the UK in 1940 and was the first battle in history fought entirely in the air. Though the battle took place between July and October 1940, September 15 saw the British Royal Air Force (RAF) gain a decisive victory over the Luftwaffe in what was Nazi Germany�s largest daylight attack. A variety of tributes and commemorations will take place across the UK to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain despite limitations caused by the coronavirus crisis. See PA story MEMORIAL Battle. Photo credit should read: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Collections care technician Samantha Archetti cleans a Hurricane ahead of the reopening of the Battle of Britain exhibition at IWM Duxford. (PA)
Detail of the map inside the ops room during the press preview of The Ops Block: Battle of Britain at IWM Duxford, an exhibition that marks 80 years since the German Luftwaffe began its long series of air attacks, signifying the start of the Battle of Britain.
Detail of the map inside the ops room during the press preview of The Ops Block: Battle of Britain at IWM Duxford. (PA)

But the annual Duxford air show to commemorate the battle has been cancelled this year due to safety concerns.

A special radar tribute highlighting the achievements of women and other “unsung heroes” forms the centre point of celebrations run by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF).

Suffolk and Scotland

“Emotive” light shows will take place at two sites, RAF Bawdsey, a former radar station in Suffolk, and RAF Buchan in Scotland.

It features archive footage, photography to “bring to life” the stories of those who served on the ground during the Battle of Britain.

“Bringing attention to those men and women, and particularly women, who served during the Battle of Britain is important for us this year,” said Chris Elliot, controller of the fund.

RAF Bawdsey, a former radar station in Suffolk, is one of two sites where an "emotive" lightshow tribute will take place to highlight the achievements of women and other "unsung heroes" during the Battle of Britain. (PA)
RAF Bawdsey, a former radar station in Suffolk, is one of two sites where an "emotive" lightshow tribute will take place to mark the Battle of Britain. (PA)

“The women who served at the RAF airfields were doing it under fire, those airfields were being bombed by the Luftwaffe on a daily basis sometimes.

“So they’re not the heroes that we potentially think about, but these are the people we should be recognising as well, especially on this significant anniversary.”

Surrey and Northumberland

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) also listed four new heritage sites and upgraded three others in tribute to the generation that fought for the country’s freedom.

The new sites, now have special protections due to their historical significance, include a colourful air raid shelter in Surrey, and a cleverly disguised bunker in Northumberland.

Heritage minister Nigel Huddleston said: “The Battle of Britain affected every corner of our nation and it is right that, as we mark its 80th anniversary, we protect the sites, memorials and buildings paying tribute to those who fought and those who lost their lives.”