Battle of Britain Memorial – Commemorating Britain and Europe

battle_of_britain_memorial

Battle of Britain Day, 15th September, commemorates the most intense day in the aerial battle over Britain in the summer of 1940.  A memorial to pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain has been built at Capel le Ferne near Folkestone in Kent, an area where a great deal of heavy fighting took place in the skies overhead. There is a visitors’ centre, a Spitfire and a Hurricane aircraft, a flag mast which stood at Biggin Hill airfield during the battle, and the memorial itself, which consists of a huge representation of a propeller laid out in the grass, with a statue of a young pilot in the middle looking out to sea. I found walking around the memorial a moving experience. The pilot  looks reflective and peaceful, as though it’s all over now and he can sit back and think about the past. There is also a sense, however, that he is still watching the sky for enemy aircraft. He is in full flight kit, ready to go. If the call came  he would jump up and run to the Spitfire parked outside the visitors’ centre where people are having cups of tea. This is a thoughtful memorial, fittingly reflective, with an immediacy  which suggests the atmosphere of those months in the summer of 1940. The memorial is one of tranquility, and yet there is still a feeling that any moment now…

The overriding impression, however, is the peaceful one.  Some people, I fear, now scan the skies for illusory enemies. It is useful to reiterate following Battle of Britain day, that many of the pilots who flew with the RAF in 1940 were Europeans.  It is shameful that Poles find themselves the victims of attacks since the European referendum, when Polish pilots played a vital role in helping win the battle. There might not have been a Britain to take a vote on European membership if it hadn’t been for Polish, Czech, Belgian and French pilots.  We assume the pilot sitting at Capel le Ferne is British, when actually he could be Polish.  We should remember that.

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