Edinburgh service honours Battle of Britain ‘Few’

HUNDREDS of people who gathered to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain have been told it was a time to “proudly salute” the pilots involved in the victory and those who supported them.

The Duke of Yor and Air Marshal Sir Dusty Miller leave the service. Picture: PA

The Duke of York joined veterans for the service held by the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) charity at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.

The Battle of Britain, fought in the skies over southern England against German aircraft between July and October 1940, lifted the threat of invasion by Hitler and is often described as the most important event in the RAF’s history.

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More than 544 RAF pilots and aircrew died in the critical phase of the Second World War.

Cadets outside the cathedral with a Spitfire display. Picture: Neil Hanna

Surviving pilots from the conflict, the remaining Few as they were named by Winston Churchill, were spontaneously applauded during a service at Westminster Abbey earlier this week.

Speaking at yesterday’s service, the Reverend (Wing Commander) Jonathan Wylie said: “These Few lived life on the edge.

“They laughed, they played practical jokes, they had fun, they often misbehaved and sometimes were caught.

“These were young men with a love of life and a twinkle in their eyes.

“The romance of the ‘Brylcreem boys’ flying their Spitfires over the villages of Britain.

“But these Few lived daily under the shadow of death as they took to the skies in defence of the values that made them who they were.

“Today we celebrate the fact that these, The Few, did extraordinary things.”

He added: “That this battle was won is alone worthy of celebration and today we proudly salute The Few and of course the many who supported them.”

Among the veterans attending was Geoffrey Payne, 91, from Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber who was not flying during the battle but has memories of the era.

He said: “Services like this are very important. People should remember this all the time.

“I was only a lad during the Battle of Britain – just 16 at the time. You only saw the aircraft occasionally, because I lived in Birmingham. But it was a trying time, even at my age.”

RAFA president Air Marshal Sir Dusty Miller said: “The Few, the fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force and those from 16 other countries who joined the battle in our nation’s hour of greatest need, won an historic victory in the Battle of Britain, which ultimately turned the tide of the Second World War.

“Yet, without the steadfast support, selfless courage and sacrifice of countless others, their victory may not have been achieved.”

The service was also attended by Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Scotland’s veterans minister Keith Brown.

The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to take place solely in the air.

It involved servicemen from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia France, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Poland, Rhodesia, South Africa and the US.

Last Sunday, the Prince of Wales joined Battle of Britain pilots and aircrew at Westminster Abbey to mark the 75th anniversary of the conflict.

The prince laid a wreath in front of a packed congregation of 2,200 people who gathered for the annual service to remember the remarkable victory as well as the loss of life.

Seven veterans who flew Hurricane or Spitfire aircraft during the conflict escorted the Battle of Britain roll of honour, bearing the names of those who died during the conflict, to the altar of the abbey.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also attended the service.