When my mother died, I inherited her pictures and other treasures. Yesterday as I was reorganizing some of her things, I took a closer look at the pamphlet The Battle of Britain. Its subtitle is An Air Ministry Account of the Great Days from 8th August -31st October 1940. Inside the front page is a quote from Prime Minister Winston Churchill which includes the famous line, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
The Battle of Britain included four phases, The Beginning, Attack on Inland Aerodromes, London vs. Goring, and finally Luftwaffe in Retreat. My mother’s experience was in the third stage. By this time, she had moved to live with her sister in the greater London area. They didn’t move into shelters during raids, but had been provided with a table-like bit of ‘furniture’ that could be unfolded to hide under. I very much doubt there was much protection.
Overhead, sometimes more than six miles up, the battle raged. It was so far up that ‘only a pattern of white vapour trails leisurely changing form and shape, traced by a number of tiny specks scintillating like diamonds in the splendid sunlight. From very far away there broke out from time to time a chatter against the duller sound of engines. Yet had not that chatter broken out, that remote sound would have changed first to a roar and then a fierce shriek, punctuated by the crash of heavy bombs, as bomber after bomber unloaded its cargo.”
The Battle of Britain was fought in the daytime skies, not by night. Escorted by Messerschmitt fighters, bombers by the hundred approached the English coastline. Defense depended on coastal watchers spotting the high flying groups of attackers. Once seen, squadrons of Spitfires scrambled to meet the hundreds of incoming bombers. Pilots were young and acted without fear. A single British pilot coming upon a German squadron would challenge and attack , no matter how outnumbered.
It was Hitler’s chance to win the war. Only Britain stood to stop the German war machine which had already overrun Poland, France, and countries in between. Goring could taste victory.
Yet, October 31st, the daytime bombing runs were abandoned. 2,375 German aircraft were known to have been destroyed in daylight. The Royal Air Force had prevailed against superior numbers and many attacks. The bombing continued but by night only.
I think the night raids were more frightening for Mum. They did hear the shrieks and the crash of bombs. At night there was no way for the feisty Spitfire squadrons to intercept the bombers.
Dad enlisted in the Army the 15th of September, 1939. He served in North Africa and I believe that’s where he was during the Battle of Britain. Later he fought through Italy France and Belgium. I am not sure of the details or even broad outlines of his service. He didn’t talk about his war years although they had a profound influence on his life. I can’t help but remember how he sent a telegram to Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau during the FLQ crisis. Part of it, as I recall, was a offer to come and fight if necessary. “There are still some of us WW11 veterans around.”
Dad was discharged from the Army on the 14th of September, 1945 in Calgary.
Mum and Dad were married July 11, 1945 and she became one of the estimated 48,000 Canadian war brides. They settled to farm back in Hope Valley, Alberta where Dad was from. I was born April 8, 1947.