After the fall of France in June 1940, Adolf Hitler contemplated invading Britain.
Before this could be attempted, the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, had to destroy RAF Fighter Command and thus achieve control of the skies over southern England.
So the Battle of Britain came to be fought – officially between July 10 and October 31 1940 – and the Luftwaffe, and therefore the invasion plan, was thwarted.
The spearhead of the British defence was just under 3000 pilots and other aircrew of Fighter Command, of whom well over 500 died from all causes during the Battle. Their contribution at a turning point in British history was eventually recognised by the “immediate” award of the 1939-45 Star with Battle of Britain Clasp.
In a speech in the House of Commons on August 20 1940, as the Battle raged, Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, referred to the British airmen who by their prowess and devotion were turning the tide of World War.
He went on to declare, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Ever since, those who fought in the Battle have been referred to as “The Few”.
Those who earned that title are quick to stress the contribution to their victory of many other men and women in the RAF, as well as in the Royal Navy and Army and civilians in many capacities.
They often, too, stress the contribution to final victory in 1945 of the man who led them, Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding (1882-1970). It is often argued that without Dowding’s victory in 1940, other Generals would have been denied their triumphs later in the war.
The feeling of respect was mutual. To the normally unemotional Air Chief Marshal Dowding, The Few were, “My Dear Fighter Boys”.