Written by: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS
On August 20, 1940, Sir Winston Churchill, recently named Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, gave a speech to the House of Commons and uttered one of his most well-known statements: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” Churchill was referring to the efforts of air personnel fighting in the air war over the United Kingdom, an air war now known as the Battle of Britain. This week will see ceremonies and events in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
In 1940, Germany began an air offensive on British cities and military installations, attempting to force the Royal Air Force (RAF) from the skies and soften Britain’s defences enough to allow for an invasion. As the Battle of Britain occurred early in the Second World War, the majority of Allied air personnel that took part were British. However, pilots and other aircrew from many Allied nations took part, including a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadron.
Some members of the RCAF also served with the RAF, with a number of Canadians enlisting directly with the RAF in the years preceding the war. Exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, but sources suggest that up to 112 Canadians and one Newfoundlander saw action in the skies over the British Isles during the months-long air battle. Many of those men lost their lives either during the Battle of Britain or in other engagements in the weeks, months and years that followed.
Following the end of the Second World War, there was an effort to commemorate the military personnel that made the ultimate sacrifice. This commemoration took many forms, one of which was to name geographical features and places for war casualties. In Alberta, three geographical features and a railway point were named for pilots that lost their lives in the air force operations around the time of the Battle of Britain.Read more