Battle of Britain heroes saluted in service

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The Independent Online

The courage and sacrifice of those who fought off the Nazis to win the Battle of Britain was remembered today.

On the 70th anniversary of the day the first German bombs fell on London, 2,500 people packed into St Paul's Cathedral to remember the Blitz spirit.

The service remembered all those who contributed during the Battle of Britain with former pilots and other military personnel standing alongside firefighters, nurses and ambulance workers from the era.

The Duke of Kent and the Lord Mayor of London, Nick Anstee, were among the dignitaries who joined the remembrance event at the cathedral which survived the Blitz and became a symbol of British defiance.

The Duke took the royal salute outside the cathedral after the service as air cadets and current servicemen and women joined veterans for a parade.

Onlookers packed the streets to watch while office workers crowded by windows to catch a glimpse of the Dakota, Spitfire and Lancaster aircraft which flew overhead.

A Spitfire aircraft also stood at the bottom of the cathedral steps.

The Duke, who holds the rank of Honorary Air Chief Marshal in the RAF, wore military uniform for the event.

It was June 18, 1940 when then prime minister Winston Churchill warned the nation: "The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin."

Four days later France surrendered to Germany and the following month the German air force tried to gain superiority over the RAF with a view to Nazi forces invading Britain.

Hitler was forced to change his plans after the Battle of Britain saw the RAF defeat the Luftwaffe in the skies above London and the south coast.

The Ven (Air Vice Marshal) Ray Pentland, who gave today's sermon, said everyone who played a role in the Battle of Britain, from Bomber Command to those who provided refreshments, was part of the story which changed the course of history.

"Without the Battle of Britain there would have been no D-Day, no Victory in Europe," he said.

"We remember and celebrate those who won for us freedom through their bravery and sacrifice. Their deeds shall never be forgotten."

Padre Pentland said it was all too easy for freedom to be eroded, warning: "There are those who seek to undermine our values, who seek to destroy our way of life.

"We live daily with the evil of terrorism that would seek to take away that hard-won freedom that we celebrate today. It must not be allowed to do so."

Today's Tube strike meant that getting to St Paul's for the service was a struggle for many of those invited and the Dean, the Right Rev Graeme Knowles, started the service by thanking everyone for making the "supreme effort" to attend.

"As we stand in this building, which itself stood as a national icon of defiance and hope amidst conflict and uncertainty, we pray for all those who hold memories of a campaign which protected this island from invasion," he said.

"We give thanks for the bravery and service of the members of the Royal Air Force as well as those who supported them from the land, especially for those who gave of their time to protect the life and heritage of our homes and cities.

"We recall too the cost of the campaign, commending to God those whose lives were taken in service and innocence in the struggle for power and freedom."

Dean Knowles later read the now famous words uttered by Churchill: "The gratitude of every home in our island, in our empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion.

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

An air raid siren then sounded the start of a minute's silence.

The City of London Salute was arranged by the RAF Association in conjunction with the Lord Mayor of London.

The president of the RAF Association, Air Marshal Philip Sturley said this is likely to be the last major anniversary that many veterans will be able to attend, so it was important it was marked.

Mr Anstee, whose father was a wing commander, said the RAF played a huge part in his upbringing, and it was a "great pleasure" to honour and thank all those who took part in the Battle of Britain on behalf of the City of London Corporation.

More than 500 airmen from Great Britain and the 19 overseas nations which fought alongside the RAF died during the Battle of Britain.

September 15 will mark the 70th anniversary of Battle of Britain Day, when the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson was not able to attend today's ceremony but said: "We must never forget the bravery of the men and women who lived through the terrifying and unremitting bombardment which sought to destroy our great cities during the Blitz."

Mr Johnson added: "We owe a huge debt of gratitude and respect to all whose sheer courage and unrelenting determination secured our futures.

"I am pleased to join Londoners and those throughout the country who are commemorating the resilience of those men and women who ensured that we made it through the war."

Last night Mr Johnson opened Under Attack, an exhibition at the London Transport Museum commemorating the efforts to keep London, Coventry and Dresden, in Germany, moving after the cities were heavily bombed during the Second World War.

Mayor of Dresden Helma Orosz also attended the exhibition, which has been created in partnership with the Verkehrsmuseum Dresden.

She is reported to be under pressure to use the visit to repeat German calls for a memorial to Bomber Command to be scrapped because of the thousands of lives lost during the bombings.

She told the Daily Express: "A memorial like the one which is planned in London would not be part of the culture of reconciliation."

She added: "The emotions of the people in Dresden are running high. It is against our culture of remembrance."

Westminster City Council has already granted planning permission for the memorial in London's Green Park and £3 million has been raised, with a further £1.9 million required by the end of October to guarantee work can start immediately.

Jim Dooley, chairman of the Bomber Command Association, said: "The mayor of Dresden is, of course, entitled to her opinion, but the sacrifice of those young men earned the right for freedom in Europe, and the freedom of expression.

"I feel that her trip is somewhat misguided, as the memorial has nothing to do with commemorating bombing cities or the glorification of those events, and everything to do with commemorating the sacrifice of 55,573 individuals of our armed forces engaged in a just cause."

A spokeswoman for Mr Johnson said: "Earlier this year Westminster Council approved proposals for a memorial to be built in Green Park to commemorate the members of Bomber Command who lost their lives during World War Two.

"The mayor was asked by a member of the German press last night of the suitability of the memorial.

"He referred the journalist to Westminster Council, as this is not a mayoral planning issue."

The spokeswoman said Mr Johnson celebrated London Transport Museum's exhibition for bringing London, Coventry and Dresden together.