80th Anniversary at Westminster Abbey marks 83rd Royal Air Force anniversary of the Battle of Britain

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Serving military personnel, veterans and their families gather at Westminster Abbey for the Battle of Britain Memorial Service, 17 September 2023. Photographer: Corporal Iain Curlett RAF - UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023. MOD News Licence.

The annual Battle of Britain service was held at Westminster Abbey on Sunday to commemorate the 83rd anniversary of this crucial battle in World War II.

The Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication included a reading from Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton ahead of the Service, he said:

“As we come together to remember and give thanks, we pay tribute to the brave men and women who served in the Battle of Britain. Their courage and legacy continue to shape today’s Royal Air Force. Their sacrifice and achievements remind us that standing together and staying resolute are key as we protect the United Kingdom.”

The Battle of Britain took place between 10th July to 31st October 1940 and was the first decisive battle in history fought entirely in the air. 544 fighter command aircrew were killed during the Battle of Britain and 312 RAF personnel were killed on the ground, as RAF stations were often targets for Luftwaffe bombing.

On 15th September 1940 the Luftwaffe launched a massive assault in the skies over Britain. It was a day of heavy fighting, and the Luftwaffe suffered significant casualties. It was a decisive defeat for the Luftwaffe, and since then this date has been commemorated as ‘Battle of Britain Day’ – a dramatic turning point in both the battle itself, and the history of the Second World War.

This years’ service is the 80th to take place at Westminster Abbey. The commemoration has been held at the Abbey annually since 1944. The first Battle of Britain Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving was held on Sunday 26th September 1943 at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“As the nation remembers those who lost their lives during the Battle of Britain 83 years ago, I pay tribute to the gallant Royal Air Force and all military personnel who sacrificed so much in defence of our nation. 

“Their dedication and bravery continues to inspire our Armed Forces, who work to safeguard our nation and livelihoods. Today is once again a reminder that freedom isn’t free.”

During the service, the No 32 Squadron Standard was borne through the church, presented, and laid upon the High Altar by Flight Lieutenant Giles Edwards accompanied by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton read Romans 14:7-2 and during the Act of Remembrance, the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour, which has the names of 1,497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded in the Battle, was borne through the church, escorted by former Battle of Britain Squadron personnel and a contingent of RAF Cadets.

The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, The Dean of Westminster led the service and the Act of Rededication. The Call of the Royal Air Force, the Last Post and Reveille closed the service.

After the service, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performed a fly-past of one Spitfire and one Hurricane over the Abbey.

The Central Band of the RAF provided musical support to the service. Incidental music before the service included Ad Astra by Hingley, Per Ardua Ad Astra by Mealor, arr Read and The Lord’s Prayer by Malotte, arr Morrell. 

During the Service, the Band joined the organ in leading the hymns and Corporal Ben Murray sounded the Last Post and Reveille as part of the Act of Remembrance from high up in the organ loft. Following the Service, as the guests retired, the Band played Days of Glory by Harvey arr Hingley followed by Walton’s Spitfire Prelude. This was the final musical engagement of Principal Director of Music (RAF) Wing Commander Piers Morrell OBE MVO who will be retiring after more than 25 years of Service.

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