September 20, 2016

Remembering the Battle of Britain

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DND65-110, DND Archives

The famed No. 242 “Canadian” Squadron was a Royal Air Force squadron. From left to right: Pilot Officer Denis Crowley-Milling, Flying Officer Hugh Tamblyn (Canadian), Flight Lieutenant Percival “Stan” Turner (Canadian), Sergeant Joseph Ernest Saville, Pilot Officer Norman Neil Campbell (Canadian), Pilot Officer William Lidstone McKnight (Canadian), Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, the squadron’s commanding officer, Flight Lieutenant George Eric Ball, Pilot Officer Michael Giles Homer and Flying Officer Marvin Kitchener “Ben” Brown (Canadian).

During the summer of 1940, a few hundred fighter pilots stood in the way of Hitler’s massive air attack on England and many Canadians were among them.

They served in the squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes that fought against the Germany air attack.

This was the Battle of Britain – the first decisive clash of the Second World War and the first battle in history to be fought exclusively in the air.

At the time, Canada had a fledgling air force and for some Canadian airmen it was baptism by fire.

The no. 1 Fighter Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), equipped with modern eight-gun fighters, became the first unit to engage enemy planes in battle when it met a formation of German bombers over southern England on August 26, 1940.

It shot down three of them and damaged four others with the loss of one pilot and one plane.  Its next meeting with the enemy was not as fortunate as it was attacked and lost three planes.

By mid-October the squadron had accounted for 31 enemy aircraft destroyed and probably 43 more destroyed or damaged.  It lost 16 Hurricanes and 3 pilots were killed.

Canadians also assisted in the last major daylight attack.  On September 27, 1940 when the 303 Squadron RAF and the 1st Squadron of the RCAF attacked the first wave of enemy bombers.  Seven, of a possibly eight enemy planes were destroyed, and another seven damaged.

For those of us born during peacetime, war seems far removed from our daily lives.

We often take for granted our Canadian values and institutions, our freedom to participate in cultural and political events, and our right to live under a government of our choosing.

The Canadians who went off to war in distant lands went with the knowledge that the values and beliefs enjoyed by Canadians were being threatened.

By remembering their service and their sacrifice, we recognize the tradition of freedom these women and men fought to preserve.

On Sunday the 76th anniversary of the Battle of Britain was commemorated at 15 Wing Moose Jaw.

By remembering, we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served Canada and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they fought hard to achieve.

Let us not forget the tremendous courage of those who fought in the Battle of Britain, those who have served since, and those who continue to serve our country today.

As Winston Churchill said:

“That if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.”

And for those who fought in the Battle of Britain, it can be said it was their finest hour.

Greg Lawrence is the MLA for Moose Jaw Wakamow and serves as Saskatchewan Military Liaison, the Saskatchewan Party government's main contact with the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces in Saskatchewan

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