Tonight I doff my imaginary cap to one David Cameron. No, I haven’t been drinking (yet) and I am as sound in mind, if not body, as I have been for some time, but as I spend plenty of time criticising our prime minister, it’s only right that I praise him when praise is due.
Today, a flypast involving about 40 Spitfires and Hurricanes took place at Goodwood Aerodrome to commemorate the 75th anniversary of World War Two’s Battle of Britain. I had no idea that many of these wonderful little planes had survived but the pictures on my television screen this afternoon was astonishing.
There are some astonishing statistics that make the mind truly boggle. The RAF lost 1,023 planes and the Luftwaffe lost 1,887 planes in the battle, the average pilot was aged 20 and 20% (574) of the pilots were from the British Dominions, and occupied European or neutral countries. The latter fact is often forgotten, not maliciously, but when you hear the term Battle of Britain it is easy to think Britain v Germany. Today, David Cameron did not forget.
Cameron said the ceremony had been “very moving” and added that it was a “particular honour” to welcome the Polish president Polish President Andrzej Duda to the flypast. He added: “The battle that really was not just one of most vital moments in the history of Britain, but in the history of Europe and the world, in which Polish pilots played such an absolutely vital role in saving Europe from tyranny, from Nazis and from Hitler.” He was right to say so because Poland provided the second largest number of pilots who flew in the Battle itself.
And not only Cameron, but Prince Harry did something rather good too. He was due to fly in one of the Spitfires but one of four two-seater Spitfires due to take part became unserviceable. Prince Harry promptly pulled out to allow others to fly instead. He knew it wasn’t about him. Fair play that man.
The Battle of Britain was a pivotal moment of World War Two when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. The RAF stood up to the Luftwaffe and it is because of the heroism and brilliance of these pilots that we are here at all. How different things would have been.
As ever, Britain carried off the commemoration impeccably. It was not celebratory, it was measured, and deeply, deeply affecting.
Sometimes we take for granted the work of our armed services. Occasions like today remind us that we shouldn’t, moreover we should ensure we participate in Remembrance Day and indeed Armed Forces day.
Seeing those old planes climbing into the sky made me oh so proud to be British, not an emotion I am often given to feel. I could not imagine the courage of these men. They were the bravest of the brave and today was all about them.