The Battle of Britain

by The Editor

George Kent recalls the united Britain of 73 years ago, when a nation stood alone against totalitarian hordes.

George Kent recalls the united Britain of 73 years ago, when a nation stood alone against totalitarian hordes.

The summer of 1940 saw the people of Great Britain bracing themselves for a possible invasion. With the fall of the Low Countries, the crushing of France, and Panzers massing at the Channel ports, it seemed as though our island story was about to come to an end. Having saved the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, the Royal Navy (accompanied by hundreds of "little ships" - flotillas of yachts and pleasure boats) had at least allowed us to preserve our manpower. Meanwhile, with the Luftwaffe gathering for an assault on Southern England, it was up to the Royal Air Force to stage the final defence of the country.

From the Atlantic ocean, to the steppes of Russia - the entire European continent was under the control of totalitarian systems, be they Nazi, Fascist or Soviet. Only on the island of Great Britain did the ideal of constitutional government and national freedom survive. The chimes of church bells, the chimes of Big Ben: these were the last bells of freedom that could be heard in all Europe. The British people, of course, responded magnificently to the challenge before them. Throughout the Weald and along the coast, Home Guard units kept watch. Young Spitfire pilots stationed at our airfields, spent precious free moments playing cards or cricket, waiting for the signal to scramble; to take to the air and repel the invader. And the ordinary people prepared to do their bit. The England of 1940 was a place of shared values, common identity and unity - somewhat different from the country we know today - with the BBC in London broadcasting, not their current message of cynicism and "questioning", but a loyal and spirited encouragement to the nation.

Southern England had long been expecting an invasion of some sort. During the Napoleonic wars, a Royal Military Canal had been constructed, from Hythe in Kent, to the Sussex border, protecting the low-lying region of Romney Marsh. If the French Emperor and his blue-coated infantry had landed here, at least the 25-mile-long waterway might have delayed them, although it is difficult to see how the conqueror of Europe would have fallen at this obstacle. Perhaps the Martello towers, the sandcastle-like defensive forts, running along the coast, as far north as Suffolk, might have added extra firepower for the defenders. During the Second World War, pill-boxes (concrete bunkers manned by infantry) were built along the route of the canal, and along many valleys, railways and roads of the Home Counties. They still exist to this day - remnants of what might have been the Battle of Maidstone, or the Battle of Canterbury, the Siege of London.

Today, the people of Britain seem to be content with their materialist existence, and it is difficult to see the citizens of David Cameron's EU-governed country of 2013 responding to the call to "Dig for Victory" or "Join the Home Guard". Perhaps we could still muster a citizens' army to fight for the freedoms of our nation against tyranny, whether it emanates from Hitler's Berlin or the bureaucrats of Brussels, but it is as if we have lost something of that common British spirit which bound us in 1940 and made that year "our Finest Hour". The words of the poet, Binyon, come to mind: "Soul of England, dost thou sleep, lulled or dulled, thy mighty youth forgotten". Where are the Spitfire volunteers of today? Where are the Corporal Joneses, the Captain Mainwarings - vigilant and prepared to defend their homes at all costs? Have they been completely replaced by a mass of x-box users and aimless, atomised individuals, with no sense of identity or history, or pride?

Somehow, the spirit of those years of defence, defiance and victory seem to exist only in Ealing films, in the efforts of re-enactment societies, or in the ranks of the professional Armed Forces - much depleted and demoralised by Coalition defence cuts, but still the finest in the world. You certainly cannot find any inspiration in your school or college: either they don't teach history any more, or they have banned the Union Jack, or St. George's Day, or have disbanded the Army or Air Training Corps. Dare to wave the red, white and blue flag of freedom - and suffer the consequences, as an array of left-wing journalists or TV producers (Trotskyites and Marxists, no doubt, in their university days) form up to pounce upon you - and denounce you as a Fascist.

We owe it to those who gave their lives for freedom and the British way of life, to honour the war years and repudiate the intervening decades of decline and humiliation.

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