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The Battle of Britain: The cost of commitment

To help students understand the value of commitment, learning from the example of those brave young men and women who fought during the Battle of Britain and those still fighting for Britain overseas today.

by Tim Scott

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To help students understand the value of commitment, learning from the example of those brave young men and women who fought during the Battle of Britain and those still fighting for Britain overseas today.

Preparation and materials

  • A Bible (NRSV is recommended).
  • Suggested music: 633 Squadron theme or the Dambusters March.
  • If there is time, you could do an exercise in developing goals that people can commit to. For example, on a PowerPoint slide or a large piece of paper, write some of your major goals. Explain that goals need to be specific and have a realistic deadline, e.g. not just ‘become rich’ or ‘be organized’.

Assembly

  1. Almost 70 years ago, on 15 September 1940, more than 1,000 enemy aircraft carried out a day and night attack on London. It was a day of very heavy fighting and later became known as the Battle of Britain and commemorated every year. The name comes from a speech made on 18 June 1940 in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He said, ‘The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin.’
  2. World War One had been fought mainly on the ground. World War Two was a different kind of war, fought both on the ground and from the air. In July 1940, Hitler gave orders for the preparation of a seaborne invasion of Britain, called Operation Sealion. In order to make this happen, he first sent the Luftwaffe (German air force) to destroy Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF). The Germans knew that it was essential to destroy the RAF so that the German forces could be safely transported across the Channel to invade Britain. The Battle of Britain was fought to gain air superiority.

    On 10 July 1940, the Luftwaffe made their first bomber attack on British ships in the Channel and in August they began mass attacks on British airfields, harbours, aircraft factories and radar stations. During the next three months the RAF lost over 1,500 aircraft and over 500 pilots were killed. The Luftwaffe lost 2,500 pilots and almost 1,900 aircraft. There were almost 60,000 British civilian casualties. (You might want to repeat these statistics.)

    31 October 1940 is generally considered to be when the Battle of Britain ended. The RAF won, forcing Hitler to postpone his invasion plans indefinitely.
  3. Winston Churchill summed up the battle and the contribution of Fighter Command with the famous words: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’ Ever since, those pilots have been known as The Few.
  4. After France surrendered to the Nazis, the Germans had been certain that they would soon win the war; but they underestimated the commitment of Winston Churchill and the British people. Did victory come easily or without a cost? No: Britain endured terrible numbers of casualties and relentless bombing by the Nazis. If your grandparents or great-grandparents have memories of the war, you might like to ask them about it.

    The Allies stood their ground, and because they stood and plodded on, they eventually gained victory. Commitment, perseverance, and plodding on led to success – the defeat of the Nazi regime and the end of the war.
  5. Today, brave men and women are continuing to show commitment as they fight for Britain in Afghanistan. We have seen the human cost of the Afghan conflict, and this should not be forgotten, whatever your views are concerning this war. In Britain today we have the right to choose whether or not to serve our country in the armed forces. Those that do choose to believe that it is right for them to go to various locations around the world and try and bring peace and unity.
  6. Whatever we choose to do in life, be it soldier or another role, we need to strive towards wholeheartedness and commitment. Sometimes it seems easier to take the half-hearted approach and shrink back from giving a task, or person, your whole self, but we need to work and ask God for the strength to do that in a good way. Thomas A. Buckner said: ‘To bring one’s self to a frame of mind and to add proper energy to accomplish things that require plain hard work continuously, is the one big battle everyone has. But when this battle is won for all time, then everything is easy.’
  7. Commitment can be life-changing! To be committed to anything involves making a choice and your commitment will be tested daily. For example, when a couple commit to marry one another they say ‘I will’ in the wedding ceremony. That event is just the start of what should hopefully be a lifelong commitment to one another. Lots of people make a New Year’s resolution to join a gym to get fit. However, within a few months many will give up.

    But the rewards can be great: once we have remained committed to something or someone, our success will spur us on to greater levels of commitment.
  8. Jesus told a challenging parable about commitment. He said: ‘For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it’ (Luke 14.28). If the builder does not count the cost, i.e. work out whether he can afford to complete the tower, not only would he be wasting his time and money, but the whole process is pointless and the builder will look foolish. Therefore, we need to think about the outcome of our actions and really commit ourselves.

    If we want to achieve anything, whether improving our school exam grades, building a successful career, running a marathon or being a good friend, we will need to work out whether we will be committed to that cause.
  9. We need to be single-minded in our determination to achieve our goals. Commitment helps us to overcome life’s obstacles. Maltbie Babcock, an American clergyman and writer, said: ‘One of the most common mistakes and one of the costliest is thinking that success is due to some genius, some magic something or other which we do not possess. No, success is generally due to holding on, and unwillingness to let go.’

Time for reflection

'I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step’ (1 Corinthians 9.26).

 

So, how committed are you? How strong is your determination to reach a goal that you have set yourself?

Perhaps you have not set yourself any goals.

Goal setting is important. Ask yourself, ‘What steps do I need to take to …?’ (get fitter, be a better friend, learn a new language, study music, become a singer, doctor, Nobel Prize winner!).

If you have not set any goals, be inspired to think about what you want to achieve over the next year, over the next 10 years, and over the rest of your life. How would you like people in 70 years’ time to remember you? Have a moment of silence to think about this.

 

Prayer

Lord God,

Thank you for the many brave men and women who counted the cost of commitment during the Battle of Britain and successfully achieved their goal of preventing the invasion of Britain by sea.

Thank you for those in the armed forces today, fighting in Afghanistan to protect this country from terrorists and to provide a better future for ordinary Afghans.

In our own lives, help us to count the cost of commitment and live purposeful lives that fulfil the good plans that you have for us.

Publication date: November 2009   (Vol.11 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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