Battle of Britain Day (15 September)
The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain
by Alan Barker
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To reflect on a time when a great deal depended on a few.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides accompanying this assembly (Battle of Britian) and the means to display them during the assembly. They include images of the Battle of Britain Memorial as a starting point for outlining elements of the story of the Battle of Britain. (Note that a wider selection of images can be found online if you wish, but may be subject to copyright.)
- If possible, think of a local community project or a school initiative that highlights how a small group of committed individuals can achieve great things to mention in the 'Time for reflection' part of the assembly.
- During the summer, there have been various events to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain - an air battle that was fought by the Royal Air Force (also called the RAF) over the skies of southern England during the summer of 1940. German forces had invaded Belgium, Holland and France and were preparing to invade Britain, but the courage and determination of a relatively small number of fighter pilots forced a change of plan.
The PowerPoint slides you will need are given at the beginning of each of the following steps.
- Slides 1 and 2.
The Battle of Britain is commemorated in a memorial that was unveiled in September 2005. It stands on the Victoria Embankment in London, across the river from the London Eye.
- Slides 3 and 4.
The design of the memorial is very dramatic. At the centre of one of the panels, life-sized pilots are shown ‘scrambling’ - that is, running to their aircraft. Most of the pilots were young, but they were very brave and determined.
- Slide 5.
Spotters looked out for enemy fighters and bombers, which, at first, came to destroy airfields and radar masts. On each occasion, RAF pilots hurried to try to shoot them down.
- Slides 6 and 7.
People watched anxiously as aerial battles took place in the skies above them. How do you think they would have felt?
The RAF was greatly outnumbered. During the battle, which lasted many weeks, almost 800 RAF planes were shot down and over 500 fighter pilots were killed.
- Slide 8.
As the days and weeks passed, the pilots and the ground crew, who kept their planes ready, grew very tired. It hardly seemed possible that the enemy could be stopped.
- Slides 9 and 10.
Eventually, the German air force - the Luftwaffe - began daily attacks on towns and cities. These attacks became known as the ‘Blitz’. The memorial shows what happened in London. Many buildings were destroyed. People were rescued from damaged buildings. Miraculously St Paul’s Cathedral was not hit by any of the bombs and became a symbol of hope.
- Slides 11 and 12.
It was a terrible and frightening time, but people kept their spirits up with cups of tea, singing and by looking after each other in air raid shelters. Everybody did their best for the war effort. Ground crew serviced and maintained fighter aircraft. Women spent long hours working in aircraft and munitions factories. Women pilots delivered the aircraft and those serving with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (or WAAF) helped to control operations.
- Slide 13.
The 15th September 1940 was a day of heavy bombing raids and the RAF pilots were stretched to the limit. Many German aircraft were destroyed, however, and it did seem as if a victory had been won. Shortly afterwards, Hitler gave up his plans to invade Britain, although night-time bombing raids continued to cause enormous damage to large cities.
- Slide 14.
On the Battle of Britain Memorial are found the names of almost 3000 pilots and airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain. One out of every six came from countries outside Britain. The names are grouped according to country.
- Slide 15.
The memorial is also engraved with a famous phrase from a speech by Sir Winston Churchill: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’.
- The 75th anniversary of these events on Battle of Britain Day (15 September) is an occasion on which to be thankful for the bravery of the few who helped to win the freedom that so many of us enjoy today. The efforts and determination of the pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain changed the course of history. Such commitment and courage is still shown by members of the Armed Forces today.
Time for reflection
In school and community life, the leadership and determination of a few makes a very great difference.
Mention the local community project or school initiative decided on in preparation, highlighting how the commitment of a few can encourage and inspire many others.
Indeed, there continue to be times when much depends on a few.
We quietly remember the story of the Battle of Britain . . .
The bravery and determination of just a few, who did so much for so many . . .
It‘s easy to take the efforts of others for granted . . .
Let us not forget them.