Battle of Britain
This Sunday a service of thanksgiving and rededication in honour of the Battle of Britain will take place at Westminster Abbey. This service is held annually at the Abbey to remember those who lost their lives in the Battle of Britain and is an occasion to mark the nation’s gratitude for the incredible sacrifice of those who took part. This takes place in the RAF Chapel which sits within Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
The Battle of Britain was the great air battle of World War Two, fought between the RAF and the German Luftwaffe. It lasted from 10th July until 31st October 1940 and was an aerial assault from Germany to try and force the British to surrender or at least sign an armistice. The RAF was victorious in this battle despite having fewer aircraft than the German forces. Nearly 3,000 men from the RAF took part; they were called ‘the few’ by Churchill. Although it was the Battle of Britain these 3,000 men were not all British and were in fact from many of the allied countries including Canada, Australia and South Africa. Apart from ‘the few’ fighting in the sky there were also many ground crew who were on hand to support their efforts by manning observation posts, anti-aircraft guns and searchlights.
In Westminster Abbey the chapel, now known as the RAF chapel, was damaged during the bombing of the Battle of Britain: a hole was made in the stone work and the window of Tudor stained glass was blown out. When the Dean of Westminster was approached in 1943 about creating a memorial in the Abbey for ‘the few’ who had lost their lives in the Battle the Dean felt this chapel was appropriate as it had also felt the effects of the Battle. A committee was formed and money was raised to furnish the chapel and make the repairs. The hole that had been created by the bombs was preserved and covered with glass to seal it. The chapel was unveiled and dedicated by King George VI on 10th July 1947.
The replacement window for the chapel was designed by Hugh Easton; it is known as the Battle of Britain memorial window and contains 48 lights. The upper tier of the window features the heavenly Seraphim and in the lower lights the badges of the fighter squadrons that took part in the battle are displayed. In four of the panels there are visions which symbolise the Redemption, whilst in the centre panels you can see the Royal arms and the badge of the RAF along with the furled flags of the many countries that took part in the Battle.
If you would like to find out more about this magnificent window then you can purchase our book, Stained Glass of Westminster Abbey, by clicking here.