75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain
Ottawa, Ontario, Sunday, September 20, 2015
It’s an honour to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and to do so in front of our parliament—the seat of our Canadian democracy for which so many fought and died in the Second World War.
Of the contribution of Allied pilots in the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill famously said:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Among those “few” were more than 100 pilots and numerous ground crew from Canada.
They came from small towns and cities right across this country.
The leader of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s No. 1 Squadron was a pilot named Ernest McNab. He was from Rosthern, Saskatchewan. His nickname was “PeeWee,” but he was never one to back down from a fight!
Here’s what he said it was like to fight over Britain 75 years ago.
“Your mouth dries up like cotton wool,” he said. “You lose all sense of space and time. We fought far above the clouds in a world of our own—a world of freezing cold, of limitless space traced with white plumed trails of wheeling aircraft as they fought. It was like skywriting gone mad.”
Look up, and think about what it must have been like to fly through skies “gone mad.”
We’re so fortunate for the incredible bravery of those pilots.
Many of them never came home.
The Battle of Britain was a critical early turning point in the war.
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to Sir Martin Gilbert, the author of a multi-volume biography of Winston Churchill and someone who knew more about Churchill’s thinking than any living person.
Sir Martin had just gained access to Churchill’s secret wartime diaries. I asked him, “What did you learn from them that you didn’t already know?”
He replied: “I learned what a close thing it was.”
The outcome of the Battle of Britain—like that of the Second World War itself—was never guaranteed.
Without the great courage, ingenuity and skill of those who fought the air war, as well as the remarkable resilience of people on the home front, things might have turned out very differently.
As governor general and commander-in-chief of Canada, I’m grateful for this opportunity to mark this milestone anniversary.
Thank you all for being here. As members of free societies, let us always remember the sacrifices of those who served.