SEPTEMBER 15 marked the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, one of the most pivotal moments in Britain’s triumphant win over Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
The Battle of Britain was a number of game-changing battles in WWII, which were fought solely in the air. In the summer of 1940, Germany were leading the war and the British army had been forced out of France by the Nazis.
The US and Russia were yet to join the war, so Britain were fighting against Nazi Germany alone. To win the war, Germany needed to invade Britain and the best way to do that was in the air.
The Luftwaffe wanted to wipe out British aeroplanes, so they had a clear route in. The Germans started bombing British airfields and factories in the early summer of 1940. They hoped that by unleashing the large-scale bombing on London they would be able to coerce the UK into negotiating a peace settlement.
The RAF had fewer pilots and planes than Germany, but had dramatically increased production of planes like Spitfires and Hurricanes, and improved their military tactics. The RAF were able to defend Britain from attempt after attempt of German air attacks.
In September 1940, Germany bombed towns and cities across Britain in attacks which became known as ‘The Blitz’. London was bombed for 57 nights in a row, and it looked like the Germans were gaining strength. But on September 15 1940, the RAF successfully fought off two German attacks.
Germany was running out of aircraft and supplies, and two days later Hitler postponed plans of invading Britain. This date saw the climax of the fighting, with the British RAF fleet destroying 176 enemy aircraft.
To mark the 80th anniversary, Lyme Regis residents have shared their own personal memories and tributes to loves ones.
The first of three losses for local family
Local photographer Richard Austin, whose namesake uncle was killed at just 18 years old during the Battle, wrote: “Always when an anniversary of the Battle of Britain comes along is when we should all spare a minute to remember how the RAF kept the German bombers at bay preventing Germany from supremacy over our skies, cities and numerous air fields scattered across the countryside. Tangmere airfield in West Sussex became an airfield that my family will never forget.
“My uncle, also called Richard Austin, known throughout the village as ‘Dick’, was born in Uplyme and educated at Mrs Ethelston’s Primary School.
“He enlisted into the RAF at the start of the Battle of Britain as an RAF Ground Gunner under training, but at just 18 years old he was killed when his airfield came under relentless bombing by the Germans. He was caught out in the open as he ran for cover but was killed by the bomb blast.
“His mum, two sisters and two brothers were of course devastated but this was only the beginning; within three months their father, Ernest Austin, was killed when his ship HMS Laurentic was torpedoed by U99 in the North Atlantic. And on D-Day, my auntie’s American husband was badly wounded and died on returning to the UK on D-Day plus 2.
“My grandmother lost a husband, eldest son and son-in-law during the war, which is why she never talked about any of the wartime devastation.
“I was about five or six when my mother told me I was named after uncle Dick; my father, like his family, said nothing but I was never called ‘Dick.’
“Dick Austin, at only 18, was the youngest serviceman on the airfield. He is buried in the church grounds of St Andrews Tangmere, West Sussex. Plot E, Row 1, Grave 470.”
In a letter sent home to his mother shortly before his death, the young Dick Austin wrote:
“Just a few lines to let you know that I am alright. We are getting raids every day up here, no bombs have been dropped on the drome yet but they have been close, all round us are wretched German bombers.
“One of our squadrons shot down 62 planes yesterday. They lost 13 planes, 10 of which the pilots were saved.
“When you are sending again will you send on my big gloves, it is cold up here when you are walking round by night. I have got to get up at 12 o’clock tonight until 4, then I can go to sleep until 8am, at 9am I go back to bed and sleep for the rest of the day.
“I have got some chocolate which one of the boys got off a German that was shot down, it is French stuff. I also got a bit of a Junker 88.
“I have got 24 hours leave this weekend but I shall have to spend it in the camp.
“I have just seen a dog fight with our planes and the Jerrys fire, Jerrys were shot down.
“Well, I think it was time I was going now, so goodbye. Love Dick.”
Marching in the Battle of Britain Parade
Joan Cool, a former nurse and now resident of Fairfield House in Lyme Regis, who celebrated her 100th birthday last year, has shared her own memories of the Battle of Britain.
She wrote: “Being reminded that today is Battle of Britain Day reminded me that in 1943 I was stationed in London at ACRC, in Abbey Lodge, a large block of very nice flats taken over by the RAF to house the medical services that prospective air crew had to go through before they were accepted for training as air crew. Some passed and some were disappointed.
“I was one, I think of eight nursing sisters in the RAF, who were chosen to take part in the first Battle of Britain Parade and what always sticks in my mind is the actual parade.
“The sisters never ever took part in ‘squarebashing’, as they used to call drill; the consequences were not very good at marching and every so far on the route there was a sergeant shouting ‘left, left’ and we would sometimes have to adjust our steps.
“But it was something to remember marching past the King on the saluting base outside the main gate of Buckingham Palace.”