The Battle of Britain - The Few

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Were we to take a cross-section of the British public, the young, the old and the not so old, and ask them to define "The Few" who flew in the "Battle of Britain", I think it is true to say that the majority would reply by saying that they were a few British pilots who flew in Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft over London and the Thames Estuary in the summer of 1940 and fought in air battles against the German Luftwaffe and this is a fair generalisation but, as one would expect, it is lacking in essential detail. In actual fact 2,945 pilots and aircrew flew in the "Battle of Britain" and these were later to become known collectively as "The Few". They were not only of British nationality. Pilots and aircrew of fifteen nationalities flew in the "Battle of Britain". They were:-

Americans Czechoslovakians Poles
Australians Free French Newfoundlanders
Belgians Irish New Zealanders
British Jamaicans South Africans
Canadians Palestinian Southern Rhodesians

They flew with 71 Squadrons, Flights and Units, including two complete Royal Naval Squadrons No's 804 and 808; one complete Canadian Squadron No. 1(Can)(401); two complete Polish Squadrons No's 302 and 303; two complete Czechoslovakian Squadrons No's 310 and 312 and also 22 Fleet Air Arm pilots who were seconded to Royal Air Force Squadrons. Not only Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft were used in the battle. Six types of aircraft were in used. They were:-


and two naval aircraft, the Martlett and Fulmar. Also, the Royal Navy used the Sea Gladiator.

The conditions for any pilot or aircrew to qualify as one of "The Few", and to be entitled to wear their distinguished characteristics, were laid down in the Air Ministry Order and I quote:-

"Any pilot or aircrew must have flown at least one operational sortie with any of the 71 accredited "Battle of Britain" Squadrons, Flights and Units between 0001hrs. on 10th July, 1940 and 2359 hrs. on the 31st October, 1940".

A detailed explanation of these distinguishing characteristics are given elsewhere in this album.

In the post-war years, it became an obsession with me to find out who, as individuals, "The Few" were and to see that their names and accurate statistics, in the fullest detail, should be recorded to posterity in the form of a "Roll of Honour" and that this "Roll" should be placed in the Imperial War Museum in London for all to see.

Little did I know that the project I started in 1957 would not be completed until 1976, except for the collection of a few more signatures, and the search for these continues. All of these years were needed firstly, to search through past official records to obtain the names of those pilots and aircrew who qualified to be known as "The Few" and secondly, to contact those of the who survived and the Next-of-Kin of those who were killed, all of whom were resident in many parts of the world. The task was made more difficult since it was not commenced until 17 years after the "Battle of Britain" took place.

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