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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
Joy and pride for memorial pilots
Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles
Prince Charles unveiled the memorial and addressed veterans

A memorial dedicated to pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain has been unveiled by the Prince of Wales.

BBC News spoke to World War II veterans at the unveiling of the sculpture.

On an overcast September afternoon, around 100 surviving pilots and ground staff looked on as a memorial dedicated to their efforts 65 years ago was revealed for the first time.

Amid the striking 21st Century backdrop of the London Eye, elderly men and women clad in full uniforms watched as the drapes were pulled off a work they hope will cement their place in history for generations to come.

Group Captain Len Bartlett looked on with a mixture of pride, joy and sadness as he recalled the historic defeat of the German Luftwaffe more than half a century ago.

"I live in Australia now and I came over especially to see this memorial and attend a few dinners and it has been well worth it. This monument is sensational," said the 89-year-old former group captain, who flew Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain and served in the RAF for 28 years.

The 1.65m London monument, which is located on the Victoria Embankment, was commissioned by the Battle of Britain Historical Society and funded by public subscription.

We we're young... I don't think any of us really understood the importance of the battle at the time
Gp Capt Len Bartlett

One frieze depicts all the achievements of Fighter Command, while the other focuses on the people of London, featuring St Paul's Cathedral and an Anderson air-raid shelter.

The former pilot praised the work's "inclusiveness" for commemorating the work of the ground staff, as well as pilots, during the battle.

"I hope this monument will mean something to younger generations, who seem to know practically nothing about the war," said Mr Bartlett.

"We were young and didn't really think about what we were doing. I don't think any of us really understood the importance of the battle at the time.

"If we had lost it would have changed the course of history - Europe would have been completely overrun by the Germans and Japan would have taken over the Far East."

Gp Capt Len Bartlett
Gp Capt Bartlett said he hoped the memorial will inspire young people

The RAF and the German Luftwaffe fought for air supremacy over Britain between 10 July and 31 October 1940.

On 15 September 1940, RAF Fighter Command claimed victory over the Luftwaffe after a day of bombing raids ended in heavy losses for Germany.

Shortly after the victory, Hitler postponed and then cancelled plans to invade the UK, turning his attention to Russia.

Despite emerging victorious the RAF suffered many losses with 515 losing their lives.

Squadron Leader John Rogers was visibly moved by thought of friends who died during the Battle of Britain, while the ceremony also gave him the chance to see old friends.

Young children should be able to come here on school trips to understand what we did
Sqn Ldr John Rogers

Clad in full uniform, with a colourful array of medals pinned to his chest, the 85-year-old said: "I have seen quite a few friends and the comradeship is still there.

"We're gradually dying out - there is a smaller party every year, so this memorial is a good idea. Young children should be able to come here on school trips to understand what we did."

He also heaped praise on the Prince of Wales who, dressed in full RAF uniform, gave an emotionally-charged speech prior to the unveiling.

The prince, who recalled being told of aerial dogfights and bombardments as a child, gave a speech that was "touching, poignant and appropriate".

The sculpture, created by Paul Day, was greeted with applause and widespread praise from those assembled. It is made up of two bronze friezes set in an 82ft-long granite structure.

'Beautiful day'

Accompanying them is a plaque inscribed with the names of the 2,936 pilots and ground crew from Britain and 14 other countries.

And the plinth beneath the relief is engraved with Sir Winston Churchill's famous phrase: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Joan Shrimpton, 81, and her husband, Bert, made the journey from Buckinghamshire to attend the ceremony.

Mrs Shrimpton, who was part of team that carried out surveillance work on enemy planes, said she was touched by the fact that the contribution of ground staff had been recognised.

Beaming broadly and holding hands with her husband she said she had enjoyed "a beautiful day" and welcomed the addition of a "fitting tribute" to London's heady mixture of old and new structures.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
RAF veterans give their views of the sculpture



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