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The BBC's Robert Hall
"45,000 people saw history brought to life"
 real 56k

Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Battle of Britain spectacularly recalled
Lord Tebbit at Biggin Hill
Lord Tebbit watches a Spitfire fly-past at Biggin Hill
The 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain has been marked with a spectacular fly-past and a packed service of thanksgiving attended by the Prince of Wales and Duke of Edinburgh.

Spectators and veterans at Biggin Hill in Kent, where the RAF base played a vital role in the summer campaign of 1940, witnessed 16 Spitfires and four Hurricane aircraft take to the skies.

Prince Charles
Prince Charles at Westminster Abbey

The special tribute to the air and ground crews who won the battle was rounded off at sunset with the lowering of the RAF Ensign and a rendition of the Last Post.

Lord Tebbit, who flew as a pilot in the post-war Royal Air Force, read a special dedication to the pilots dubbed The Few by a grateful Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

Leading a series of other events across the country, Prince Charles and Prince Philip wore full RAF dress uniforms as they joined the congregation at Westminster Abbey.

Battle of Britain veterans, with the medals from their exploits proudly pinned to their chests, were awarded pride of place at the service.

In this 60th anniversary year, the Battle of Britain remains one of the greatest achievements of the Royal Air Force

Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire

An RAF guard of honour, holding the service's banner aloft, stood to attention as the men, some now in wheelchairs and others walking with the aid of sticks, filed into the church.

Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble was among the other dignitaries attending.

Serving RAF members marched the ensign of Fighter Command and the Queen's Colour up the aisle to be laid on the high altar.

After a rousing national anthem the Dean of Westminster, Reverend Dr Wesley Carr, said in the opening bidding prayer: "We remember with gratitude the dedication and heroism of members of the Royal Air Force and the Allied Air Forces."

During the service the Battle of Britain roll of honour was taken from the Chapel of St George to the Sacrarium in the Abbey, escorted by veterans.

Afterwards a single Spitfire flew over the Abbey.

WRAF Association members
WRAF Association members enjoy the Abbey fly-past

Paying his tribute, the Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal, Sir Peter Squire, said: "In this 60th anniversary year, the Battle of Britain remains one of the greatest achievements of the Royal Air Force."

"The courage, dedication and self sacrifice displayed by The Few in their victory over the Luftwaffe, together with the unfailing support provided by their ground personnel, continues to inspire the Royal Air Force today, providing an outstanding example for the servicemen and women who follow in their footsteps."

RAF personnel in Belfast were commemorating the battle by exercising their Freedom of the City for the first time in five years with a march through the city.

Battle veteran

Battle of Britain veteran Group Captain 'Ginger' Murray told BBC News 24 how "young and cocky" pilots like him were more apprehensive than scared as they waited for action in 1940.

"When you're at readiness, waiting for the call to scramble, you don't know whether the call's coming but you expect it will and you don't know when it will come.

"So your stomach's churning and you're tensed up - it's very unpleasant."

Speaking at the Biggin Hill event, he insisted it was "very important indeed" to remember the Battle of Britain.

"If we'd lost, and if the Luftwaffe had gained the air supremacy that the Nazis needed then we would have been invaded, we would have been overcome and subjugated and the whole course of world history would have been quite different."

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09 Sep 00 | UK
Spitfires regain the skies
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