A SERVICE to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain went ahead at Westminster Abbey on Sunday. The Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, described the occasion as a chance to “seek out, together, the ways of peace and reconciliation”.
The Abbey has held a thanksgiving service every year since 1944 to remember the pilots and air crew who died in the Second World War. This year it was the first national event to take place in the building since the start of the pandemic.
A statement posted on the Abbey’s Twitter feed yesterday read: “Social distancing means there will be a smaller congregation than usual, but we’re delighted the annual Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication can go ahead.”
In previous years, the service has attracted a congregation of close to 2000. This year, owing to social-distancing restrictions, only 79 guests were present. Chairs were placed two metres apart, and plastic screens were inserted between the north and south transepts of the Abbey.
PAThe Battle of Britain Memorial Flight seen above Westminster Abbey on Sunday
Those attending included the Prime Minister, who gave a reading from Philippians 2.1–11; Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Opposition; Air Marshal Lord Stirrup, who was representing the Prince of Wales; and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston.
Also present was the Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force, the Ven. Air Vice-Marshal John Ellis, who paid tribute to the “service, sacrifice, and dedication” of those working in the health service in his address.
During the service, the Battle of Britain roll of honour was borne through the Abbey, escorted by serving Royal Air Force pilots and aircrew, and placed beside the high altar. The roll contains the names of the 1497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded during the battle.
In the words of the Dean: “Their sure courage halted the advance of a terrible tyranny. They held fast in days of greatest danger. For their resilience and their skill we give thanks, for their pain and loss we grieve.”
The service ended with an act of dedication, led by the Dean, “to building a world where there is justice and peace for all, and where women, men, and children live a life of full human dignity”. Three Spitfires and a Hurricane — the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight — flew over central London after the service as a tribute.