A crowd roared its approval as an English Spitfire and a Hurricane dipped down out of the clouds toward government buildings shortly after 4 p.m. Friday afternoon. The World War II fighters broke out of the clouds and dipped toward the Foreign and Commonwealth office buildings.
It was a very different scene on the streets of London 70 years ago as German planes unleashed a barrage of bombs on southern England. It was an air battle that would last from July to October of 1940.
On Friday, the crowds grew and police closed the street near the government buildings as a British actor read Winston Churchill’s famous speech delivered seventy years earlier, first to members of the Parliament, then on the radio to British people through the BBC.
The speech, labeled “The Few,” is considered one of Churchill’s finest talks. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” Mr Churchilll said on the afternoon of Aug. 20, 1940. He set the stage for many more months of war against the Nazi occupation.
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Hundreds of foreign tourists and British citizens gathered to hear the speech. It was given next to Churchill’s Cabinet war rooms. The former prime minister used the time to rally Britons to fight the Nazi terror spreading through Europe and wither the sacrifice ahead.
Dame Vera Lynn, 93, was there. She rallied the country with her songs like “We’ll Meet Again,” and “The White Cliffs of Dover.” Churchill’s daughter, Lady Soames, 88, was in the afternoon audience. She was also there in the House of Commons on Aug. 20, 1940, when her father delivered the speech.
“For me it has particular meaning, but I find it wonderful that I look around this crowd and for all of us somehow the speech rang a bell,” she told The Times of London.
A Spitfire pilot interviewed by the newspaper joked he and his fellow fliers thought Mr. Churchill was referring to the pilots’ mess bills. “So many people owing so much,” he said.
The Germans air attacks were meant to be a prelude to Hitler’s aborted plan to invade Britain. The speech set the stage for further wartime sacrifice.
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A vacation found me sitting in the crowd Friday. It reminded me of the lack of wartime sacrifice in America today. We are fighting wars on two fronts. Many families have paid the ultimate price in the loss of a son or daughter, a husband, mother or father, brother or sister. My family has two officers serving — a nephew in the Navy and a niece’s husband in the Army. But for the most part, life remains fairly normal for most of us.
There are no scrap metal drives, no shortages of sugar or rationed fuel. A old war-time poster in a pub here says, “Don’t waste food.”
As Iraq winds down and casualties mount in Afghanistan, it seems to me that more awareness and unity of effort is needed. Some shared sacrifice wouldn’t hurt either. One veteran’s letter to the newspaper said it all. “The Marines are at war. America is still at the mall.”
Andy Rieger 366-3543 email@example.com