The Battle of Britain Memorial is situated on top of the White Cliffs at Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone. Dedicated to Churchill’s Few, it occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of those who have visited the site. It commemorates the Battle of Britain which took place in the skies above London and the South East between 10 July – 31 October 1940.
The area around Capel-le-Ferne was of strategic significance during both world wars. RNAS (Royal Naval Air Station) Capel, which later became RAF Folkestone, was a First World War airship station operational from April 1915 until 1919. It had had three airship sheds and a large grass landing area. Being close to Dover, it was an ideal location for patrolling the Channel. The airships spotted enemy u-boats and escorted shipping across the channel. During the Second World War, two 8-inch-high performance guns were positioned on top of the cliffs - one at Capel-le-Ferne and the other at Hougham. These provided anti-shipping defensive fire in the Channel and were successful in engaging enemy shipping targets at a maximum range of 17 miles.
The idea for a Memorial to “the Few” was the brain child of Wing Commander Geoffrey Page who had been involved in the Battle of Britain. Page was awarded the Distinguished flying Cross (DFC) and the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) serving with the RAF until 1948. Years later, he realised there was no memorial to his comrades who had fought in the battle.
Geoffrey established the Battle of Britain Trust, which raised more than £1 million for the memorial. The central statue was designed and carved by Harry Gray, who was inspired by the reflective pose of a work colleague during a break. The figure wears an Irvin jacket which hides the airman’s uniform, thus disguising the rank and nationality of the airman. The reason for this is simple but poignant, as it does not privilege any rank or unit. It could be a British officer or it could be a Gunner, who is to say? The memorial was unveiled in 1993 by the HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The memorial wall was unveiled in 2005 by HRH Prince Michael. The wall displays the names of all those who fought during the Battle of Britain including those who survived the war. Funds for the wall were raised by one of “the few”, the first president of the Battle of Britain Trust, Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris, after whom the wall is named. The poem on the left hand side of the memorial wall is by William Walker, a Battle of Britain veteran and is dedicated to his absent friends and experiences of wartime.
In 2015, the final touches were added to the visitor centre, renamed “The Wing” due to its unique design in the shape of a Spitfire wing. It was designed by a local architectural practice named Godden Allen Lawn. The Wing is not a museum but an experience and hands-on attraction, including audio-visual effects to show what “the Few” experienced in the Summer of 1940. Complete with a further education room, two replica aircraft, a Spitfire and Hurricane in the grounds, and a tearoom with a balcony offering stunning views over the Channel.
The memorial in its entirety, is a very poignant reminder of what Britain faced during the Second World War. In the very famous words of Sir Winston Churchill: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Britain’s Best Guides Hellfire Corner.
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