To mark the 70th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, the Lieutenancy of Kent led tributes at the Kentish airfields that bore the brunt of Luftwaffe attacks. The symbolic ceremonies were held at Eastchurch, Detling, Rochester, Gravesend and West Malling on Monday, 19 July, and Manston, Lympne and Hawkinge on Tuesday 20 July, ending at the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne.
At each location civic leaders and old comrades joined the Lieutenancy party, led by the Vice Lord Lieutenant, Viscount De L'Isle MBE DL, and wreaths were laid in memory of the fallen – military and civilian. Members of the public, including schoolchildren at Rochester and Gravesend, also attended.
The airfield tour was inspired by the Lord Lieutenant, Allan Willett CMG, The Queen's representative in the County, who as a small boy on his father's Thanet farm witnessed the aerial dogfights over Manston. Sadly he was unable to take part in the tributes himself as he is currently recuperating from surgery.
With the Lieutenancy party throughout the airfield tour was one of the last of The Few, Wing Commander Bob Foster DFC, and a serving Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, Flight Lieutenant Marc Heal DFC, who was recently decorated for rescuing casualties under fire in Afghanistan. Also in the party were two No1 Group ROCA members – TerryG carrying the No1 Group Standard and RobinG carrying the RAFA Area Standard.
At each location Group Captain Patrick Tootal OBE DL, Secretary of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, gave a description of the airfield's role and the Vice Lord Lieutenant spoke about the battle's significance.
Prayers for the fallen – and for those still on operational service today – were led by Royal Auxiliary Air Force Chaplain, the Rev Matthew Buchan, who was joined at Capel by The Right Reverend Dr Stephen Venner, former Bishop of Dover, who is now Bishop to the Armed Forces and a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent.
Eastchurch, on the Isle of Sheppey, where the airfield tributes began. Terry and Robin were joined by ROCA member KenB
Detling, where the County Showground covers the wartime airfield site.
Rochester Airport, where a new memorial was unveiled. It was great to see Frank and BrendaT there, especially as Frank used to fly from this airport.
Local schoolchildren were among those who took part at Gravesend.
West Malling, where wreaths were laid at the 'running airman' memorial. Also in attendance were the Mayor of Tunbridge Wells and her husband, DavidJ, a former ROC member.
Nine wreaths were laid at Manston, where as a small boy the Lord Lieutenant witnessed the battle.
At Lympne wreaths were laid beside a wartime bunker.
Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge was one of the most evocative locations.
The final destination - The Battle of Britain Memorial Wall at Capel le Ferne. PeterB, who is a volunteer at the site, was able to join the party.
(Acknowledgements to the Lord Lieutenant of Kent’s website for providing much of the text and many of the photographs.)
Alas the former RAF station at Biggin Hill is no longer in the County of Kent but sits within Greater London. Therefore, the Lieutenancy of Kent were not able to include this in their tour. However, the day before the tour started, the new Gate Guardians outside St George’s Memorial Chapel at Biggin Hill were dedicated.
An invitation was extended to Jacqui and TerryG as they have close links with the area, especially in supporting the establishment of a Heritage Centre close by.
The Gate Guardians consist of a Hurricane and Spitfire bearing the markings of squadrons that flew from the station during the Battle of Britain. Whilst the Guardians relate to specific pilots and squadrons, they are also “stand as a memorial to all squadrons that operated from the RAF Biggin Hill Sector during World War II” – a sector covering the airfields of Kent.
Following the service in the Chapel, the guests moved outside for the dedication. Silk ensigns for No 32 and No 92 squadrons were paraded - the same squadrons as the Gate Guardians - and music was provided by a brass quartet from the Central Band of the RAF. Biggin Hill Squadron ATC turned out in force and with pride. A magnificent flypast from the Spirit of Kent Spitfire concluded the formal celebrations and it was then time for light refreshments and a chance to meet people, including former Spitfire pilots Rodney Scrase and Peter Ayhurst.