Rye’s Tribute to The Few
By the Editor
I was late arriving for the Battle of Britain Remembrance Parade at St. Mary’s Church on 17 September. Not wanting to disturb the service which was already in progress I sat on a bench in the churchyard and listened to the hymns. It was a beautiful autumnal morning not unlike many of the days in that September sixty years ago when the fate of this country hung in the balance supported on the shoulders a few hundred young airmen who stood between Britain and the might of the German war machine, with which Hitler planned to crush this island race who had dared to defy his will.
My thoughts ran back to my father who described to me how he watched, from Wider’s Cliff, the Stuka Dive-bombers attack on the Home Chain Radar station (The Pylons) at Kent Ditch Corner. This attack, and similar raids against the other aircraft detecting stations on the coast partially blinded the RAF. This was followed by attacks on RAF Fighter airfields and pushed the British defenders to the very limit of their endurance. Winston Churchill’s order to bomb Berlin, after an off course German aircraft’s bombs fell on London, changed the course of the battle. Hitler demanded that the Luftwaffe redirect their attacks onto London, so giving the Royal Air Force bases time to recover. Now with the Germans coming more inland the Spitfires and Hurricanes had time to get at them.
I remembered my grandfather’s stories of the effect bombing had on Rye, how he had helped with the search for survivors at the houses in Wish Street that had received a direct hit. He found an arm sticking out of the debris and called for a stretcher bearer, unfortunately there was no body attached. This was the stark reality of indiscriminate bombing and a small sample of what the people of London’s East End had to endure, another price that had to be paid for victory in the air battle that raged in the skies overhead.
As I sat there, a group of German visitors came into the churchyard and I thought how ironic it was that their fathers and grandfathers may have been in those aircraft that did so much damage. They stood at the South Door of the Church and listened to the hymns, I wondered if they had any idea what the service was commemorating.
Then from within the church came the resounding stains of the Royal Air Force March Past and thoughts turned to my school days when as a Biggles’ mad youngster wanting to be a fighter pilot I joined 2274 (Rye Grammar School) Squadron of the Air Training Corps where opportunity to fly with RAF pilots, some of them actually veterans of the Battle of Britain were eagerly taken. I thought back to those times and remembered Percy Mitchell who commanded the Squadron and John Larkin, who achieved his aim of becoming air crew with the RAF. Sadly he died in a flying accident after only a short period of service. Then my mind raced on to later times and of Cannon John Williams, a member of 617 (Dam Busters) Squadron who came to Rye and did so much for the town.
The service over, out came the parade into the sunlight, forming up around the memorial that carries the names of so many Rye people who gave their lives so that those of us left could live in freedom. The last post was sounded and during the silence that followed, all present remembered their lost loved ones and friends and of the battle fought in the skies over Rye during those summer days sixty years ago.
The words of Winston Churchill ring just as true now as then. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
The scene at the Rye Memorial as a two minutes silence was observed for the airmen and civilians who lost their lives during the Battle. The Mayor of Rye, Councillor Geraldine Bromley laid a wreath on behalf of the town. Wreaths were also laid by representatives of the Rye RAFA, Rye British Legion and Police Cadets.
“Rye’s Own” September 2000
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