On a clear day, from the top of Kent’s famous White Cliffs, it is relatively easy to pick out the coast of France.
The sight is particularly poignant if you happen to be standing at the time on the cliffs at Capel-le-Ferne, a coastal village just outside Folkestone and home to the Battle of Britain Memorial.
Turn around and look at the National Memorial to the Few, which honours all those who took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940 – and then turn back again to see how close the enemy came during those dark days.
Standing on those same cliffs 79 years ago this summer, the view would have been very different. The summer skies now blue and clear would often have been filled with the dark silhouettes of Nazi bombers, flanked by fighters, en route to attack our airfields or, later, London.
As the German forces marched westwards through Europe, Hitler knew that to complete his conquest he would have to invade Britain – and that meant controlling the airspace over the English Channel.
With his superior Luftwaffe forces taking on the much smaller Royal Air Force, he was confident that he could quickly establish air superiority before mounting a seaborne invasion.
His dreams were thwarted, though, by the bravery and sacrifice of fewer-than 3,000 airmen who took to the skies not just in Spitfires and Hurricanes but in Defiants, Gladiators Blenheims, Fulmars and Sea Gladiators to see off the invader.
It was Churchill who christened those men ‘the Few’ in one of his most famous speeches of the war: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few.”
Those few brave airmen, of whom a handful remain with us, are listed on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall, just one of the features of the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne.
The site is also home to a replica Spitfire and Hurricane and to busts of two of the men – alongside the aircrew – who helped the country achieve victory, Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park and Lord Dowding.
There is also an excellent, modern visitor centre, built in the shape of a Spitfire wing, which was opened by Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh in 2015.
The Wing includes an exciting, audio-visual introduction to the Battle of Britain that features lots of hands-on activities for youngsters and in-depth information for aficionados, while all generations will enjoy the chance to shoot down enemy aircraft from the Trust’s replica Hurricane cockpit.
A well-stocked gift shop and a first floor café with amazing views across the Channel to France – where it all, arguably, started – make a visit to the Battle of Britain Memorial a great day out for people of all ages.
Many thanks to Malcolm Triggs for this guest blog.
You can visit the Battle of Britain Memorial with Sunrise Direct on our Folkestone Entertainment & Kentish Coastlines Holiday - click here to book!