On 26th October, I attended an excellent virtual lecture tonight “The Battle of Britain – After 80 Years Is It Still Important?” by Dr Michael Fopp, a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Air Pilots, a keeper of the Royal Air Force Museum, and son of Des Fopp, a Battle of Britain pilot. The lecture was hosted by John Towell current Master of the Air Pilots.

Dr Fopp said: ‘History tells us the Battle of Britain was a David-and-Goliath few months of valiant struggle against overwhelming odds by 3,000 young men forever known, thereafter, as ‘The Few’. They were undoubtedly aided in their task by great men and women who ensured they had the political, military and life experience to do the job – men like Churchill, Park, Dowding, Tizard, Beaverbrook, and Watson-Watt, to name only the most prominent. However, ordinary people were as much a part of stopping Fascism in its tracks as either ‘The Few’ or the great and good. These civilians carried on with their everyday jobs whilst also acting as fire watchers, ARP wardens, rescue workers, auxiliary police and fireman, telephone engineers, and a whole host of occupations which were essential to keep Britain functioning. Recent events with the Covid-19 pandemic have drawn parallels with this period, rightfully pointing out that the important people in society are often those who carry out the mundane, the necessary, the low-paid and the really fundamental jobs for the greater good. So, it was in 1940.’

Dr Michael Fopp’s knowledge of the events of the battle and the insights he gave were truly fascinating, right down to explaining the colour coding on the clocks in the Operations Room. He explained the events that led up to the battle and the factors that were key to our success, a combination of the pilots, planes, radar, control systems and of course errors by the Germans, but he hoped above all we would remember the people. This was Hitler’s first defeat. He also indicated what life might have been like if we had lost and recommended the 1964 film “It Happened Here” from the British Film Institute (BFI 1298) as well worth watching.

Towards the end of the lecture, Dr Fopp referenced the ‘Memorial to the Few’ at Folkestone, high on the White Cliffs, near to where I live in Deal, Kent. He said: In a mere 20 years we shall celebrate the centenary of that moment in history when we took a national course of action which made the world a better place… …The Few were role models for a generation: let us not allow the detail of their achievements to fade, lest we face the risk that future generations will not have their example to follow.

The lecture closed after a fascinating question and answer session covering everything from the politicians of period to those clocks in the Operations Room. My thanks go to Dr Michael Fopp and the Worshipful Company of Air Pilots for a splendid virtual event that was well worth attending.

Valerie Owen Le Vaillant OBE
Master, Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects.