Battle of Britain : Into the Storm of War....
Part 1 - We shall fight on the beaches
We shall never surrender!
A tribute to the RAF's role in the Dunkirk evacuation, and the Battle to come
Part 2 - ...The Battle of Britain is about to begin
....'This was their finest hour'
Part 3 - ...The War of the Unknown Warrior
....'This is a war of peoples and of causes...'
Part 4 - ...'The Few'
....'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many
to so few...'
Into the Storm of War
…Churchill saw the Battle of Britain as a necessity. It was his battle, he decided to fight it and staked all on its outcome…. It was the precondition for all the other battles.
The country would be able to ‘ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years if necessary alone.’
Storms are natural. They happen from time to time, they are unpleasant and frightening, but in the end one survives and the sun reappears.
The battle in France took its course and the evacuation from Dunkirk began on 26 May. ‘Operation Dynamo’ … finally closed down… on 4 June. 364,628 troops, of which about two thirds were British, had been taken off the beaches and landed safely. That day Churchill addressed the commons.
The speech lasted about half an hour... Churchill kept up the tension by turning to the smoke and noise of battle, describing the strength of the enemy, the gallantry of the army, then of the navy, and the evacuating forces, and then of the air force.
He singled out the RAF partly because of many bitter complaints from the returning troops, who could see little of what was going on, that the ‘Brylcreem boys’ had left them in the lurch, and partly because he knew he would be turning them into particular heroes in the coming weeks.
… There then follows a passage which shows him first groping towards the image of ‘The Few’, though it is as yet – the full phrase was not to come until 20 August – without its Shakespearean ring:
‘The great French Army was very largely, for the time being, cast back and disturbed by the onrush of a few thousands of armoured vehicles. May it not be that the cause of civilisation itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen…’
… Britain was delegating the decision over its fate not to a vast mass of soldiers struggling in the mud, but to a select group of young men whose business was so technical that nobody else could be involved. It was to be a meeting in battle of the two countries’ elected champions, and it is in this vein that he continues, drawing comparisons with the Knights of the Round Table and the Crusaders. He was preparing the ground for his battle and beginning of deliberate myth-making.
He carried on by stating that France and Britain would continue to fight to the death and would not ‘flag or fail’. His final words, a single extraordinary sentence, begin with his most defiant expression yet of the theme of sacrifice and end with a coda developing the leitmotiv of solidarity further than before to encompass his vision of the English-speaking people.
We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Beginning with the fighting still going on in France, Churchill moves through the elements of land, sea and air as if opposing cosmic force and then moves back to the concrete realities of invasion. The famous asservations follow the natural course of a retreat from the beaches, ending in the hills – which neither the Romans nor the Normans has been able to fully subdue. His gaze then moves out again to remind people that they are part of a great empire, that even the Nazis cannot seriously challenge the Royal Navy, and that beyond that, the English-speaking peoples will eventually unite in their common cause…. Britain was not really alone, it formed part of an international brotherhood. It has its task to do but deliverance was just a mater of time. It had to endure.
… Parts of the speech were read out … on the BBC…. Churchill’s personal representative … wrote afterwards that it established Churchill firmly as ‘the supreme leader’ and continues in the almost mystic vein that it was as though the British people had been given ‘a password, the significance of which only we could grasp, it bound us in a great secret understanding.’ It was as if the British people were passing through ‘an intense fire and light that burnt out everything mean and selfish in us, leaving only a common purpose and a common unity, fusing in to the single soul of the British people.’