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Thursday 17 September, 2015
Tuesday 15 September marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This commemoration provides the opportunity for us, particularly during this Anzac Centenary period, to pause and reflect on the achievements of our Air Force and how that defines us today.
It gives us time to also remember the men and women who have served and who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in previous conflicts – those whose contributions have forged the values and traditions that have shaped what the Australian Air Force is today; a legacy of these men and women who gave their youth, their hopes, their tomorrows over the past 100 years, so that the rest of us may enjoy our today. Members of the RAAF exist to fight and win in the air in defence of our nation and its national interests. We are also custodians of the achievements of those who have gone before us.
The Battle of Britain lies at the roots of this custodianship. It is a battle which galvanised a response of supreme courage in 1940; courage that represents what the RAAF stands for today.
The RAAF is also a custodian of the Anzac spirit, founded as it was in the Royal Australian Flying Corps (AFC) of World War One. The exploits of the AFC are unfortunately, all too often overshadowed by the more popular history of our ground forces in Gallipoli and the Western Front. The legacy of World War 1 for the RAAF is both simple and absolute – if the AFC had not deployed to the Middle East and the Western Front, the RAAF would not have been formed in 1921, if indeed at all.
Let’s take this opportunity to put the AFC’s achievements and service into perspective so we can fully appreciate how the AFC embodied the Anzac spirit. A total of 880 Officers and 2840 airmen served in the AFC. Of the 880, 410 were pilots and 153 were observers. Casualties were high. 179 aircrew were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Although all units suffered significant casualties, Number 4 Squadron was the most dangerous with a casualty rate of 44%. In comparison, the Australian Infantry Force’s 1st Battalion had a casualty rate of just over 50%.
This demonstrates clearly how the Anzac spirit extends far beyond the trenches of Gallipoli; it extends into the sea and importantly for us into the sky. The Anzac spirit existed in every member of the AFC and later the RAAF. It is from this enduring spirit and legacy that the identity of the RAAF was formed. This identity was based on courage, selflessness, mateship and above all an undying sense of loyalty and duty. It was this loyalty and duty that saw many Australian’s serve as part of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain.
In this battle, it fell to just under 3000 men of Royal Air Force Fighter Command to be at the forefront of British resistance. To British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill they were “The Few”; to their leader, Air Chief Marshal Dowding, they were “My Dear Fighter Boys”. Well over 500 of them died between 10 July and 31 October 1940 – the official dates of the Battle, and nearly 800 more did not live to see the end of the war in 1945. On Tuesday we honoured them as men of supreme courage, as men who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to allow us to stand here today – free.
This identity, based on an unwavering Anzac legacy of mateship and honour – was proudly displayed by the young men and women of the Air Force Cadets’ on parade at the anniversary commemoration held in Adelaide on Sunday 13 September. We can all be proud of the RAAF and its tremendous achievements.
To read more information about the Battle of Britain please click on the link below: