News Article

Battle of Britain veterans say a fond farewell to spiritual home of 'The Few'

A History and Honour news article

20 Jul 07

Veteran aicrews from the Battle of Britain have said their final goodbyes to their former headquarters as the Royal Air Force prepares to lower the ensign for the last time at RAF Bentley Priory in Middlesex.

Hurricane overflies RAF Bentley Priory

A Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flies over RAF Bentley Priory during the closure ceremony before Defence Minster Lord Drayson and senior serving and retired members of the Royal Air Force

Fifteen veterans were hosted at the Priory last night, Thursday 19 July, for a dinner and celebration of both the role of the building and those who worked in it in preventing Hitler's planned air invasion of Britain in 1940.

The veterans were hosted by the RAF's highest ranking officer, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, together with Minister for Defence Equipment and Support Lord Drayson. Bentley Priory is now surplus to MOD requirements and is due to close next year with its military functions to be moved to RAF Northolt.

One of the veterans at the event was Flight Lieutenant "Robbie" Burns, 91.  He was an air gunner in the war, successfully shooting down a German Dornier Do 18 flying-boat. He said:

"When I walk through the door of this building, there's something about it.  People conducted a war from this building and if it wasn't for the Battle of Britain, all able-bodied Englishmen would have been taken to Germany as prisoners of war and made to work in the mines."

In the summer of 1940, the handsome house in north west London, set among beautiful gardens, became arguably the most important building in the world.

Squadron Commander takes the salute

Taking the Salute - (L-R)RAF Bentley Priory Station Commander Sqn Ldr Phil Reid, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy and Air Commodore (Ret) Pete Brothers, Chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association

Bentley Priory had been selected a few years earlier by the head of Fighter Command, Sir Hugh Dowding, as the command centre from which he devised his plans to protect Britain against aerial attack.

When Hitler launched his all-out assault on Britain’s air defences to pave the way for a land invasion, only the RAF and "The Few" stood in his way. German success would hand him the whole of Europe and clear the way for victory over the Soviet Union.

But a four month battle left the Luftwaffe shattered by the determination and bravery of the pilots and aircrews of Fighter Command - and German occupation of Britain was averted.

Guests and veterans at last night's event saw Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft once again flying across the skies, as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight passed overhead. They were joined by the RAF's latest aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon. 

Just before the Sunset Ceremony the Queen's Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force performed a display and the Central Band of the Royal Air Force played as the RAF ensign was lowered. 

Bentley Priory Gala Dinner

Guests attending the RAF Bentley Priory Gala Dinner, gather for photographers on the grand staircase within the listed Priory for the last time

Squadron Leader Tony "Pick" Pickering, 86, was a fighter pilot and was shot down over Caterham. He agrees that the house has a special place in history.

"Bentley Priory is the epitome of the command of the Battle of Britain; if the Battle of Trafalgar saved Great Britain, the Battle of Britain saved the world.

"It was the decisive battle of the Second World War, which enabled Britain to dig in for the long haul and defeat the powers of fascism."

Following its closure next year, the Priory its contents and gardens will be preserved for the nation and be accessible to the general public for the first time.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy said:

"There is obvious sadness that the RAF’s operational use of Bentley Priory is coming to an end. We shall be very careful that the heritage aspects will be preserved for future generations."


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