But who exactly were “The Few” -- those who gave rise to this most famous of war-time epithets? They were young. The average age of an RAF pilot in 1940 was about 20. Many were as young as 18 and there were others over 30. In those days, with the age of majority being 21, many of the RAF’s Battle of Britain pilots were not old enough to vote but, as is the case in other wars, many of the young participants were not too young to lay down their lives for their country, in this case to save Britain from succumbing to the Nazis.
Not all were British. Fighter Command was a cosmopolitan mix during the Battle of Britain. Fighting alongside the 2,353 British pilots were (by best accounts) 610 pilots (20% of the RAF’s BoB pilots) from the following allied and “neutral” countries: Poland (145), New Zealand (135),Canada (113), Czechoslovakia (88), Australia (32), Belgium (30), South Africa (25), Free French (14), United States (11), Ireland (10), Southern Rhodesia (4), Jamaica (1), Barbados (1) and Northern Rhodesia (1). In the war of attrition that the Battle of Britain became, every single pilot and plane was important.
Roughly two-thirds of the roughly 3,000 RAF pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain were officers and the other third were sergeant and flight sergeant pilots. To supplement its ranks, the RAF recruited pilots from the Auxiliary Air Force – made up from the largely middle and upper classes who trained at weekend (hence the nickname “Weekend Warriors”) – and from the University Air Squadrons (created to attract young talent to the Service) and the Volunteer Reserve. Of the nearly 3,000 aircrew who fought in the Battle of Britain, 544 lost their lives.
One final statistic: RAF pilots were outnumbered 5-to-1 by both machine and men. What were the equalizers? The RAF had radar and the spirit of “The Few.”
Indeed, Winston Churchill did say it best: “The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and devotion… Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
Please join me and your fellow members on September 18th at 1830 at the ATCC to remember and honor “The Few.”