A Battle of Britain Memory on Churchill’s Birthday

A Battle of Britain Memory on Churchill’s Birthday

A Bat­tle of Britain Mem­o­ry on Sir Win­ston Churchill’s 148th Birth­day, 30 Novem­ber 2022

Portent: 1737

Over 200 years before the Bat­tle of Britain, the poet Thomas Gray, famed for his Church­yard Ele­gy, wrote a remark­able, pre­dic­tive verse. It was brought to my atten­tion by Richard Cohen, founder of the excel­lent Facebook forum Win­ston Churchill. Trans­lat­ed from the Latin from Luna Hab­it­abilis (The Hab­it­able Moon), 1737.

The time will come when thou shall lift thine eyes

To watch a long-drawn bat­tle in the skies

While aged peas­ants too amazed for words

Stare at the fly­ing fleets of won­drous birds.

Eng­land so long mis­tress of the sea

Where winds and waves caress her sovereignty

Her ancient tri­umphs yet on high shall bear

And reign the sov­er­eign of the con­quered air.

20 August 2010

Sev­en decades to the day after Win­ston Churchill’s inspir­ing salute to the Roy­al Air Force as the Bat­tle of Britain was reach­ing its height, Tim­o­thy Robert Hardy, the great­est actor ever to por­tray Churchill, deliv­ered por­tions of his 1940 speech con­tain­ing the famous trib­ute: “Nev­er in the field of human con­flict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

The orig­i­nal speech was a long overview of the war sit­u­a­tion, cov­er­ing many events beside “the great air bat­tle” rag­ing over Britain. In def­er­ence to the occa­sion, Robert Hardy deft­ly pro­vid­ed Churchill’s trib­ute to the air­men, and oth­er excerpts from the full speech deliv­ered in the House of Com­mons 70 years before. (Avail­able via email.)

Battle: The Greatest Actor

In 2010 Robert Hardy was approach­ing his 85th birthday—though it was impos­si­ble to visu­al­ize him as much more than 70. (He left us at 91 in 2017.) His Churchill roles began with the mar­velous tele­vi­sion series “The Wilder­ness Years” and extend­ed through numer­ous film per­for­mances and even a stage play. He often said Churchill led us through 1940 with the force of his speech­es, courage and charis­ma. We say in reply that Robert Hardy’s work expressed all the Churchillian qual­i­ties. Through his skill the true Churchill emerged for new generations.

At the end of his August 1940 speech Churchill expressed his opti­mism for a com­ing alliance of Eng­lish-speak­ing peo­ples. Free nations every­where will under­stand those words. If or when we are faced by such a per­il again, pray that we find such a leader.

Churchill was refer­ring to Pres­i­dent Roosevelt’s inter­est Amer­i­can mil­i­tary facil­i­ties in New­found­land and the West Indies when he concluded:

The British Empire and the Unit­ed States will have to be some­what mixed up togeth­er in some of their affairs for mutu­al and gen­er­al advan­tage. For my own part, look­ing out upon the future, I do not view the process with any mis­giv­ings. I could not stop it if I wished; no one can stop it. Like the Mis­sis­sip­pi, it just keeps rolling along. Let it roll. Let it roll on full flood, inex­orable, irre­sistible, benig­nant, to broad­er lands and bet­ter days.

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