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