Look up into the sky. Picture small planes swooping and diving in the blue yonder as though on a choreographed ballet.
But look more closely and you will see them chasing each other like angry hornets disturbed from their nest. Can you hear the discharge of cannon fire from the planes as the pilots try to down one another?
One is hit!
Strain your eyes to follow its downward spiral as the stricken aircraft, spinning, plummets to earth, crashing in a ball of fire onto a field of recently harvested wheat. Was it one of ours or one of theirs? You ask. Suddenly the dog-fight’s over. The air is silent and for a time peace reigns.
Such was the experience of those who lived in Sussex and Kent 75 years ago as the Battle of Britain raged over the downs, marsh and fields of these counties.
Nazi Germany was attempting to clear the way for the invasion of our land. In its path stood the RAF with too few pilots and an inadequate number of planes. Production of Spitfires and Hurricanes rapidly increased but how could pilots be trained for aerial combat in a matter of weeks?
The Battle continued from June to October 1940. Lose this phase of the war and the Channel would become a gateway for a brutal oppressor.
Well, we know the rest of the story.
Young men with little flying experience flew alongside more mature pilots to thwart the enemy’s planes. We lost over 1,000 aircraft and 544 pilots of many allied nations to win the Battle.
75 years on, it is a part of our history and during this Battle of Britain week, we recall it. The continued freedom of our land, so highly prized by refugees fleeing conflict and oppression, was won in 1940.
Surely it is right for a moment to look up into the sky and give thanks for the courage and self- sacrifice of young men, many in their early twenties, who paid the cost of victory with their lives.
So Churchill famously said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
For how long should we keep remembrance? Trafalgar Day had a national importance until the horrors of the First World War burst upon the world.
One day, I suppose, the “Few” will be forgotten.
That is why the Church continues to put self-sacrifice at the heart of its worship and teaching. 2,000 years ago, a young man committed himself to the cause of God’s Kingly rule of love, truth and justice.
It was far too radical for some and it cost him his life. The outcome of his death was, however, beyond all human imagining. Jesus’ resurrection is evidence that God and divine attributes like service and sacrifice are undefeatable.
Good must prevail. Otherwise we would live in a hellish universe.
The Church in its worship and teaching can still inspire young and old to respond to God’s call to defeat evil and allow goodness to flourish.