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What is the significance of the Battle of Britain to Canada?

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Shown in the photograph are details of the Battle of Britain Monument located in London, United Kingdom. Designed by Paul Day, this bronze and granite sculpture is found on the Victoria Embankment, overlooking the River Thames, commemorates the British military personnel who took part in the Battle of Britain (10 July – 31 October 1940) during the Second World War. The monument's principal commemorative plaque best captures a short description of events: "War with Nazi Germany began in September 1939 and by June 1940 Hitler's forces had occupied most of Western Europe, with Fascist regimes also ruling in Italy and Spain. Further expansion of Nazi domination in Europe depended on Britain being neutralized by either invasion or surrender under German terms. / As Prime Minister Winston Churchill vowed that Britain would never surrender, the German High Command commenced 'Operation Sealion', the invasion of Britain. The first priority was for Germany's Luftwaffe to gain control of the skies above the English Channel and South East England to prevent the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force attacking the German invasion forces while they were at sea. / On 10th July 1940 the Luftwaffe started a series of attacks on ports and convoys in the English Channel. Using advanced warning from radar stations, Britain was defended in the air by RAF Fighter Command, under Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, with backup from balloon barrages and anti-aircraft gun installations on the ground. By early August, with German invasion forces and landing craft being assembled on the French coast, the attack became much heavier with German bombers and fighters concentrating on RAF airfields and aircraft factories. / During the hot summer of 1940, pilots, many under twenty years of age, would 'scramble' for their aircraft to intercept enemy raids as often as five times a day and into the night. Outnumbered in air battles, exhausted RAF squadrons were rotated to stations elsewhere in Britain and replaced by fresh units, often containing a high proportion of less experienced pilots. / By early September the increasingly critical situation, especially in Air Vice Marshal Keith Park's II Group, was relieved temporarily by the Luftwaffe turning its attention to London in a final attempt to break the British will to resist. The turning point came on 15th September when two huge air attacks were repulsed with heavy losses leading Hitler to concede than an invasion would fail. Day and night attack continued through to May 1941 but the main assault had ended by late October 1940. The failure to subdue Britain ultimately cost Germany the war. / Of the 2936 pilots and aircrew who fought in RAF Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain, 544 lost their lives and a further 795 did not live to see the final victory in 1945. One in six were from countries outside the United Kingdom and on the plaques surrounding this monument, their names have been grouped according to the airmen's country of origin. The plaques also feature the badges of their Squadrons. / It is in honour of the spirit and sacrifice of those immortalized as 'The few' and those supporting them that this monument has been erected."

From the "one in six" airmen who came from the fourteen Allied countries outside the United Kingdom, more than one hundred Canadians participated in the Battle of Britain, and 23 lost their lives. The Canadian contribution came mainly from No. 1 (Royal Canadian Air Force) Squadron which became operational on 17 August 1940 and in February 1941 it was designated 401 Squadron. This was the first time that Canada sent an expeditionary air force into battle in a coalition environment. Three of their members received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their efforts during the Battle of Britain. Canada also fought in the Royal Air Force’s 242 (Canadian) Squadron, which was predominantly composed of Canadians. While the Battle of Britain Monument lists the names of 112 Canadians who took part in the battle, there are untold others who flew or served as ground crew with other Royal Air Force squadrons as well as Bomber and Coastal Commands.

The Battle of Britain Monument was unveiled by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales on Sunday, 18 September 2005, "in the presence of survivors of THE FEW". This date was specifically chosen to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Britain which takes place annually on the third Sunday in September. As inscribed onto the monument's panel, Winston Churchill immortalized the Battle of Britain with his famous declaration that "NEVER IN THE FIELD OF HUMAN CONFLICT WAS SO MUCH OWED BY SO MANY TO SO FEW".

On this day, 18 September 2022 – 3rd Sunday in September – we commemorate the 82nd anniversary of the Battle of Britain, a turning point of the Second World War, and mark the 17th anniversary of the dedication of the Battle of Britain Monument in London, United Kingdom.

André M. Levesque

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