Marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the Royal Canadian Air Force held a ceremony at the Beechwood National Military Cemetery in Ottawa earlier this week. It was the first time an RCAF unit saw combat in the Second World War.

The Battle, which took place in the skies over England from July 10 to October 31, 1940, saw over 100 Canadian airmen take to the skies and many hundreds more serving as ground crew. Twenty-three Canadian pilots were killed during the Battle.

“Today we honour the air and the ground crew of Canadian and Allied air forces who turned the tide of the Second World War during the Battle of Britain,” said RCAF Commander Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger at the ceremony. “Our lives might be very different today, if they had not answered the call and fought against oppressive forces.”

The Canadian unit was initially called the No. 1 Fighter Squadron before being renamed 401 Squadron later. Prior to its formation, Canadian pilots had flown with Britain’s Royal Air Force in both the First World War and in the early days of the Second World War.

The anniversary is always observed on the first Sunday following September 15. It was on that date in 1940 that the most intense fighting took place, leading two days later to German Fuhrer and Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler postponing his planned invasion of Britain.

This was the event that led British prime minister memorably declaring, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Photo courtesy of the RCAF