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Photo Credit: Aaron Chown/ PA Images/ PA Wire
Photo Credit: Aaron Chown/ PA Images/ PA Wire
Photo Credit: Aaron Chown/ PA Images/ PA Wire
Photo Credit: Aaron Chown/ PA Images/ PA Wire
UK News

Westminster Abbey service marks 80th anniversary of Battle of Britain

by Press Association

The 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain was commemorated at Westminster Abbey in the venue's first major service since lockdown.

The annual Sunday service usually attracts around 2,000 people to the London landmark as the UK commemorates the first battle in history fought entirely in the air during the Second World War.

However, Sunday's event saw attendance significantly reduced and social-distancing measures in place for around 100 invited guests - with the abbey vowing the service will be "reduced in stature but not in spirit".

It was the first major service to take place at Westminster Abbey since the Commonwealth Day service held earlier this year on 9th March, two weeks before the UK went into lockdown in response to the pandemic.

Photo Credit: Aaron Chown/ PA Images/ PA Wire
Photo Credit: Aaron Chown/ PA Wire/ PA Images

The 11am service, led by Dr David Hoyle - the Dean of Westminster Abbey, included an act of remembrance, during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour bearing the names of 1,497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded in the battle will be borne through the church.

It was followed by a procession of flags, readings, prayers and music - with a flypast over Westminster Abbey planned at the end of the service.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, along with Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, gave a reading. 

Photo Credit: Aaron Chown/ PA Images/ PA Wire
Photo Credit: Aaron Chown/ PA Wire/ PA Images

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Stirrup representing the Prince of Wales were among others in attendance.

In his address, Chaplain in Chief, the Venerable Air Vice Marshal John Ellis, honoured NHS staff and key workers in the "fight against an invisible army" as he drew comparisons between the Battle of Britain and the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: "Once again there have been sacrifices made, often quiet, often humble, unnoticed by many.

"Although starkly different events, each of them has two things that are so important for our humanity - service and value. We have seen the selfless giving to a greater cause."

Around 50 people gathered outside in the sunshine at Westminster Abbey to watch the flypast.

The Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought in the skies over the UK in 1940, and although the battle took place between July and October, 15th September saw the British Royal Air Force (RAF) gain a decisive victory over the Luftwaffe in what was Nazi Germany's largest daylight attack.

Some 1,120 Luftwaffe aircraft were sent to attack London, but were repelled by just 630 RAF fighters - and two days later Hitler postponed his plans to invade Britain.

Westminster Abbey has held a service of thanksgiving and rededication on Battle of Britain Sunday every year since 1944.

Previous services have been held in the presence of a member of the royal family, and attended by representatives of the government and the RAF alongside veterans and their families.

Commemorations have been limited this year due to coronavirus restrictions, but a variety of tributes took place across the UK including special exhibitions from the Imperial War Museum, a radar-based lightshow by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and the addition of several new sites to the National Heritage List.

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