So here we are - late September 2020, nervously awaiting the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus. There are some out there who think that the entire thing is a hoax, a conspiracy cooked up by Bill Gates and others to place us under some form of mind control helped along by 5G radio waves and contaminated vaccines. There are others who are convinced that social lockdowns and strict COVID protocols are just the first step towards the final removal of all our civil liberties by an authoritarian government. People are anxious, confused and angry. What optimism we have lurks on the back burner.
It was probably the same 80 years ago in September 1940. The Battle of France had ended when we pulled most of our Army off the beaches of Dunkirk but it was to turn into the Battle of Britain. Adolf Hitler had fixed the date of Operation Sea Lion - the invasion of Britain - for September 21. On Saturday 7th September the Blitz began when the Luftwaffe shifted its focus from bombing British airfields and aircraft factories to conducting terror raids on London and other major cities in response to British bombing of Berlin. On September 10th a German bomb exploded at Buckingham palace for the first time. The following day Winston Churchill gave a radio address saying that a German invasion of Britain could not be delayed for much longer if it was to be tried at all, so “we must regard the next week or so as a very important week for us in our history… Every man and woman will therefore prepare himself and herself to do his duty whatever it may be, with special pride and care.”
On September 15th believing the RAF was near its breaking point, the Luftwaffe mounted an all-out offensive, sending two huge waves of about 250 bombers each to bomb London and surrounding areas. The RAF managed to scatter many of the German bomber formations and shoot down 61 planes while losing 31 in return, inflicting a clear and decisive defeat on the Germans. Two days later, on September 17th Hitler cancelled Operation Sea Lion indefinitely. On September 19th the RAF bombed German invasion barges in ports along the French coast. Hitler ordered the barges dispersed. On September 27th Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Act… and so the Axis was born.
We may think that life is difficult facing up to the COVID 19 pandemic - and with over 40,000 people having died from the disease perhaps it is; but it is not as threatening as it was that September 80 years ago. The Nazis were preparing to invade and now they were bombing our cities. Nobody really knew if they would survive that onslaught. Between September 1940 and May 1941 some 43,000 British civilians were killed and another 139,000 were wounded. Families were broken up with children evacuated into the country from our cities and adults, men and women, called up into the Armed forces. Some of them would never come home again. There was rationing of food, clothing and petrol. Leisure travel was discouraged and in those days before television, mobile phones, Zoom and the internet life might have been dull were it not for the ever-present war hanging over everyone’s head. Churchill had words for us then … “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
Maybe the time has come once again to brace ourselves to our duties and face another war, this time against an invisible enemy. Maybe our resolve has been dented by the confusing laws and guidance coming from our leaders. Maybe we have grown lethargic after months of lockdown and protocols. Maybe we just don’t care anymore - but maybe it’s the time for us, together, to take a responsible, collective approach and do what we can together to beat COVID 19. I know that lockdowns and social distancing and all the restrictions that go with them are irritating at best and disruptive and destructive at worst. I know that the guidance we receive is often confusing and contradictory but it is all we’ve got to get on with at the moment… so I think we should get on with it. We can do it. We proved so in September 1940 and we can do it again during the Battle of Britain 2020.
– from Martyn Day