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Prince Charles and Camilla

The Prince of Wales attends a special service for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain

The Prince of Wales attended the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication at Westminster Abbey on Sunday. The Duchess of Cornwall had been scheduled to attend, but according to Clarence House, she was taking it easy after her bout with gastroenteritis. Camilla had to cancel her two most recent scheduled events as she is on the mend.

In June Charles and Camilla hosted a tea party at Clarence House today for pilots and aircrew who fought in the Second World War.

The annual service honours the extraordinary victory as well as the tragic loss of life, by Royal Air Force pilots and aircrew during the Battle of Britain in 1940. The yearly occasion marks the nation’s appreciation for the service and sacrifice of those who took part in this decisive phase of World War Two.

The largest scale aerial battle known as The Battle of Britain took place on 15 September 1940. This year marks 75 years since the German Luftwaffe launched its biggest and most intense attack against London. The goal was to draw out the RAF into a battle, and Germany planned to attack and destroy them. Approximately 1,500 aircraft took part in the air battles that continued until dusk. The operation was the culmination of the Battle of Britain.

It was Churchill who said on 20 August 1940: “The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

It was proclaimed in 1945 that Allied airmen who had taken part in the Battle of Britain would be awarded the 1939-1945 Star, with Battle of Britain Clasp, the only Clasp conferred with the 1939-1945 Star.

In the years after the war, those who were awarded the Clasp would get together. The Battle of Britain Fighter Association (BBFA) was formed in 1958 with full membership only accessible to holders of the Battle of Britain Clasp.

Lord Dowding was the first President and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother became Patron. Prince Charles is the current Patron of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association.

The RAF window in Henry VII's Lady Chapel.

The RAF window in Henry VII’s Lady Chapel.

The pilots and aircrew are honoured in the RAF Chapel at the east end of the Abbey’s Henry VII Chapel. There a stunning stained glass memorial window designed by Hugh Easton was unveiled on 10 July 1947 by King George VI.

Prince Charles arrived at the West Gate of Westminster Abbey for the ceremony which was attended by veterans and their families as well as current members of the RAF. There were around 2000 people in total in the congregation. The service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend John Hall.

The ceremony began with the Prince of Wales laying a wreath at the Churchill Memorial at the Abbey which was unveiled fifty years ago by The Queen. The National Anthem was sung and then the Dean of Westminster led the congregation in prayers.

The service included readings from the Old and New Testaments and several hymns. And there was a deeply moving moment when some of the veterans of the Battle of Britain formed a guard of honour around the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour as it was carried from the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior to the Sacrarium in an Act of Remembrance. With them were some of the family members of those who never returned from this vital fight in World War Two as well as some of those serving with the RAF.

This national service of Thanksgiving follows a week of commemorations for the Battle of Britain which was a major turning point in the Second World War. On Battle of Britain Day, Prince Harry witnessed a fly past of World War Two planes including Spitfires and on the same day the Earl of Wessex attended a service at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Duke of Gloucester paid tribute to Battle of Britain heroes at a ceremony in Swindon on the same day.

And earlier this summer, The Queen led members of the Royal Family including the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of Cambridge on the balcony of Buckingham Palace where they watched a fly past to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Following the service, Charles joined a reception for veterans and their families at Church House. Church House is the headquarters of the Church of England, at the south end of Dean’s Yard next to Westminster Abbey.

Featured Photo Credit: Downing Street via Flickr

Photo Credit: Herry Lawford via Flickr