In two previous articles on the Battle of Britain, and the commemoration of Battle of Britain Day on September 15th, I have mentioned Trafalgar Day (October 21st) and opined that there was a danger that Trafalgar Day is fading from our consciousness and that Battle of Britain Day will do likewise. It seems appropriate and consistent with my opinions to mention Trafalgar Day even on an aviation-themed blog.
I think J.M. W. Turner’s painting of the Battle of Trafalgar says more than my words ever could.
The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the starboard mizzen shrouds of the Victory by J. M. W. Turner (oil on canvas, 1806 to 1808) (Public Domain)
21st October is Trafalgar Day. I may have said this before. Trafalgar Day has receded from the collective memory of popular history, and I suppose it’s inevitable that, as the generations pass, 15th September, Battle of Britain Day, will pass similarly into the mists. As Abraham Lincoln said: “Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.” (Washington, D.C. December 1, 1862).
No doubt we will be remembered in spite of ourselves. As a practising historian I would like to think we can’t escape History, and it is a bit of a duty to make some recollection of our versions of events. I wasn’t there but I remember my friends families, teachers, shopkeepers and others reminiscing about 1940 in southern England. Somewhere there is a picture of the Messerschmitt 109 that crashed on Broom Hill, Strood. This was the closest aircraft crash to my home. I have memories of seeing Spitfires and Heinkels flying over my parents’ house in Rochester when the Battle of Britain movie was being made. Watching the movie doesn’t bring back memories of 1940, obviously, but it brings back memories of those days in 1968/9 and of going to see the movie sometime before I started secondary school in 1970. I would have started school about a week before the 30th anniversary of Battle of Britain Day. How odd to be thinking about the 76th anniversary today. In the words of the British musician Brian Eno (and Brian, you played a part in my youth too) “The passage of time is flicking dimly upon the screen” (“Golden Hours” Another Green World, 1975)
Rather than use one of the more warlike images available on the interwebs, here are the ground crews working flat out to repair Spitfires after the day’s fighting. I do believe that’s Robert Shaw’s car in the middle distance, and after a while Ian McShane is about to utter the immortal riposte to Shaw’s question “Did you get one?” – “All I got was a bellyful of the English Channel”
Scene from the 1969 movie “Battle of Britain”