The Battle of Britain, one of the defining battles of World War Two took place 75 years ago, from July until October 1940, and is officially commemorated by Canadians today.
More than 100 of our airmen took part in the fight to defeat Hitler’s attempt to wipe out the Allied air forces and gain control of the last free skies in Europe.
My father served in the RCAF during WWII, but didn’t make it overseas until the Battle of Britain was over. But some of his friends and friends he made later in life took part.
I met one of them when he was well into his 90’s. Still clear-eyed and vibrant –- and still humble about what he and a handful of others had accomplished.
We sat in a pub over pints of British ale and he told me his stories. The dog fights. The days of multiple kills. The loss of many companions.
In the end, he said, it didn’t feel like a battle had been won, so much as breathing room gained to carry on the fight.
When I asked about the lighter moments, he glanced at his glass and smiled. “They used to put saltpeter in our beer back then,” he said. “And you know, I think it’s starting to work”.
There’s a trait I’ve noticed in people who’ve done truly great things. They don’t think what they did was really a big deal. It was just a task that needed to be accomplished.
I also don’t think any of them feel a need to be appreciated. The satisfaction of a job well done was reward enough.
The so few owed so much by so many are even fewer now and deserve our acknowledgement and respect. But I think we also mark these moments to remind ourselves that someday we too may be called to do something selfless and courageous and important to preserving our way of life.
As always, there will be few who step up to take on the task at hand. And as always, the rest of us will know this forever sets them apart, if only by exemplifying a rare but enduring trait of the human spirit –- the willingness to place others above self.
Enjoy Your Sunday.