Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum, Pierre Taquet, Philippe Huberlant, Archives as mentioned
Translation: David Niemegeerts   İ sbap 2017
 

The Battle of Britain Memorial is a monument dedicated to Churchill's famous "Few", who fought in the skies overhead to keep this country free from invasion. It is sited on the White Cliffs at Capel-le-Ferne, between Dover and Folkestone in Kent, and occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of all those who have visited this emotionally moving site.
The site was initiated by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, and was inaugurated by the Queen Mother on July 9th, 1993. The monument is formed of a large propeller-shaped base, a stone figure of a pilot, carved by Harry Gray, which, in a contemplative mood stands as a permanent tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of those who served their country so unselfishly in her hour of need.
At the time Harry Gray was approached, he had, by a remarkable coincidence, been thinking of carving a pilot but could not get the design right. One day Harry and his trainee took a rest, and the pose adopted by his colleague provided Harry with inspiration. The seated airman looking out to sea was born, surrounded by the badges of the Allied squadrons and other units that took part in the Battle.
The Memorial itself inspires quiet reflection on the bravery and sacrifice shown by the aircrew who flew, fought and sometimes died in probably the most crucial battle fought by this country in the whole of the 20th century.
Situated high on the White Cliffs, this stirring Memorial to the heroes of the Battle of Britain has become a place of pilgrimage for anyone with an interest in the remarkable story of how the Royal Air Force changed the course of World War ll.
In October 2010 HRH Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, unveiled a bust of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park by sculptor Will Davies at the site.
In March 2015, Her Majesty The Queen Elisabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh opened the new visitor experience, an iconic "wing" building which provides an exciting addition to the site, using audio-visual effects to give visitors an idea of life during the Battle. The Scramble Experience won the "Project of the Year" at the 2016 Kent Design and Development awards. A wonderful shop to get all possible souvenirs of books about the Battle of Britain is also available.
Outside, two full-scale replica models of a Spitfire and a Hurricane are visible. But the most impressive is certainly the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall, which lists the names of all those who took part in the Battle of Britain.

 
Wing Commander Geoffrey Page... the origin
 

The idea for a National Memorial to "The Few" came from one of their own, the Wing Commander Geoffrey Page. Geoffrey Page was a 20 year-old Hurricane pilot with 56 Squadron based at Digby when the Battle of Britain began.
During an attack on Do17's ten miles north of Margate on August 12th, Page was shot down and bailed out, badly burned and injured. He was rescued by tender and transferred to the Margate lifeboat. His Hurricane, P2970 (US-X), crashed in flames two miles off Epple Bay.
Page was in hospital for over two years. He underwent plastic surgery at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead and was a founder-member of the Guinea Pig Club for RAF personnel treated in this Hospital, by the team of plastic surgeons led by Archie Mc Indoe.
Determination and courage ensured that Geoffrey Page returned to operational flying, on June 18th, 1944, aged 24, he was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and appointed Wing Leader of 125 Wing.
End of September 1944, Page's aircraft was damaged by flak over the Arnhem bridgehead and he crashed on landing, injured his face on his gun sight and fractured his back. He was flown back to England and taken to the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead again.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar (DFC) on July 30th, 1943 and received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on December 29th, 1944 being then credited with fifteen enemy aircraft destroyed.
After the war, in 1946, Geoffrey Page was attached to Vickers-Armstrong at Weybridge as test pilot. Granted a Permanent Commission in 1946, Geoffrey Page became Commander Officer of the 64 Squadron, operating the De Havilland Hornet.
He retired from the RAF on December 1st, 1948 as a Squadron Leader and joined Vickers-Armstrong as a sales executive.
Years later, Geoffrey realized to his astonishment that there was no memorial to his comrades who had flown with him in Fighter Command in 1940.
His determination that "The Few" should be remembered found a focus at "Hellfire Corner", the area of Dover and Folkestone over which so much of the air combat had taken place in 1940. The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust was established and fund raising began.
Sir Geoffrey Page passed away on August 3rd, 2000, shortly after attending the Memorial Day marking the 60th anniversary of the Battle. The starboard wing of the "Wing building" dedicated to education resource for schools, is now named the Geoffrey Page Centre in honour of the man who was the inspiration for this unique site.

 

The result of August 12th, 1940 
(DRİ)
Hawker Hurricane US-X from 56 Sqn taking off
and Wing Commander Geoffrey Page (center) later during the war
(Coll Serge Van Heertum) & (Coll Denis Eusicom)
 

Why the Capel-le-Ferne site?

 

The site chosen for the Battle of Britain memorial is located at Capel-le-Ferne. This location played an important part in the two World Wars history.
First World War: RNAS Capel (later RAF Folkestone) was a First World War airship station.
When Germany declared in February 1915 that it would start unrestricted submarine warfare the Royal Navy responded with the building of airship stations around the coast.
Being close to the Dover Straits the open fields east of Capel-le-Ferne were seen as an ideal location for a base and work started in April 1915. Although not completed the base was officially opened on May 8th, 1915. The first airship for Capel-le-Ferne was the SS-1, the first of a new sea scout class of non-rigid airships. On delivery to RNAS Capel from RNAS Kingsnorth on May 7th, 1915 it hit telegraph wires and was destroyed. Despite the accident more sea scouts were soon delivered to Capel-le-Ferne.

 
 Capel-Le-Ferne Airship base
(DRİ)
Inside the airship hangar
(DRİ)
 
Airship production: Following the successful repair of the SS-10 at Capel-le-Ferne, production of the airships moved from Kingsnorth to RNAS Capel although by 1916 production had moved again to Vickers at Barrow and RNAS Wormwood Scrubs. The engineering section at Capel-le-Ferne went on to design an improved variant of the SS airship model which would be known as the SSZ series. The SSZ had an improved aluminum covered ash-framed cart and was fitted with a 75hp Rolls-Royce Hawk aero-engine, it was also fitted with a 2,000 m3 envelope and did is test flight in August 1916. When the Admiralty were informed about the new airship they censured the air station for carrying out unauthorized modifications, but on the other hand ordered the new type into production.
 
 The S.S.Z series was concepted at Capel
(DRİ)
(DRİ)
 

Operations: The airships carried out patrols along the English coast and escorted shipping across the channel always on the lookout for submarines. In April 1918 the Royal Air Force was formed and Capel and the site became RAF Folkestone, it had by then three large airship sheds and a grass landing area. On September 16th, 1918 SSZ.1 while under the command of a United States Navy officer depth-charged and sunk submarine UB-103.
Two sub-stations were used, at Godmersham Park north of Wye, and Wittersham south of Tenterden, were active. The sites were used as mooring-out bases where the airships could be secured in a sheltered area.
Following the end of the First World War the station was closed in 1919.

 
S.S.Z 37 in action above the channel
(DRİ)
SS Airships (B.E.2c car)
(DRİ)
SS Airships (Maurice Farman car)
(DRİ)
This painting represent Calpel-le-Ferne activities
 (DRİ)
  
Second World War: With the collapse of Belgium and France in June 1940 Britain found herself facing possible invasion. Accordingly there was an urgent need for guns to defend the coast, particularly in the area around Dover, only twenty-two miles from German occupied France!
In July 1940, amongst many other measures, Winston Churchill ordered the Admiralty to release six fifteen-inch and six eight-inch high performance guns to boost coastal defense and to improve cross channel artillery capability from Dover. In 1941 the construction of a gun battery began on this site. From this vantage point the three 8 inch guns that formed the battery were able to provide anti-shipping defensive fire into the English Channel from 1942 onwards. The naval pattern 8 inch guns had been installed in sites forty feet deep, protected by concrete walls that were six to eight feet thick. The plotting room, shelter and dressing station for the battery were all kept underground. The most part of the personnel accommodation was underground, including a "hospital" or large sick quarters. On the surface were an observation post (OP) and two engine blocks. Capel's anti-aircraft defense provided by two 40mm Bofors guns. A legend tell that the first ranging shot from Capel-le-Ferne struck Dungeness... The British Army left the site definitively in 1952.
 
Construction of the Capel batteries February 1942
(British Military Archivesİ)
The concrete is finished March 1942
(British Military Archivesİ)
Mounting of the 8 inches gum April 1942
(British Military Archivesİ)
Ready and waiting the ennemy May 1942
(British Military Archivesİ)
 
The Battle of Britain Memorial
 

(Serge Van Heertumİ) (Serge Van Heertumİ)
Harry Gray carving and the "Wing" building
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The screw
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
(Serge Van Heertumİ) The BoB squadrons are carved around the pilot
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
 

The Foxley-Norris Wall: The wall is named in tribute to the late Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris, a Hurricane fighter pilot in 1940. He was the first President of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and, together with Lady Foxley-Norris, provided the funds that allowed plans for the wall to go ahead. (Serge Van Heertumİ)

 
(Serge Van Heertumİ) (Serge Van Heertumİ)
(Serge Van Heertumİ) Some Belgian names are visible on the wall
(Serge Van Heertumİ)

Air Chief Marshal Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding, GCB, GCVO, CMG (24 April 1882 - 15 February 1970) was an officer in the Royal Air Force. He served as a fighter pilot and then as commanding officer of No. 16 Squadron during the First World War. During the inter-war years he became Air Officer Commanding Fighting Area, Air Defence of Great Britain and then joined the Air Council as Air Member for Supply and Research. He was Air Officer Commanding RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, and is generally credited with playing a crucial role in Britain's defence, and hence, the defeat of Adolf Hitler's plan to invade Britain. He was unwillingly replaced in command in November 1940. After leaving Fighter Command, Dowding was sent on special duty to the United States for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, but there he made himself unpopular with his outspokenness. On his return he headed a study into economies of RAF manpower before retiring from the Royal Air Force in July 1942. He was elevated to the peerage, as Baron Dowding of Bentley Priory on 2 June 1943. Dowding died at his home in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on 15 February 1970. Following his cremation, his ashes were laid to rest below the Battle of Britain Memorial Window in the Royal Air Force chapel at Westminster Abbey.

(Serge Van Heertumİ)

Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park, GCB, KBE, MC & Bar, DFC (15 June 1892 - 6 February 1975) was a New Zealand soldier, First World War flying ace and Second World War Royal Air Force commander. He was in operational command during two of the most significant air battles in the European theatre in the Second World War, helping to win the Battle of Britain and the Battle of Malta. In Germany, he was supposedly known as "the Defender of London". In January 1942 Park went to Egypt as Air Officer Commanding, where he built up the air defence of the Nile Delta. In July 1942, following growing concern over the German and Italian attacks on Malta, he returned to action, commanding the vital air defence of the island. In February 1945 Park was appointed Allied Air Commander, South-East Asia, where he served until the end of the war. Park retired and was promoted to Air Chief Marshal on 20 December 1946 and returned to New Zealand, where he took up a number of civic roles and was elected to the Auckland City Council in 1962. He lived in New Zealand until his death on 6 February 1975, aged 82 years.

  (Serge Van Heertumİ)


Curving wall with the historic sentence of Sir Winston Churchill
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
BoB the dog represent the squadron mascot's
 (Serge Van Heertumİ)
 
Hawker Hurricane Mk Ia replica
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The title of the US-X (P2970) the plane of Sir Geoffrey Page
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
(Serge Van Heertumİ) Supermarine Spitfire Mk Ia replica
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The YT-J (R6775) was the plane of Jeffrey Quill (Supermarine Test Pilot)
in August 1940. He tested the plane in combat for the Company.
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The plane from 65 Sqn was later the mount of 
Pl Off Boleslaw Dobrinski (Polish)
(Philippe Huberlantİ)

The Wing is not a museum but houses The Scramble Experience, a hands-on attraction that uses audio-visual effects, a video wall and other special techniques to show something of what it was like for the Few in the summer and early autumn of 1940. (BOB Memorial)

 
Some splendid painting are visible in the "Wing" building
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
US-X the Hurricane of Geoffrey Page
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Inside the scramble experience
(BOB Memorialİ)
(BOB Memorialİ)
(BOB Memorial) Some interesting books can be bought in the memorial shop
(BOB Memorial)
 
Battle of Britain book selection by Pierre Taquet
 
 

Since more than seventy years, the iconic Battle of Britain has generated a vast amount of books, in various formats and destined to the widest audiences. Amongst these numerous references, we first like to recommend two books of autobiographic nature, that desserve the "top shelf" rank:

"First Flight" by Geoffrey Wellum. 
Geoffrey was actually the very youngest of all Battle of Britain fighter pilots. He applied to the RAF at the age of 17 1/2 in July 1939, and graduated just in time to take part to the "Battle". He went from Tiger Moth solo to Harvard night flying to Spitfire with 92 sqn in record time - even before his Harvard course could be completed, due to war urgency. And not being a born-pilot, with lots of difficulties frankly acknowledged. From his first Spitfire flight, he recorded: "She was flying me during the landing almost as much as during the take-off". The rest of his story is told at same breathtaking pace, until he is sent home on sick leave, totally exhausted both physically and mentally. Fortunately, he survived the war to write these splendid memoirs, despite he kept no diaries, he likes to stress.

"The Last Ennemy" by Richard Hillary. 
Born in Australia in 1919. Educated from 1937 to 1939 in the Oxford University, he was a distinguished member of its rowing team and then joined its RAF University Air Squadron. Richard always kept a quite egocentric if not dandy attitude, and was consistently noted "below average" for his flying. His numerous successes with the tender sex contrast with a rather individual posture towards his contemporaries, except a few true friends such as Noël Agazarian. In fact "he was a writer who was a fighter pilot, not a fighter pilot who could write",commented David Ross, author of Richard Hillary's definitive biography (also recommended). Hillary's life had a turning point in September 1940 when he was shot down and badly burned to face and hands - wearing no gloves nor googles despite the rules. This led to a very long chirurgical recovery process at the end of which he was able to write his book in record time - published later by the same editor in New-York, the same day - 19 June 1942 - as "Flight to Arras" of Saint-Exupéry. Instantly, he became an acclaimed author, both in the USA and in UK. Despite his poor physical state and marginal hands use recovery, he insisted to fly again. He met his fate on 8 January 1943 when his Blenheim crashed due to severe icing - he was only 23.

Then, on a more historical point of view, two more books can be recommended:

"The Narrow Margin" by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster.
This classical book first published in 1961 has been re-edited over the years in various languages and editions, some widely illustrated. This book was the basis for the famous "Battle of Britain" movie released in 1969. It describes the rising Luftwaffe power and its RAF counterpart from 1930 onwards, and the critical BoB period, from July 10 to October 31 nearly day by day. The best compliment to the authors came from Hugh Dowding himself: "Undoubtely the best account that I have read of the factual history of the Battle of Britain".

"The Most Dangerous Ennemy", by Stephen Bungay.
Stephen is an expert military historian and calls his book "an illustrated history of the Batttle of Britain". First published in 2010, this deeply researched book indeed provides a fresh, serious vision of the subject, combining deepest analyses with numerous "small facts" long lost of sight. Iconography is simply superb.

 
 
The white cliff of Dover
 

Looking towards the Channel, the attention is drawn to a large concrete slab. The first idea to link this building to aviation history is obvious because it could be a slab for seaplanes accommodation or more modern hovercraft. But it is not so. It is a genius civil engineering construction designed to control and limit landslides leading to the collapse of the famous white chalk cliffs between Dover and Folkestone.
The work of this construction dates back to 1948 for the greatest part of the apron and ends in 1955 with the sea defence works.
To understand the usefulness of this work, we must make a return in time ...
In 1884, the South East Main Line railway was built from Ashford to Folkestone and then onwards to Dover, through the Warren. Folkestone Warren Halt railway station was opened in 1886, and a bridge was built over the Main Line leading to a gate on to The Warren from which the public could picnic and enjoy the dramatic scenery in the area. Also a zig-zag path led down the East Cliff to the station.
On December 19th, 1915, a large landslip resulted in the entire under cliff supporting the Main Line moved towards the sea causing approximately 1.5 million cubic meters of chalk to slip or fall burying Warren Halt and the railway line. Fortunately, no-one was hurt in the occurrence. This was one of the largest landslides in Kent. The station and the line were closed until 1919.
The Warren was still a popular picnic spot in Edwardian times and a nearby tea chalet served hundreds of visitors daily. The land was then defended from coastal erosion with the intentional effect of stopping any more landslips to the land beyond the line. In 1923, the Halt Station was rebuilt by the Southern Railway which added a set of platforms. The station remained open for a further 16 years before another landslip in 1939.
More infos:
http://www.semgonline.com/RlyMag/CoastErosionWorksInFolkestoneWarren.pdf

 
The famous apron: Seaplanes...Hovercraft?
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
Aerial view of the Memorial and the apon
(From Google Earth)
The railway line Dover - Folkestone and the Abott's cliff tunel
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The other side: Folkestone
(Serge Van Heertumİ)
The warren halt in 1910
(Archives DRİ)
After the landslide of December 1915
(Archives DRİ)
The catastrophic result
(Archives DRİ)
A view from the other side
(Archives DRİ)
The famous engeenering construction in 1948
(Archives DRİ)
Generic sketch illustrating the geology and geomorphology of 
the landslide complex (Ground Engeneering Mag 2011)
 
A general plan of the coast with the Toe Weighting and the construction dates  (Archives British Railwaysİ)
 
(Serge Van Heertumİ) (Pierre Taquetİ)
 
 More information's about the memorial can be found with a "click" on the picture (Serge Van Heertumİ)
 

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