“The Few”

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of one of the most famous speeches in modern history. On 20 August 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the British House of Commons and delivered his epic speech to honour “The Few” the Allied airmen of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) who fought the Battle of Britain.

At the time of Churchill’s speech, the United Kingdom was in a precarious situation. It stood alone against Nazi Germany and was enduring relentless attacks by the Luftwaffe. Nonetheless, although badly outnumbered, the Allied pilots were managing to hold their own and thus forestall a German invasion.

On 16 August, four days before his speech, Churchill visited a Royal Air Force Station in northwest London. It was a day when the pilots scrambled repeatedly to respond to air raids. Apparently Churchill was so struck by what he saw that he told a British Major General “Don’t speak to me. I have never been so moved.” Then, after several minutes of silence, he said, “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” Those 18 words would become the backbone of his speech and would be etched in history forever.

The Battle of Britain began on 10 July 1940 and ended three and a half months later on 31 October 1940. Churchill’s speech was a source of tremendous inspiration during a very dark time for the Allies. It stands as a testament to the power of words to lift the hearts of people, even in the most trying of circumstances.

The entire speech is too lengthy to transcribe here, but I would be remiss if I did not at least quote the part that inspired this post.

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, 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. All our hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day.

You can read more about Churchill’s speech here and here.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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7 Responses to “The Few”

  1. Gabrielle Smith says:

    9 years later this is helping a history student doing their coursework. Thanks!

  2. Good post. To be precise, on 16 August the PM visited an Operations Room in Uxbridge.
    Anyway, this came to be his best-remembered quote.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thank you, Spitfire, for the clarifications. I knew about Uxbridge, but as several sites refer to Uxbridge as being located in northwest London, I opted for that reference to help non-British readers situate the event. But you are definitely right and doubtless right about the Operations Room. I have visited your excellent site on the Spitfire and would be loathe to question your call on such matters.

  3. Faisal says:

    Thanks John. That’s a great article on a great speech.

  4. pmwriting says:

    Churchill is one of those iconic speakers who used words to change history. My favorite is, “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.'”

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Patricia. I fully agree. And how can one not like the quote that you cite? I was saved from having to make a decision by the fact that “The Few” speech occurred exactly 70 years ago.



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