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 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 spoke. “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, etched in history forever.
The Battle of Britain began on 10 July 1940 and ended 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 move people, even in the most difficult 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.