“With twice as many fighters as The Royal Air Force, and countless more bombers, in June 1940 there seemed little or no chance that the Luftwaffe could be stopped. But over the next three and a half months nearly three thousand pilots - drawn from fifteen nations (who I am proud to see are represented here today) - flew with the most remarkable courage and tenacity day after day, night after night, to counter the German onslaught. During the Battle almost 550 pilots were killed defending this island. And nearly half of all those who flew in the Battle of Britain were dead by the end of the War. But by late 1940 it had become clear that, incredibly, the Royal Air Force had overcome quite overwhelming odds, making the invasion of Britain impossible”
This is a quotation from a speech by HRH The Prince of Wales for the unveiling of the Battle of Britain monument at the Embankment, London, Sunday 18th September, 2005
I quote these words by way of introduction to another short brilliant poem I like. This one was written by an actual pilot in The Battle of Britain who perished at the young age of 19, though not in that particular battle. Once again the images are brilliant.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
Hov'ring there, I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
by John Gillespie Magee
[Magee was a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force when he wrote the above poem. He was killed at age 19 when shot down in the World War II Battle of Britain. The poem has been a favorite of pilots, and was carried to the Moon by several of the Apollo astronauts.]
I have included a photo of John Gillespie Magee above, downloaded from the link to the quoted site, q.v. - it is excellent!