Last of The Few see Battle of Britain anniversary flypast

The Countess of Wessex, Earl of Wessex, Duke of Cambridge, the Queen , Duke of Edinburgh, Duke of York, Duke of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent, Princess Alexandra and the Duke of Gloucester prepare to view a RAF fly-past to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, from the balcony of Buckingham Palace
The Countess of Wessex, Earl of Wessex, Duke of Cambridge, the Queen , Duke of Edinburgh, Duke of York, Duke of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent, Princess Alexandra and the Duke of Gloucester prepare to view a RAF fly-past to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, from the balcony of Buckingham Palace
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THE Queen has led the nation in marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain - watching a flypast of historic aircraft over the capital.

Spitfires and Hurricanes - fighters synonymous with the Second World War aerial conflict - flew over Buckingham Palace as the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Duke of Cambridge looked on.

The planes from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were joined by their modern counterparts, Typhoon jets, which produced a deafening roar.

Among the guests invited to witness the fly past were six RAF Battle of Britain pilots - famously dubbed the “few” by wartime prime minister Winston Churchill.

Leading the flypast in a Spitfire was Squadron Leader Duncan Mason, officer commanding the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight based at RAF Coningsby, who said: “For us, taking part today was an incredible honour.

“Events like these events don’t happen, but today gave us - the RAF and the nation - the opportunity to commemorate and recognise those extraordinary feats 75 years ago.

Battle of Britain veterans Wing Commander TF Neil, 249 Squadron Hurricaines (left) and Geoffrey Harris Augustus Wellum, 92 Squadron Spitfires (right) view an RAF fly-past to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain veterans Wing Commander TF Neil, 249 Squadron Hurricaines (left) and Geoffrey Harris Augustus Wellum, 92 Squadron Spitfires (right) view an RAF fly-past to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain

“Knowing that six Battle of Britain veteran pilots were watching us, flying the very same aircraft they won the battle in, was humbling and I hope we did them proud.”

The 75th anniversary is likely to be the last major anniversary at which the elderly airmen will be fit to take part.

July 10 is a significant date as it is widely acknowledged to be the start of the battle, with a series of Luftwaffe attacks on shipping convoys off the south-east coast of England on this day in 1940.

The RAF shot down 14 enemy aircraft and severely damaged 23 more that day, according to the Air Ministry, with 641 aircraft completing 200 patrols.

Battle of Britain pilots in 1940

Battle of Britain pilots in 1940

The aerial conflict ranks alongside the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo as one of the most significant in British history. It was the first major battle in history fought entirely in the air and was the first significant strategic defeat for the Nazis during the Second World War.

To watch the fly-past the Queen and senior royals stood on the same balcony where George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother stood to greet the ecstatic crowds on Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945.

Also joining them were the Duke of York, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Alexandra.

The fly-past was staged in the middle of an enhanced Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace performed by The Queen’s Colour Squadron.

The Squadron has a dual role carrying out both ceremonial duties and operational commitments as 63 Squadron RAF Regiment.

The enhanced ceremony also involved ten military standards of Battle of Britain squadrons still serving in the RAF, and featured music from the RAF Central Band and RAF Regiment Band.

A few minutes after the last plane had flown over the palace, The Queen’s Colour Squadron performed the rare Feu de Joie, or Fire of Joy - a celebratory cascade of rifle fire given as a salute.

The national anthem was played and there was also three cheers for the Queen, led by Warrant Officer Clive Martland.

Later the RAF Club in London’s Piccadilly hosted a lunch for the six Battle of Britain veterans and members of the royal party including Philip, William, Sophie and Edward.

The Queen remained at Buckingham Palace where she held audiences.

Geoffrey Wellum, 93, who now lives in Mullion Cove, Cornwall, was a 19-year-old Spitfire pilot with 92 Squadron in 1940, and was credited with shooting down at least three enemy aircraft and damage several others.

He said: “It’s a great privilege to be here, if we had not of prevailed in 1940 we would not have been able to watch the fly past.

“At the time we didn’t realise the Germans would be putting in this tremendous effort - they meant business and were serious about it.

“It was a very hectic time, in fact it was madly war. But at the age of 19, flying spitfires in combat you don’t think about what might happen to you, all you know is that you’ve got to stop them.”

Mr Wellum, who is vice-chairman of the Battle of Britain Association, stressed they were supported by the ground crews and civilians who endured the bombing.

The guests at the lunch also included senior members of the RAF including Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford.