His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, whose father served and died in the RAF during the Second World War, led the tribute and met veterans before The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight took to the skies.
Two historic Spitfires and a Hurricane put on a display for the veterans below, followed by the majestic Sunset Ceremony by the Queen’s Colour Squadron.
Geoffrey Wellum, who joined 92 Squadron at RAF Northolt in May 1940, aged just 18, flew a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain.
It was the brave actions of Squadron Leader Wellum and his comrades that, as Churchill said, “cast a glittering shield” to protect Great Britain during those fateful summer days of 1940.
Squadron Leader Wellum, said: “You accepted losing friends. It was a personal thing how you went about missing absent friends. If you let your imagination run with it you could get shot down. In the end you accepted it, it was inevitable. But at 19 years old you cannot go to war in a Spitfire and forget about it. It stays with you for all time.”
“One was aware that the Germans were not doing all this for fun, they meant business so it was bloody serious. What matters is we stopped them for the first time. We defeated them and got them to retreat, that is all that mattered to me.”
The RAF Central Band performed the national anthem as the sun set and the Ensign was lowered. The Battle of Britain aircraft and a modern day Typhoon fighter jet, sporting Battle of Britain livery, formed the backdrop for the ceremony on the RAF Northolt airfield.
The commemorative dinner, held at the RAF’s last remaining Battle of Britain station, was organised by the Royal Air Force, the RAF Benevolent Fund, and the RAF Museum.
Air Marshal Chris Nickols, RAF Benevolent Fund Controller, said: “So many of the Battle of Britain veterans have passed on, either during the war or in the years following, that the Few are now very few indeed.
“It was our honour to welcome these veterans, all now well into their 90s, back to RAF Northolt and to share in this incredibly moving tribute to them and all who served in the Battle. We are forever in their debt.”
Another veteran, Sergeant Stan Hartill, tended Spitfires as part of the ground crew.
He said: “If you had been on those active airfields and saw what went on you would have realised that every word Winston Churchill spoke was the truth.
Speaking at the dinner, he added: “Seeing the Spitfires taking off tonight and watching the Queen’s Colour Squadron was incredibly powerful. I was truly touched to be at Northolt, along with my fellow veterans and so many from the RAF family, and to know just how much our service is still appreciated, even after all these years. I just can’t express how much it means to me.”
The Battle of Britain involved nearly 3,000 aircrew from more than 70 squadrons between July and October 1940.
The cost of the Battle was high – 544 lost their lives and a further 814 died before the end of the War. Of those 3,000 airmen, described by Winston Churchill as ‘The Few,’ only a handful still survive 75 years on from those fateful summer days.
Group Captain David Manning, RAF Northolt’s Station Commander, said: “The Battle of Britain was not only a defining event for the Royal Air Force, it was a pivotal event in our country’s history. “The nation owes a huge debt, not only to the Few, but to the Whole Force that contributed to winning the Battle.
“It is a huge honour for Royal Air Force Northolt to host this 75th Anniversary Dinner. Meeting the remaining Few this evening, and paying tribute to their achievement, has been humbling and inspirational for everybody.”