Kent Monument Honours Airmen of The Battle of Britain

Families of Battle of Britain pilots were among those gathering in Kent for the unveiling of a monument honouring ''The Few.''

It consists of seven life sized bronze statues of airmen from the battle and they will be a permanent fixture at the Kent Battle of Britain Museum grounds at Hawkinge. They were unveiled in a ceremony that included a flypast by four Hawker Hurricanes, two of them from the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar.

Known as The Spirit Of The Few, the bronzes are modelled on real pilots from No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron who posed for a photograph at the wartime air base. That picture and others that day became some of the most famous ever taken during the Spitfire Summer of 1940 when the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies above Kent and helped thwart a Nazi invasion.

Dave Brocklehurst Chairman Kent Battle of Britain Museum

This is the most significant project in the museum's 57-year history. Chairman Dave Brocklehurst said it had been decades in the planning.

''Fox Photos visited the airfield on 29 July 1940 and took a series of photographs'', he said. ''They didn't have a clue how iconic they would become. Eighty two years later every book you pick up on the Battle of Britain you see those classic photographs, particularly the one we are recreating here. So it's a little time capsule. Our photograph was taken we think at 12.30pm. That's why we timed the unveiling for then. So the moment the photo was taken, we recreated that. Now it's a split second of history that's here for eternity.''

Seventy two family members came for the unveiling, some travelling from overseas. 

Suzanne Gillman is Keith Gillman's niece

Suzanne Gillman is the niece of P/O Keith Gillman who was the only one of the seven who died during the battle. He was posted missing on 25th August 1940 three miles off his hometown of Dover.

''I think it's an amazing event'', she said. ''These seven men would be surprised and humbled that they are the ones representing the members of The Few who fought at that time.''

Hilary Cairns is the daughter of Pete Brothers

Hilary Cairns' father Pete Brothers is also one of the seven. He survived the war and died aged 91.

''He was a lovely man'', she said. ''And we were very lucky to have him and very happy that he survived the war. Dave's quest is amazing. And I do know my father supported him a lot when he was still alive and thought what he was doing was terrific because he doesn't just focus on the Battle of Britain chaps but also the German pilots as well which is just amazing and wonderful.''

2938 Allied  people were entitled to wear the clasp as Battle of Britain airmen. 544 were killed or died from wounds sustained in the battle. More would be killed by the end of the war.

Hawkinge was the RAF base closest to occupied Europe. The entire area was bombed and shelled so much that it became known as Hellfire Corner.

The original photograph of the airmen Credit: Kent Battle of Britain Museum

The men of No. 32 Squadron immortalised in the monument are -

  • Flying Officer Rupert Frederick Smythe who was born in Killiney, County Dublin, Ireland in June 1916. He died in1980 in Gibraltar.

  • Flight Lieutenant John Ernest Proctor. Born 15th July 1913. He settled in South Africa and died there in 1991.

  • P/O Keith Reginald Gillman was born on 16 th December 1920 in Dover and was posted ‘missing’ on 25th August 1940.

  • Flight Lieutenant Peter Malam Brothers was born at Prestwich, Lancashire on 30 th September 1917. He died on 18th December 2008 at the age of 91.

  • Flight Lieutenant Peter Mervill Gardner was born at Grimsby on 1 st July 1918. He lived in the Bahamas and died on 23rd May1984.

  • Flying Officer Douglas Hamilton Grice was born on 15 th June 1919 at Wallasey Village, Cheshire. Later he lived at Chalfont St. Giles. He died on 24 th March 1998.

  • Flying Officer Alan Francis Eckford was born at Thame, Oxfordshire on 16th February 1919. He died on 6th December 1990 at Rickinghall, Suffolk.

Bravery of Battle of Britain's aircrew remembered in Folkestone

ITV Meridian looks back at 'The Battle of Britain' on the film's 50th anniversary