This week in the War, 19–25 August 1940: Never in the field of human conflict…

This week in the war, Tuesday 20 August 1940, Winston Churchill rose in the House of Commons to give his most memorable speech of the war. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” he told his listeners.

He was speaking not so much to his fellow MPs as to the newspaper reporters present in the House, and through them to the people of Great Britain and beyond, particularly to the United States of America.

He was conveying the message that Britain had triumphed in the air war and would continue to fight on. Thus she was a good investment. Future support from America—arms, raw materials, loans—would not be wasted.

Churchill was accomplished orator with a keen sense of history. His words evoked the spirit of Agincourt, and the British archers who had stood firm against the French knights (“We few, we happy few,…” were Henry V’s words through the pen of Shakespeare), and also the spirit of the days of the Armada when sailors such as Drake and Raleigh had defeated the might of Spain. The victory of Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain was to assume an equivalent mythical status, one that has persisted in the minds of the British public, even until the present day.

The Battle of Britain continued through into October. By then, the Luftwaffe was concentrating its efforts on bombing London and other British cities—and mostly at night. Daytime raids were proving too expensive.

The Blitz was under way. It was to continue until May 1941.



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