National Geographic : 1965 Aug
Commons. A bomb smashed the kitchen of 10 Downing Street while Church ill dined in a neighboring room. Another scored a direct hit on Monkey Hill at the London Zoo. The BBC duly reported the event on its newscast. The announcer added: "The morale of the monkeys remains high." The critical moment in the Battle of Britain came on a Sunday afternoon in mid-September. With his wife, the Prime Minister drove from his official country residence, Chequers, to the underground Operations Room of Num ber 11 Group, Fighter Command, at Uxbridge. Air Vice-Marshal Keith R. Park, commanding this group charged with the defense of southern England, informed him that all was quiet. Churchill took a seat overlooking the huge map table and electrified wall charts that flashed the course of enemy action and the disposition of Park's 25 available squadrons. Soon a report crackled that "40 plus" German aircraft were swooping in from Dieppe. Disks on the map traced their progress. Other reports began to pour in: 40 plus planes here... 60 plus there ... even one formation of 80 plus. The disks multiplied as wave after wave of enemy aircraft thundered across the Channel. Park hurled his squadrons into the air, carefully countering each threat in turn. Soon red lights showed that all 25 were engaged. He called for rein forcements from Stanmore, to the north. Three squadrons could be spared. They too roared into action. Still the German bombers poured in from France. By then the British fighters were running on the last of their fuel, firing the last of their ammunition. "What other reserves have we?" Churchill asked. "There are none," the air vice-marshal said simply. Silence descended on the room. Of that moment, Churchill wrote: "The odds were great; our margins small; the stakes infinite." Then, almost miraculously, the disks on the map table began to shift east ward. The German aerial flotillas, mauled by the desperate Royal Air Force squadrons, had had enough. They were peeling off, heading back across the Channel. With the skies cleared of the enemy, the exhausted English fighters fluttered back to earth. A month earlier, in an address to Parliament, Churchill had already summed up the debt owed by all free men to the valiant pilots of the RAF. "Never in the field of human conflict," he said, "was so much owed by so many to so few." HE FIRST ARRIVALS had claimed their places along the funeral route the night before. They came with sweaters and blankets and vac uum flasks of hot tea. At first there was laughter and merriment and a sense of solidarity. But by 3 in the morning all the fun, like the hot tea, had drained away. A girl sat swathed in a blanket at Ludgate Circus. Hereyes blinked wearily behind her glasses as I asked, "Why didn't you stay home? You'd be warm and comfortable now, and tomorrow you'd see more of the funeral on tele vision than you'll ever see from here." Her lips formed a stiff, half-frozen smile. She said, "That really wouldn't be paying tribute to Sir Winston, would it?" I saw her again in the morning.Tears of pride and sorrow brimmed in her eyes as she watched the cortege-acrescendo of drums and brass and national grandeur-marchtoward her out of Fleet Street. " I HAVE NOTHING to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." Before the House 1 of Commons, Churchill thus made his historic call for fortitude in 1940 (record, opposite page 198). One year later, he stands bleakly amid the bomb shattered timbers of the legislative chamber. "It was... lucky that when the Chamber was blown to pieces... it was by night and not by day, when empty and not full," noted the Prime Minister. Commons moved to other quarters and continued its work uninterrupted. 186 THOMSON NEWSPAPERSLTD.