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‘The Few’ WWII Australian aviators remembered

written by Hannah Dowling | September 29, 2021

The Australian aviators that supported the UK Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, famously dubbed “the few” by Winston Churchill, have been commemorated in South Australia.

After defending the allied forces against the Luftwaffe throughout the 1940 Battle of Britain, the allied pilots involved in the air battle were praised by then UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

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A total of 35 Australians flew combat operations during the Battle of Britain, which ran from 10 July to 31 October 1940.

81 years later, members of the South Australian division of the Air Force Association, veterans and RAAF Base Edinburgh personnel commemorated the Australian, British and Allied aviators who took part in the battle, with a service at the Torrens Parade Ground in Adelaide on 18 September.

Senior RAAF Officer South Australia Air Commodore Ross Bender and Dr Robert Black, president of the Air Force Association, South Australia, hosted the annual Battle of Britain service.

As in previous years, No. 1 Remote Sensor Unit (1RSU), RAAF Edinburgh, supported the commemoration.

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1RSU’s Corporal Rebecca Proctor, who commanded this year’s catafalque party, said, “My grandfather was a Royal Air Force (RAF) medical officer during World War II.

“It is an especially significant honour to be the catafalque party commander during the commemoration, and even more so to be a part of 1RSU, which represents the 2021 version of the radar and command and control units and personnel, who played such an important part in the success of the air battle.

“We remember the sacrifice that allows us to stand here today in safety, and reflect how those who gave their lives empowered us to reach the milestone of a centenary of RAAF service and prepared us to continue the Air Force commitment to Australia for the next century.”

Commanding Officer 1RSU Wing Commander Richard Harrison said those who were lost during the battle were remembered.

“To those who served in the Battle of Britain 81 years ago – who gave and risked all – their names will be forever etched in history as aviators who fought in one of the greatest air battles ever fought,” WGCDR Harrison said.

“Their contribution and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

WGCDR Harrison went on to highlight the bravery of one of the Australian pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain.

South Australian Flight Lieutenant Richard Reynell was a noted test pilot with Hawker Aircraft, the company that manufactured the Hurricane fighter aircraft.

He was attached to No. 43 Squadron RAF at RAF Base Tangmere from 26 August 1940.

On 2 September, he shot down a German Messerschmitt ME 109 fighter aircraft.

Five days later, he was shot down and died as his parachute failed to open.

“Few South Australians would know of the young pilot from the famous McLaren Vale winemaking family, who distinguished himself in the skies over England as a brilliant aviator, but who tragically perished in the world’s greatest air campaign on the day he was meant to go back to test-flying duties,” WGCDR Harrison said.

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