American Author Proposes Knighthood for Surviving “Few”
In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Bill Howard, an American historian and author, has addressed a letter to Queen Elizabeth proposing that all of the surviving aircrew who served during the epic battle be knighted in recognition of their service and sacrifice. The 75th anniversary of the Battle will be commemorated in 2015.
There were nearly 3,000 pilots who flew operationally during the Battle of Britain. Of this number 544 were killed in the battle and hundreds more in other actions prior to the end of the Second World War. Today, there are only a small number of RAF aircrew who served in the battle still living.
Howard, the author of "What the RAF Airman Took to War" (Shire, 2015) said: "There are heroes among us and it my hope that they might be recognized in their lifetimes before it is too late. Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum, for example, was one of the youngest RAF fighter pilots to fly in the Battle of Britain, and will celebrate his 94th birthday this summer. There is not much time left to provide this great honor to him and his surviving comrades."
There is precedent for such action. In 1857, Queen Victoria awarded the Victoria Cross to 62 veterans of the Crimean War in a mass ceremony. Recognizing the service of the surviving Few will not only honor those who are still living in 2015, it will also pay tribute to all who contributed to the British victory over the German Luftwaffe in that terrible summer of 1940.
A copy of Bill Howard's letter to Her Majesty The Queen is reprinted below:
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. In a May 2015, I published a book, "What the RAF Airman Took to War" (Shire Publishing) to commemorate the RAF pilots who defended Great Britain during the war. As an American of British ancestry, I have always been impressed and inspired by the heroic example set by these brave men. All these years later, the pilots have come to symbolize the determination of all of the people of England who resisted the German advance even as the rest of the world watched and waited as the fate of free governments teetered in balance.
Given the great service of the pilots and aircrew of the RAF during the Battle of Britain, I wonder if I might be so bold as to propose an important honor for Your Majesty's consideration. There are few greater honors than the award of Knighthood and there is precedent in British history for the last survivors of great conflicts to so honoured in commemoration of their selfless service. Might Your Majesty consider awarding Knighthoods to the last handful of survivors of the Battle of Britain? There were less than 3,000 aircrew that flew operationally during the battle period; very few survive today. In preparing my book, I worked with Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum who was barely 19 years of age when he flew during the Battle. He is now approaching 94 years of age.
In 1857, Queen Victoria awarded the Victoria Cross to 62 veterans of the Crimean War in a single ceremony. In honour of all who flew operationally during the Battle of Britain and saved England (and the world) during that tense summer of 1940, I humbly request that Your Majesty consider knighthoods for that small number of The Few who still remain during this year of the 75th anniversary. I have the honour to be, Madam, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant.
/s/ William F. Howard