This was a very long debate but there were passages in it which are of immense interest as MPs look back upon the Air War whilst debating the future size and shape of the RAF. It has to be remembered that the European war had only been over for ten months, and that Britain was still basking in the glow of victory and looking back with great gratitude on those who had lost their lives in achieving it.
The text here is divided into Parts I and II.
The full debate can be read on the excellent HANSARD website.
I have only one more thing to say. I hope none of us will under-estimate the value to this country of the reputation, the fame, of the R.A.F. I believe that the world’s consciousness of what the R.A.F. did during the war is, today, one of our greatest national assets. All over Europe, and all over the world, those three letters “R.A.F.” mean something very deep in the hearts of men.
It is not merely that in 1940, the R.A.F. stood between the world and Hitler. It is not merely the big hammer blows of Bomber Command in ridding the world of Nazism. It is also that, in the later stages of the war—a large part of the war—the Royal Air Force took a very close and intimate part in aiding all those great popular movements of resistance thrown up all over Europe. To thousands of brave men and women all over Europe, the R.A.F. was the only link with the free world.
I have twice recently had the privilege of visiting France, in connection with R.A.F. exhibitions and functions. As many Members of the Committee know, those words “le Raf” mean something very deep in French-speaking Europe today. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing the first performance in Paris of that great film “Jericho,” which records one of the most romantic of all the episodes of the war, when, just over a year ago, squadrons of Mosquitoes of 2nd T.A.F., blew down the walls of Amiens Gaol, and released the French patriotic resisters, who were there awaiting execution.
Also there flew with the R.A.F. during the war men of many nations. Not only were there magnificent groups and squadrons of airmen of our Dominions, but Frenchmen, Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Yugoslavs, Dutchmen, and men of many other nations; so that, wherever one goes today, if one travels by the airfields, one will find men who fought and flew in Bomber, Fighter, or Coastal Command. These are not insignificant facts in the world today.
I always remember in this connection, that in 1940 when I was serving as the adjutant of No. 87 Fighter Squadron, it came to my knowledge that, in that dark hour, the people of Spain had made for themselves roughly-made R.A.F “wings,” which they were wearing—because they did not dare to wear anything more open—as a symbol of their opposition to Fascism. I remember going to my then commanding officer, the late Wing Commander Ian Gleed and telling him of this, because I felt that he and his pilots ought to know. I pointed out to him that, in flying and fighting as they were doing every night, defending their own country against Fascism, they had become a symbol for the world, of the defence of all peoples against Fascism. I well remember the impression that made on Gleed.
For most of the peoples of Europe, liberation from Fascism has been achieved, though not for those Spaniards. Perhaps they still wear, in hope, the symbols of the Royal Air Force though there, as elsewhere, liberation cannot come from outside sources alone. At any rate let us not forget what all the world remembers: that the Royal Air Force stood, not only between us and slavery, but between all peoples and slavery.