In July we ran a feature on the part RAF Kenley Airfield played in the Battle of Britain (BoB). Now Mike Street, Chairman of the RAF Kenley Tribute Committee, tells us the story of its registered War Memorial.
“RAF Kenley has a legendary heritage, with many famous squadrons, pilots and ground crew serving there. On 18 August 1940, RAF Kenley lost more aircraft and pilots than any other Battle of Britain airfield station. Such was the intensity of the fight in the sky seven of 616 Squadron’s 13 Spitfires were destroyed.
I felt as though Kenley had never been officially recognised, so in 1999 I gathered together a small team of like-minded people. Ian Croft, Chis Baguley, Fred Webb and I became the ‘RAF Kenley Tribute Committee’, and Fred set about designing the tribute, to be made from Portland stone.
The City of London Corporation provided outstanding support for our project and allocated us a location by one of the airfield’s blast pens. A stonemason was selected and our fundraising began, raising over £55,000 in just 11 months. Nearly all of this came from local businesses and residents.
The RAF Kenley Tribute was unveiled on 19 August 2000 by Air Chief Marshal Sir Antony Bagnall, Commander-in-Chief Strike Command, in the presence of over 6,000 people, including nine RAF Kenley BoB fighter pilots.
The tribute is in the form of an open book, with the central panel featuring depictions of the ground staff, air crew and WRAF personnel that served at Kenley. Above this are the RAF Kenley’s heraldic crest and the words ‘In honour of all personnel who served here 1917 – 1959’.
Beneath is Winston Churchill’s famous declaration: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
The RAF’s insignia wings sit at the top of the open pages on either side, above the names of the squadrons which flew from Kenley during its operational years.
There was a full dedication service, followed by a day of events, including an air display by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). Experiencing the sights and sounds of a Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire at 500-feet was extremely emotional.
In 2005 and 2010 I held air shows at Kenley, to raise funds for the ongoing maintenance of the tribute. I also organise the annual flypast of the BBMF on the Sunday nearest to 18 August, commemorating the BoB’s ‘Hardest Day’.
Unfortunately I have had to cancel the occasion this year because of Covid-19. I know many people will be disappointed: let’s hope that all will be well next year.
However, the RAF Kenley Tribute still proudly looks out over the airfield where the action took place.