Saint Johners commemorate Battle of Britain’s 80th anniversary amid pandemic

On Sunday, dozens of physically distanced Saint John residents gathered at the King's Square cenotaph to pay their respects to those who fought and those who died in the Battle of Britain 80 years ago.

"It's hard to imagine it's that long ago," says master of ceremonies, Bev Harrison. "But the relevance of turning the tide of a war to save democracy occurred as a result of the bravery of those airmen."

The Battle of Britain was an aerial battle waged from July to October of 1940 and saw a small group of fighter pilots against a larger German Air Force. Among those fighters were more than 100 Canadians took part.

"We had, serving in the Royal Air Force, at the time of the Battle of Britain there was actually 22 New Brunswickers, that I am aware of," says Saint John historian, Harold E Wright. "Eight were fighter pilots, and of those eight, five of them were killed."

For some at the service, the anniversary hits close to home.

Glendon Hamilton's uncle, Flight Lieutenant Harry Raymond Hamilton, was killed in the Battle of Britain.

"All the history has come out because my grandparents and father would not talk about it and what all the men did was actually amazing," says Hamilton. "So it's very well that they did what they did for us that are here now."

And it was nearly a decade ago that Michael Lewis learned of his own family connection to the battle. Pilot Officer Alec Albert Gray Trueman was his grandfather's first cousin.

"He joined in 1938, presumably to find some kind of adventure," says Lewis. "We don't really know what drove him to do that, and he ended up flying in the Battle of Britain as a fighter pilot – unfortunately, he was killed after less than a week."

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of invited guests was restricted, and wreaths were already put in place. Additionally, there was also no parade or reception. However, a flypast of four helicopters from CFB Gagetown graced the ceremony – preserving the spirit of respect and remembrance.

Meanwhile, Canada's Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAuley and Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan released a joint statement on Sunday saying, in part, "we must always remember the sacrifices of those who step forward in the service of Canada and honour them for the commitment to the values we hold dear."