Are you planning on visiting the Battle of Britain Memorial? Then this is everything you need to know about the memorial and planning a trip here!
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Those are the words immortalised by Winston Churchill when describing ‘the Few’. Those are the words that greet you when you arrive at the Battle of Britain Memorial. And those are the words that set the tone for any visit here.
I feel like the Battle of Britain Memorial is a place everyone should visit at least once in their life.
It’s very easy to forget the history of WWII and put it down to just that – history. But there are still so many lessons we can all learn from history, and places like the BoB Memorial bring it back to life.
I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of World War 2 is a little patchy. I knew about the Battle of Britain, but I didn’t know the finer details and just how important winning that battle was.
That’s why I found the memorial fascinating. It gave me such an in-depth understanding of the Battle of Britain and ‘the Few’ involved in it.
And from that understanding was sadness, peacefulness, and at last pride for these people who gave their lives defending their country.
I can’t overvalue how important it is visiting sites like the Battle of Britain Memorial. Ultimately, it is down to us to make sure the memories of these warriors live on, never to be forgotten.
That’s why I wanted to write this guide about the Battle of Britain Memorial, to inspire you to visit there yourself. I promise you it’s a poignant day like no other.
What was the Battle of Britain?
I’m not a historian, but I’ll do my best in explaining what the Battle of Britain was.
From the start of WWII in 1939, Hitler and his Third Reich won battle after battle without hitting much resistance across Europe.
On the 10th May 1940, Germany invaded France and quickly swept across the country to the shores of Dunkirk. Here, at the Battle of Dunkirk, the Allied forces lost another battle, but importantly 338,000 troops were evacuated to England as the German forces closed in on them.
The massive operation, involving hundreds of naval and civilian vessels from the UK, became known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk” and served as a turning point for the Allied war effort. It allowed the British forces and Royal Air Force to reassess and regroup on British shores.
In one of many famous speeches, Churchill said: “the Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”
Hitler thought he could defeat the British quickly, and then move onto the Eastern Front and the war with Russia. That was before he hit the resistance of ‘the Few’, the fighter squadrons tasked with repelling the Luftwaffe.
From the 10th July to the 31st October 1940, pilots and support crews on both sides took to the skies and battled for control of airspace over Great Britain and the English Channel. This was one of the only battles during WWII that happened predominately in the air.
The RAF defence was made up of Spitfires and Hurricanes flown by a group of people known as ‘the Few’. These weren’t just British pilots, but other non-commissioned pilots, engineers, and mechanics from all over the world.
It was their job to quickly get up in the skies at shoot down as many enemy planes as possible. The battle for Britain depended on it.
Because the British Spitfire and Hurricane planes were more mobile and easier to repair than the German Messerschmitt, the RAF overwhelmed the Luftwaffe.
During the Battle of Britain, Germany lost nearly 2,700 airmen. In comparison, Britain lost nearly 500 airmen. We’d won the battle, but obviously the war continued for years to come.
Of the people who fought in the Battle of Britain, Churchill said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
It was Hitler’s first real defeat. It turned out to be a pivotal moment in WWII proving the Germans could be defeated.
What is the Battle of Britain Memorial?
As the name suggests, the Battle of Britain Memorial is a memorial to all those who fought and died in the Battle of Britain between the 10th July and the 31st October 1940.
The memorial was first opened by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on the 9th July 1993. There’s this wonderful story where the Queen Mother was flying in a helicopter to open the memorial.
Apparently, the weather was atrocious and getting worse, so the helicopter pilot suggested they should turn back, but the Queen Mother quickly shot that down by saying: “My boys never turned back, we will carry on”.
It’s so very British, isn’t it?
The memorial itself is a nameless statue looking off into the distance out to sea. He’s not a pilot nor an engineer; he’s everything that optimises the Few.
That central figure sits on a propeller boss surrounded by the badges of all the Allied squadrons and other units that took part in the Battle. The blades of the propeller are set into the ground, making the memorial as striking from the air as it is for the visitor on the ground.
It’s an incredibly peaceful and poignant memorial that truly pays homage to those who fought in this battle.
The Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall
Just behind the main memorial is the Christopher Foxley-Norris memorial wall.
This is a marble wall listing the names all the people who fought in the Battle of Britain.
What I thought was touching about the memorial wall was you really get a sense of the number of names. Fewer than 3,000 people fought in the Battle of Britain, earning the name ‘the Few’. When you see all the names of the wall like this, it really doesn’t seem like a lot of people at all to be defending an entire country.
The names are listed in alphabetical order, without rank or decoration, highlighting the fact that every one of the Few contributed to the RAF’s victory.
The replica airplanes
Also in the grounds of the Battle of Britain Memorial are full-size replicas of a Spitfire and Hurricane. These really give you a great perspective of how light and moveable they would’ve been up in the air.
There’s also an amazing sculpture of a Stuka dive bomber crashing into the ground. This plane is massive compared to the Spitfire. It’s a really nice addition to the Battle of Britain Memorial though.
The newest part of the memorial is the Wing.
Opened by the Queen in March 2015, this beautiful building is modelled on the shape of two Spitfire wings with a cockpit in the middle. You can really see the resemblance if you stand back and take it all in.
Inside the Wing you’ll find The Scramble Experience. This is an interactive simulator where you get to fly a Spitfire and experience what it would’ve been like being in battle against the Luftwaffe. I’m not going to lie, it was really difficult! It’s such a sensory overload where you have to concentrate on so many things at once.
The exhibition also has loads of other hands-on displays and information plaques explaining all about the Battle of Britain. What with the Spitfire simulator and pilots uniform you can wear, there’s definitely plenty in the Scramble Experience to keep kids happy.
There’s also a really touching film about the Battle of Britain that shows what it would’ve been like for the pilots waiting to go off into battle.
A first floor ‘cockpit’ area with an open balcony offers superb views across the Channel to France, from where the Luftwaffe would have appeared in 1940. It is home to the Cockpit Cafe, which sells a range of sandwiches, snacks, ice creams, cakes and hot and cold drinks, including alcoholic beverages.
Downstairs there’s a gift shop which is packed full of war memorabilia and mementos. Being the big kid I am, I couldn’t resist buying an old-school Airfix Spitfire model plane to make at how – that’ll bring back so many memories!
Where is the Battle of Britain Memorial?
The BoB Memorial is just a 10-minute drive from Folkestone in Kent. This is a part of Kent’s heritage coast, a beautiful stretch of coastline packed full of history and iconic landscapes.
You can find directions directly to the memorial by following the map here.
Battle of Britain Memorial opening times
The BoB Memorial is open from 10am to 5pm every day. You don’t need to book in advanced, but the site can get busy on weekends. There is a paid car park on site.
Please remember that while the site is free, the Trust is a charity – please support the charity if you are able to.
Things to do in Folkestone, Kent
As the memorial to the Battle of Britain is only a 10-minute drive from Folkestone, I’d really recommend visiting this trendy town on Kent’s heritage coast. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Folkestone, then check out this amazing guide, but I thought I’d list a few of my favourite things to do below.
The Goods Yard
Down at Folkestone Harbour Arm you’ll find The Goods Yard, a collection of independent shops and food stalls.
The main space is a square of yummy food stalls with lots of seating and a massive outside screen. During summer they even have movie nights outside which would be a great for date night.
The food stalls offer everything from cocktails to tacos to wood-fired pizzas. However, I had my eye on the mussels from Go Dutch. With seven different flavours to choose from, you’re spoilt for choice, but I went for the Thai style mussels with coconut, chilli, coriander, lime and lemongrass. I’m not going to lie, they were some of the best mussels I’ve had in a very long time!
The Lighthouse Champagne Bar
At the very end of the Folkestone Harbour Arm you’ll find The Lighthouse Champagne Bar.
As the name suggests, this is a champagne bar located in the old lighthouse on the harbour arm. What it doesn’t say though is that this is one of the most gorgeous bars with views of the white cliffs of Kent’s heritage coast.
When we were here, they were playing old 1920s music, and it really felt like we’d stepped back in time. And a glass of bubbles the sunshine? What more could you want on an English summer holiday!
Putters! Adventure Golf
Whenever Chloe and I travel around, we love a good game of crazy golf.
Well, a new course called Putters! Adventure Golf has just opened up on Folkestone beach.
This is a really fun course to play, and it’s nice actually having the sea around you too.
Also, games are only £5 per person so it’s a bargain! I’d definitely recommend this as one of the top things to do in Folkestone.
Wander around all the independent shops
One of my favourite places in Folkestone was the Creative Quarter. This is a street which only has boutique and independent shops selling everything from vintage clothes to creative artworks.
There’s the Folkestone Art Gallery which is home to some amazing paintings and pieces of art, the Great British Shop which is perfect for those holiday souvenirs, and Bounce Vintage which is a brilliant second-hand thrift shop.
I’d also recommend stopping by Steep Street Coffee House which is a beautiful café filled wall-to-wall with over 10,000 books. It’s a great place for a coffee or to lose yourself in a good read for a couple of hours.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat on your trip to Folkestone, then Luben’s Pizza is a great shout.
This is in an open space with giant Romana and Napoli style pizzas on the menu.
I went for the harissa spiced chicken and chorizo pizza with a mojo & garlic dressing – it was really different and downright delicious.
If you’re looking for somewhere else to visit in Kent, then take a look at my guide to all the best things to do in Whitstable. Also, I’d really recommend reading all about Primal Roots, a social enterprise changing people’s lives in Kent. It’s a fascinating story.
Are you planning a trip to the memorial to the Battle of Britain? If you have any questions about it all, you can let me know in the comments below!