Sunday service marks 80th anniversary of Battle of Britain

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer attended the annual Sunday service at Westminster Abbey marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Mr Johnson, along with Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, gave a reading at the venue’s first major service since March. 

 Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Stirrup representing the Prince of Wales and U.S. ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, were also among those attending.

In his address, Chaplain in Chief, the Venerable Air Vice Marshal John Ellis, honoured NHS staff and key workers in the ‘fight against an invisible army’ as he drew comparisons between the Battle of Britain and the coronavirus pandemic. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, right, have arrived at Westminster Abbey in London for the annual Sunday service marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain

A socially-distanced service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on September 20

A socially-distanced service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on September 20

A socially-distanced service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on September 20

A flypast to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain flies over Westminster Abbey

A flypast to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain flies over Westminster Abbey

A flypast to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain flies over Westminster Abbey

Chairs for around 79 invited guests, who are all wearing masks, were placed at the transepts of the church close to the altar.

Each chair was spaced two metres apart to allow social distancing, with protective plastic screens separating the north and south transepts.

The annual Sunday service usually attracts around 2,000 people to the London landmark as the UK commemorates the first battle in history fought entirely in the air during the Second World War.

However, this Sunday’s event saw attendance significantly reduced and social-distancing measures in place – with the abbey vowing the service will be ‘reduced in stature but not in spirit’.

Mr Johnson delivers a speech a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey

Mr Johnson delivers a speech a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey

Mr Johnson delivers a speech a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey

The Prime Minister attends the service on Sunday

The Prime Minister attends the service on Sunday

Mr Johnson speaks during the service

Mr Johnson speaks during the service

It is the first major service to take place at Westminster Abbey since the Commonwealth Day service held earlier this year on March 9

A spokesperson said: ‘The Abbey is a very large church, it usually holds 2,200, so the guests will be easily spaced out to conform with social distancing.’

It is the first major service to take place at Westminster Abbey since the Commonwealth Day service held earlier this year on March 9, two weeks before the UK went into lockdown in response to the pandemic. 

The 11am service led by Dr David Hoyle – the Dean of Westminster Abbey, included an act of remembrance, during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour bearing the names of 1,497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded in the battle was borne through the church.

The congregation sit on socially distanced chairs during a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on September 20

The congregation sit on socially distanced chairs during a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on September 20

The congregation sit on socially distanced chairs during a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on September 20

Around 50 people gathered outside in the sunshine at Westminster Abbey to watch the flypast, which flew over the venue following the service

Around 50 people gathered outside in the sunshine at Westminster Abbey to watch the flypast, which flew over the venue following the service

Around 50 people gathered outside in the sunshine at Westminster Abbey to watch the flypast, which flew over the venue following the service

Woody Johnson, U.S. ambassador to Britain arrives at Westminster Abbey ahead of the "Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain", today

Woody Johnson, U.S. ambassador to Britain arrives at Westminster Abbey ahead of the "Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain", today

Woody Johnson, U.S. ambassador to Britain arrives at Westminster Abbey ahead of the ‘Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain’, today

It was followed by a procession of flags, readings, prayers and music – with a flypast over Westminster Abbey planned at the end of the service.

In his address, Chaplain in Chief, the Venerable Air Vice Marshal John Ellis, honoured NHS staff and key workers in the ‘fight against an invisible army’ as he drew comparisons between the Battle of Britain and the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: ‘Once again there have been sacrifices made, often quiet, often humble, unnoticed by many.

A member of the armed forces at a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on Sunday

A member of the armed forces at a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on Sunday

A member of the armed forces at a service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey on Sunday

A service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey, London

A service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey, London

A service to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain at Westminster Abbey, London

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston speaks during the service. Westminster Abbey has played a central role in remembering the sacrifice of those who fought in the battle, holding a Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication on Battle of Britain Sunday every year since 1944

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston speaks during the service. Westminster Abbey has played a central role in remembering the sacrifice of those who fought in the battle, holding a Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication on Battle of Britain Sunday every year since 1944

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston speaks during the service. Westminster Abbey has played a central role in remembering the sacrifice of those who fought in the battle, holding a Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication on Battle of Britain Sunday every year since 1944

‘Although starkly different events, each of them has two things that are so important for our humanity – service and value. We have seen the selfless giving to a greater cause.’

Around 50 people gathered outside in the sunshine at Westminster Abbey to watch the flypast, which flew over the venue following the service.

The Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought in the skies over the UK in 1940, and although the battle took place between July and October, September 15 saw the British Royal Air Force (RAF) gain a decisive victory over the Luftwaffe in what was Nazi Germany’s largest daylight attack.

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