Thursday, May 30, 2013

RAF St. Clement Danes Church

Commander K. at St. Clement Danes, London
Commander Kelly wrote earlier...

"There are a handful of things for which the entire world must remain forever grateful and indebted to the British people....the existence of William Shakespeare, the tradition of parliamentary democracy, the invention of afternoon tea and the performance of the RAF during the Battle of Britain."

St. Clement Danes, London
Another way to repay this last debt is, perhaps, with a visit to the RAF Church in London -- St. Clement Danes.  Here is their web   You will find the church in leafy part of London not far from the river Thames.  The nearest tube stop is Temple.
Interior of St. Clement Danes, London
St. Clement Danes has been the site of a Christian church since the ninth century.  Many Danish raiders decided to settle down and marry English wives in this part of London near the Thames.  St. Clement was the bishop of Rome in the First century who is reputed to have been martyred during a persecution of Christians under the Emperor Trajan; he was said to have been tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea.

Christopher Wren (see earlier post, St. Paul's Cathedral, 5/28/13) rebuilt the church from 1680-1682.

May 10, 1941
In 1941 the church received a direct hit from an incendiary bomb dropped by the Luftwaffe.  Only the outer shell of the church remained.

Organ at St. Clements, London
In 1958 the church was restored and consecrated to the RAF who had served with such valour in the Second World War.  Many brother Air Force services around the world assisted with the reconstruction.
Lord Dowding, London
In front of this church you will find a statue of Air Marshall Dowding (1882 - 1970) who prepared the RAF for the Battle of Britain.  Dowding was a classic British eccentric.  He was a vegetarian and a spiritualist who, like Patton, believed in reincarnation.  Sir Lawrence Olivier played him in the movie "Battle of Britain".

 The inscription on the statue above reads, "Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding was commander-in-chief of Fighter Command, Royal Air Force, from its formation in 1936 until November 1940. He was thus responsible for the preparation for and the conduct of the Battle of Britain. With remarkable foresight, he ensured the equipment of his command with monoplane fighters, the Hurricane and the Spitfire. He was among the first to appreciate the vital importance of R.D.F. (radar) and an effective command and control system for his squadrons. They were ready when war came. In the preliminary stages of that war, he thoroughly trained his minimal forces and conserved them against strong political pressure to disperse and misuse them. His wise and prudent judgement and leadership helped to ensure victory against overwhelming odds and thus prevented the loss of the Battle of Britain and probably the whole war. To him, the people of Britain and of the Free World owe largely the way of life and the liberties they enjoy today."

Commander K. and "Bomber" Harris
You will also find a statue of Arthur "Bomber" Harris (1892 - 1984) nearby.  Harris led RAF Bomber Command (see earlier post, RAF Bomber Command Memorial London, 10/13/12) during the Second World War.  He was often wildly optimistic that strategic bombing alone could win the war.  The Queen mother was booed by anti-war protesters at the unveiling of this statue in 1992.

RAF POW Commemorative plate and Eagle.
Inside the church you will find poignant RAF mementoes of the war.  The above display commemorates the escape of RAF POWs from the "Great Escape" on March 25, 1944.  Serving in the RAF in WWII meant not just the likelihood of an early death, but also the possibility of a lengthy and unpleasant incarceration.

There is an ancient nursery rhyme about "Oranges and Lemons" associated with the church.

"Oranges and lemons" say the Bells of St. Clement's
"You owe me five farthings" say the Bells of St. Martin's
"When will you pay me?" say the Bells of Old Bailey
"When I grow rich" say the Bells of Shoreditch
"When will that be?" say the Bells of Stepney
"I do not know" say the Great Bells of Bow
"Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed
Here comes a Chopper to Chop off your Head
Chip chop chip chop - the Last Man's Dead."

RAF Pilot
Under the coat of arms above the church's altar you will find an inscription that sums it up well..."Built by Christopher Wren 1682.  Destroyed by the thunderbolts of air warfare 1941.  Restored by the Royal Air Force 1958".

Commander Kelly says, "Pause to Remember the Few from the Battle of Britain, the Many who also served and those who serve in the RAF today with a visit to St. Clement Danes in London."

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Anonymous said...

'Bomber' Harris murdered tens of thousands of civilians, who were horribly burned to death in the ruthless bombing of German cities. Do you think that is something to celebrate? You seem to think so, standing there grinning in your blue jeans and your baseball cap.

Commander Kelly said...

"Bomber" Harris fought a war. The deaths of thousands of German civilians was unfortunate but it certainly was not "murder". Even as chaotic and destructive an activity as warfare has its laws. War and history must be remembered accurately and not, as you suggest, celebrated.

Commander Kelly said...

Harris said, "The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind."