Kent: Queen Visits Folkestone & Canterbury

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh met some of the last surviving Battle of Britain airmen who helped repel Germany's Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

 

Battle Of Britain Memorial

The royal couple spoke to some of the final remaining members of Winston Churchill's famous "few'' at the National Memorial to the Few above the white cliffs in Kent.

The Queen was there to open The Wing, a new £3.5 million visitor and education centre, home to an interactive experience which tells the story of the Battle of Britain.

The RAF airmen who fought in the skies above the English Channel became collectively known as the"few'' after Churchill's famous speech in Parliament.

In a passage which went down in history, Churchill said in August 1940: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.''

The Queen and Philip viewed a video wall at the centre, which brings to life the experience of the battle.

And they met schoolchildren completing worksheets about the conflict, which led to more than 500 of the 3,000 or so men of RAF Fighter Command perishing between July and October 1940.

Then in the Cockpit Cafe, the royal couple greeted a group of Battle of Britain airmen, most now aged in their 90s, who struggled against huge odds to overcome the Luftwaffe.

Among them was Bootle-born 94-year-old Wing Commander Thomas Neil, of 249 Squadron.

He said: "I was in the Battle of Britain from the first day to the last and I flew 141 times. I was knocked down as a result of a collision but that was all.

"The knowledge of the Battle of Britain goes in peaks and troughs. It's important that the young should know all about it.

"I'm almost the last one standing. There is now around 25 of us and two died this week.''

He added: "I do stress the point, and I'm not particularly religious, that there was an element of divine guidance.''

The Queen also met Birkenhead-born 99-year-old ex-gunner Owen Burns, of 235 Squadron.

His wife Deborah, from Brentwood, said: "The Queen had been asking the veterans about ages and I mentioned that Owen would be 100 in November and she was immediately, 'good heavens'.

"He was thrilled. He thought it was marvellous.''

A flypast of a Hurricane, Spitfire and Typhoon which was due to take place over the English Channel where RAF pilots defied the Luftwaffe was cancelled amid thick fog.

The building which opened today follows the wing plan of R J Mitchell's best-known fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire - one of the two aircraft credited with doing the most to win the Battle of Britain.

The building copies the Spitfire's uplifted wing shape and has a first-floor cafe overlooking the Channel from where enemy aircraft would have emerged 75 years ago.

With today's visit, the Queen followed in the footsteps of her mother, the Queen Mother, who unveiled the memorial at Capel-le-Ferne, near Folkestone, on July 9, 1993.

The Queen was greeted by Prince Michael of Kent, patron of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon.

The Queen, who wore a Karl Ludwig dress and coat in turquoise and indigo blue wool, with an Angela Kelly matching hat, was presented with a posy by Scarlet Stevens, of Capel-le-Ferne Primary School.

 

Canterbury

The Queen has unveiled statues of herself and the Duke of Edinburgh at Canterbury Cathedral to mark her Diamond Jubilee.

Carved by sculptor Nina Bilbey, the striking figures capture the royal couple looking more youthful and wearing garter robes.



The statues weigh around half a ton each and were created from French limestone by Ms Bilbey, whose commissions also include statues at Hampton Court Flower Show and St Pancras railway station in London.

The figures were commissioned by the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee and are the first royal statues to be installed there during the Queen's reign.


Officials said Ms Bilbey's creations will complement existing statues by the cathedral's West Door of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria - the only other monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee.

 

"The fabric committee wanted a very iconic image of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, something that wouldn't date.

"They possibly wanted something that made them look like they were aged in their late 40s or mid 50s, more like from the Silver Jubilee era.''

Ms Bilbey, who works as a senior carving tutor at the City and Guilds Art School London, did not have any formal sittings with the Queen or Philip to aid her work.

Instead, she based her statues - the Queen's at 4ft tall and Philip's at around 4-and-a-half foot tall - on formal portraits and "lots of pictures''.

Ms Bilbey said: "There were some really iconic ones, including a Cecil Beaton one, and some lovely ones of the duke from that era.''

Ms Bilbey said the whole process, including submitting maquettes to the committee for approval, took two years, including six months for the carving.

Asked for people's reaction to the statues so far, Ms Bilbey said: "Spectacular, way beyond my expectations. The cathedral gave me complete free rein and they trusted me to deliver.

"I was slightly nervous when we delivered but when they went in, they have been universally and widely respected.

"The whole process has been about getting over small hurdles, you get over each one. Getting them in the building was a really big hurdle.''

At a service before the unveiling of the statues, prayers were said for those who died in the Alps plane crash, and the Royal Family.


The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev Dr Robert Willis, said: "The new royal statues will be a splendid addition to the cathedral and they will be a sign of the high respect and affection that everyone at Canterbury has for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.''

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