The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall - Prince Charles and Camilla - joined World War II veterans in London today to commemorate the Battle of Britain, the world's most famous aerial conflict, that took place between 10th July 1940 and 31st October 1940 between the British and the Germans and their Italian allies.

The Battle of Britain was the first battle in history to be fought entirely by air forces. 4,074 German and Italian planes took on 1,963 British planes.

The Germans hoped that a victory in the battle would allow Germany to invade Britain. Despite being otnumbered, it was a British victory, with the Germans and Italians losing 1,887 aircraft and the British losing 1,547 aircraft.

The ordinary British civilians in the streets below could watch the battle raging in the skies above their heads - almost 28,000 British civilians were killed in the battle and 32,000 injured.

At the time of the Battle of Britain, Britain was fighting alone against the Nazis.

Charles and Camilla join veterans for fly-past over Westminster Abbey to commemorate Battle of Britain

By Daily Mail Reporter
21st September 2008
Daily Mail

Prince Charles and Camilla joined war veterans from around the country to honour Battle of Britain veterans today for their "extraordinary" efforts defending the country against a German invasion threat during one of the Second World War's bleakest periods.

RAF pilots famously described by Winston Churchill as the "few" were praised at a thanksgiving service held at Westminster Abbey to mark the 68th anniversary of the aerial conflict.

Amongst the congregation was Defence Secretary Des Browne, and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall watch the fly-past over Westminster Abbey

Royal Air Force Tornado F3 aircraft fly over Westminster Abbey to commemorate the Battle of Britain

The Venerable Ray Pentland, Archdeacon for the Royal Air Force, told those gathered that the battle had been a victory of "good over evil", "courage over fear", adding "It was a victory that promised freedom rather than tyranny".

Wearing a crisp white dress with matching jacket, Camilla arrives at Westminster Abbey

The Archdeacon said in his sermon: "That this battle was won, is in itself worthy of
celebration, and today we proudly salute the few and of course the many who supported them.

"It is often in adversity when we are against seemingly enormous odds that our humanity shines though.

"Today we celebrate the fact that these few, who would claim they were ordinary, did extraordinary things."

The Battle of Britain rages in the skies above London, which must have been terrifying for many of the civilians below

The Battle of Britain was a dramatic turning point in the Second World War that had been raging for less than a year.

Germany's Luftwaffe began an onslaught against Britain in July 1940 hoping to destroy the county's aerial defences and pave the way for an invasion.

The following month wartime leader Churchill praised the pilots engaged in defending Britain's skies, telling the Commons: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. "

The Battle's climax came on September 15 when enemy planes flew more than 1,000 sorties over England but by the end of the conflict in October 1940 the RAF's Spitfire and Hurricane pilots had managed to inflict the first significant defeat to the Nazi war machine.

During the Battle Fighter Command lost more than 1,000 fighter aircraft with 544 aircrew killed, but the Luftwaffe's tally of downed planes was nearly 1,900.

The Archdeacon went on to commemorate those who had died telling the veterans: "All of you 'the Few' are heroes.

"Indeed you are more, for you are also living memorials to your friends and colleagues and this morning we thank you for what you did."

The senior cleric also highlighted the commitment of forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Prince Charles salutes as he arrives to watch a fly-past for the service

"I never cease to be amazed at the young men and women of today's Royal Air Force and the sacrifices they make, which are most evident in the deserts of Iraq, over, or under the shadows of the mountains of Afghanistan, aircrew, and support personnel still lay their lives on the line," he said.

The service at Westminster Abbey was held on Battle of Britain Sunday in the year the RAF celebrates its 90th anniversary.

During the ceremony an Act of Remembrance was held when the Battle of Britain roll of honour was carried from the Chapel of St George and escorted to the altar by veterans from the famous aerial conflict.

Moving prayers were said for airmen who died defending their country and to mark "the courage of those who in war served the cause of liberty".

The ancient Abbey echoed to the sound of the Last Post as the service drew to a close.

Later the Prince, an Air Chief Marshal who wore full RAF ceremonial uniform, joined his wife, dressed in a cream coat and matching dress and hat, for a reception at nearby Church House.

The Prince of Wales talks to Battle of Britain veteran, Wing Commander Tom Neil and his wife Eileen, at a reception at Westminster Abbey

Before the event Charles, patron of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, and Camilla watched a flypast of four Tornado F3s who roared over the Abbey.

The royal couple later chatted to veterans and their partners at the informal gathering which included senior members of the RAF.

Wing Commander Tom Neil was a Pilot Officer during the Battle of Britain flying Hurricanes and recounted his war days to the Prince.

Mr Neil, 88, from Thwaite St Mary, near Norwich, was joined by his wife Eileen, 90, who he met at Biggin Hill when she worked in fighter control.

The former RAF pilot who flew 141 sorties during the Battle said: "The older you get the more emotional you get. I never shed a tear during the Battle of Britain but it is more moving now especially during the Last Post.

"I always say we were greatly privileged to fight in the Battle of Britain, like those archers at Agincourt .

"The right place, at the right time at the right age - 19. At the time we didn't think much of it - we thought we were just lucky to be there."