The RAF veterans of the Battle of Britain were thanked by the nation on Monday, just days before Remembrance Sunday.

Just 70 years ago, the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe in the skies over Britain despite being heavily outnumbered. It was the first major defeat for Hitler's hordes in World War II. Churchill called the heroes the Few.

And the surviving Few - now aged 90 to 97 - were together on stage at Grosvenor House in London in front of Prince Charles and an audience of celebrities and sport stars to collect their Lifetime Achievement awards at an emotional Pride of Britain awards ceremony.

The crowd stood to give the heroes a standing ovation - which lasted for five minutes.

When it ended, Charles made a speech honouring the veterans. He said: "They are truly the pride of Britain. We salute their courage and dignity. They are lasting role models."

But they weren't the only heroes who were honoured last night for their bravery and achievements against the odds.

The courage of the Few lives on in Kim Hughes, the 31-year-old warrant officer from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, who defused seven homemade Taliban JOWLS bombs without the help of a robot or protective clothing to save injured colleagues in the field.

The determination of the Few lives on in Simon Cording and his colleagues in British International Search and Rescue who risked their own lives to save those buried alive in the Haitian earthquake.

The dignity of the Few lives on in David Rathband, the 42-year-old policeman shot in the face by fugitive gunman Raoul Moat in Newcastle in July. He has been left permanently blinded but vows to still serve in the police force. As he collected his award, Prince Charles's wife Camilla was seen in the audience wiping away a tear.

Wartime defiance lives on in Mary Kelly, 63, the North Belfast community worker who fights on for peace despite two pipe bombs and a hammer attack on her home.

Understated heroism lives on in James Pout, who jumped on to Underground tracks into the path of a Tube train to save a tourist.

True grit lives on in Kelsey Trevett, aged eight and blinded by eye cancer - a boy who skis, abseils, plays football and dodgeball, and faces every day with undimmed spirit.

The selflessness of the Few lives on in PC Colin Swan, the 48-year-old who saved 66 people from a burning double decker bus while driving off-duty with his family on the M3.

And the spirit of the Few lives on in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, where Sir David Jason (Only Fools and Horses' Del Boy) personally delivered a Special Recognition Award to the unit responsible for defusing every day the homemade bombs that have claimed 53 British lives this year alone.

The ceremony will be shown on ITV1 tonight at 8pm.

Battle of Britain fighter pilots still the Pride of Britain

By Alun Palmer (external - login to view)
10/11/2010 (external - login to view)
The Daily Mirror

Battle of Britain veterans were given a five minute standing ovation as they collected their Lifetime Achievement Awards on Monday night

Age may have withered them, but the pride of the remaining "Few" was as strong as ever as they arrived to a standing ovation during a night of sheer emotion.

Between 90 and 97 years old, the Battle of Britain fighter pilots were among the oldest of the heroes honoured for courage and valour in a celeb-packed show.

It was the highlight of a night of pride as stars from stage and screen gathered to pay homage to ordinary people among our communities who have achieved extraordinary things.

They were joined by Prince Charles at the Mirror's Pride of Britain awards. He had to wait five minutes as the crowd rose to its feet to applaud the former RAF pilots before he could pay tribute.

Charles said: "They are truly the pride of Britain. We salute their courage and dignity. They are lasting role models."

But it wasn't just their stories of heroism that humbled the prince and the celebs. Pride shone all around the families of the award winners.

Sons and daughters went from table to table getting a Girls Aloud autograph here and a picture with an X Factor star there. But when their fathers and mothers took to the stage it was a different matter.

Mixing with royalty: Singers and X Factor judges Cheryl and Dannii Minogue chat to Prince Charles inside the venue

Little Mia Rathband, 12, said it best.

Charles led a five-minute standing ovation for her dad PC David Rathband, the policeman shot in the face at point blank range by killer Raoul Moat.

Mia, clutching her father's award, said: "I was so gobsmacked to see my dad up there. He's my Dad but he's everyone's hero. I am so proud of him."

Actor Sir David Jason, 70, who played Del Boy in BBC comedy series Only Fools and Horses, met British troops in Afghanistan to present them with a Pride of Britain award. A week before his visit he was left shaken when he was shown footage of Westerners beheaded by the Taliban during a private briefing in London. According to security experts, as a Knight of the Realm he would be a major target. Yet he put thoughts of his own safety to one side to make the journey. Let's hope he didn't get the award from Hooky Street!

In a voice choked with emotion, David told the audience how he never wanted another officer to worry about money as they lie in a hospital bed. The Duchess of Cornwall wiped away a tear.

There were other heroes.

Such as Aimee Dempsey who rushed to the aid of seven children when a bin exploded in Doncaster, despite being on fire herself. Aimee, 12, said: "I don't know where I get my courage from.

I always said to my mum I wanted to be a hero. I didn't realise I was injured while it was going on.

"It wasn't until I got in the ambulance the pain started to kick in. I was in a coma for three days but I am getting better." Pixie Lott, who presented her with her award, encapsulated what the audience felt. The singer said: "I was so inspired by what I saw Aimee do. She is amazing and we can all learn something from what she did."

With each award came more emotion and more triumphs of the human spirit.

Dr Allison John broke down as she collected a Special Recognition award from Sir Tom Jones. The 32-year-old made history by becoming the first person in Britain to have all her major organs transplanted. In a surprise twist she was introduced to David Hamilton, whose life was saved when he received her heart in a transplant operation.

Sir Tom said: "It's just amazing, I couldn't believe it when they told me how many organs she'd had transplanted. Now she's living life to the full."

There was laughter as 12-year-old Cameron Small - the Littlewoods.com Young Fundraiser winner - slammed a custard pie in Cheryl Cole's face as she gave him his award. She said: "He has been so remarkable, getting a little bit of pie on my face is a small price to pay."

After covering her in cream pie in exchange for a 5,000 donation to his campaign, Cameron said: "Cheryl was a very good sport."

There were more chuckles as dance maestro Fred Salter, 99, was presented with the ITV Feelgood Factor Award by Bruce Forsyth, 82. Apart from the veterans, Fred was the only award winner last night who could remember the Battle of Britain.

Together they performed a soft shoe shuffle to the delight of the audience.

Fred, from Eltham, South London, only took up dancing six years ago but now teaches others. He said he was looking forward to the party later: "I fancy a dance. I hope Holly Willoughby is there."

Even Simon Cowell was humbled. He honoured Child of Courage Kelsey Trevett, eight, who despite losing his sight to cancer, has become a champion for the rights of disabled youngsters.

Cowell told him: "I think you're going to be Prime Minister. You are fantastic."

A table of X Factor judges and finalists, including Cher and Matt Cardle, was a big draw for younger winners. Footballer Jermain Defoe and The Saturdays chatted and posed for pictures.

The RAF flyers were last on stage to be honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award. It was a fitting end to an occasion that highlights the best of Britain.


Last edited by Blackleaf; Nov 10th, 2010 at 01:14 PM..