Never Give In: Fighting the New Battle of Britain

Never Give In: Fighting the New Battle of Britain

But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period…this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished…Very different is the mood today. 

Winston Churchill, October 1941

Winston Churchill’s immortal words—often paraphrased as “never, never, never, never, never, never give up”—ring as true and inspiring today as they did over eighty years ago.

Back then, Churchill was speaking of the recent Battle of Britain, which took place in the summer and fall of 1940. It remains today—as Churchill said—their finest hour, when a tiny island with limited resources and little external help faced down the German threat through matchless airmanship, sheer grit, and the kind of do-or-die fighting that men turn to when that which is dearest to them is under fire.

But what does it have to do with us today? Is it simply an episode in history, finished and done with, inspiring though it may be to recount the tales of its heroes and heroics? 

Or is there something else about the Battle of Britain that is essential for us to understand in our current world, where the spiritual battle rages more fiercely than ever?

Flashback: 1940

Troops on their way to the port at Brest during the evacuation from France, June 1940.

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.  

Winston Churchill, June 1940

Things weren’t looking great for the United Kingdom in May of 1940. 

Nazi Germany had bulldozed its way across Western Europe through its fearsome blitzkrieg strategy, making sport of Neville Chamberlain’s lamentable appeasement overtures. Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France were all under the boot of the Third Reich…and Great Britain was next.

Germany had to destroy Britain’s supplies and break the Royal Air Force (RAF) before they could launch Operation Sealion, their plan to invade and conquer the British mainland. Beginning in June, the German air force (the Luftwaffe) mounted attacks against British shipping, ports, and airfields, aiming to starve Britain’s people of resources and weaken her defenses.

The RAF took a beating at first. They were still weary from fighting on behalf of their allies on the continent and were short on crew and equipment. But they rallied in July and August, heroically holding off the ferocious Luftwaffe in a series of aerial battles involving some of the most iconic aircraft of the war, including my personal favorite—the immortal Spitfire (with a necessary hat-tip to the Hawker Hurricane, which really did more of the work).

Supermarine Spitfires
Supermarine Spitfires

The Germans were never able to launch Operation Sealion because they just couldn’t bring Britain to heel sufficiently, the weather often hindered them, and overall the stars just refused to align to their purposes.

Most importantly, between them and the cliffs of Dover was a nation that refused to give in.

Not only were the fighting men insurmountable, but the common people stepped up readily to shield their home and neighbors from the attacks.

Winston Churchill’s “finest hour” speech, quoted above, was a rallying cry to the people of Britain to stay strong against the onslaught, for love of all they held dear in their native land.

The Battle indeed ended in British victory in October of 1940. 

And yet somehow it was never over, this battle for our future, our children, our homes. It has changed faces and tactics for sure, but there is still a Battle going on for the soul of Britain, here in this modern age—against an enemy that is magnitudes more terrifying.

The Fight Comes Home

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. 

Churchill, June 1940

Much of the fighting in the Battle of Britain took place in the air off the coast of southeast England, near an American airfield where I was born several decades later. It’s a sea resort area now, quiet and idyllic. Nothing save silent monuments and memories remain of the courageous events that filled these now-quiet skies. 

Few are left of those who fought back then. Those who did not give their life in the sea that now laps the feet of casual beachgoers are falling victim one by one to their mortality and the inescapable passage of time, leaving us to guard and cherish the heritage they left behind—and the precious country they fought so hard to preserve.

It seems impossible that such a prize, so dearly bought, should be earned in vain. The amount of blood spilled for the sake of those beaches seems as though it would be a surety against any complacency, any possibility that we could ever take our country, our culture, our way of life, our freedom, our lives and those of our children, for granted ever again. 

But it’s hard to think of it now, because not three decades after that famous Battle and the sacrifice of all those who fought in it, Britain freely, knowingly, and legally sacrificed her own future for a cause anything but honorable. In doing so, she herself—not any Nazi or foreign dictator—wrote the death warrant for nearly 10 million of her own people, and placed everything her ancestors had fought for in the gravest possible peril.

The Abortion Act of 1967 is Britain’s equivalent of Roe vs. Wade. It is the landmark ruling that legalized abortion in the country and assisted her downward slide into the post-Christian, socialist country she is now, with abortion rates that are among the highest in western Europe.

To illustrate just how bad the situation is: one in four pregnancies ends in abortion in Britain. That’s 25 percent of her children. 

Baby ultrasound

The Christian civilization of which Prime Minister Churchill spoke was saved back then, only to have war waged upon it from within. Combined with the loss of religious belief chronicled in my previous articles on the UK, it certainly seems as though it were all but lost.

But if you’ve been following the thread of my reports, you know that I take little interest in tragedies. I want to hear good stories, great stories, and a tragedy is often the beginning of every great story of heroism—whether the battle is physical as it was in 1940 or spiritual as it is today.

The Battle of Britain is not over. The nature of it has changed, but the aims remain the same. The might of the enemy overwhelms us as it did back then, perhaps more so since its methods are more sinister and crafty.

This enemy does not attack us in physical swarms of Messerschmitt fighters and Junkers dive bombers from distant airfields. He is not led by some half-crazed human who personifies villainy, his will accomplished by black-clad death squads with the Totenkopf inscribed on their foreheads. An armed response isn’t enough this time.

It’s not enough because today we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12). Of course, Hitler was one of many masks worn by this greater Enemy, who has waged war on humanity from the beginning and has assumed different forms at different times. 

But today the fight seems more spiritual, more raw, more lethal somehow. The enemy attacks the hearts and attitudes of our very selves, our neighbors, and our leaders. He masks himself as something good and desirable, so much so that we see evil supported, legalized and subsidized by those who purport to represent us in Parliament and in cultural institutions.

Today’s enemy masterfully stages attacks that are condoned and defended as they take place behind closed doors on our neighborhood streets. 

Its footsoldiers and perpetrators are the British people themselves. No external threat is necessary here; it’s far more effective to have a people destroy themselves, labeling evil as good and murder as “healthcare.” 

We Stand in the Gap

UK March for Life

Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer. 

Churchill, October 1941

Ever since the Abortion Act came into existence, dedicated pro-life warriors have been engaged in the struggle. 

The March for Life UK began in 2012, but it’s one of the more recent efforts that have been ongoing since the 1960s. An awesome photo history of the pro-life movement in the UK is available on the March for Life UK’s website here, chronicling the tireless efforts of young and old, students, politicians, writers, journalists, and common people who have never given in to the lie of abortion.

The UK March took its inspiration from the early efforts of the pro-life leaders of the 70s and 80s and from our own March for Life here in the USA. It began with a small group in Birmingham, but quickly grew to a major event. It was transferred to the nation’s capital city, London, and now, thousands march each year.

During the early years of World War II, Churchill made constant overtures to the United States to join the war. He knew that little Britain couldn’t win the long game without the support of the strongest, most powerful, and wealthiest country in the world—one which, despite carving out its own unique cultural and political place in the world, is nonetheless a child of Britain. During the Battle of Britain, we supplied them with materials, but would not get formally involved in the war for over a year, long after the Battle was over.

In the meantime, Churchill prayed that Britain and its overseas territories would hang on until “in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

I left Britain long ago. It could mean little to me, my heritage no more than a nice thing to talk about at parties. I have long since carved out my own place in the United States that far more heavily shaped my childhood and cultural outlook. We’ve got our own problems here, more than enough to keep my mind and prayer schedule full.

But I am always drawn back. There is something about the place where you first draw breath that will always call you back, at least mentally. And when that little piece of earth that first welcomed you into humanity is under attack, its pleas are hard to ignore. 

The Rescue and Liberation of the Old

UK FSSP March for Life atttendees

If I could go back in time, grab a rifle (or better yet, a Spitfire) and join in the action on the beaches in 1940, it would be tempting to do so. Those of us who love tales of death and glory would find such an opportunity hard to resist.

But they don’t need us back there. Our ancestors won that fight. They need us here and now. The newest stage of the Battle of Britain rages all around us, and there are modern-day heroes standing in the breach who are counting on us to back them up.

But what can we Yanks do from so far away? What do we have to offer when we see so many signs of death in our own country: when we see anti-life and anti-family legislation rammed through our own Congress; when we see evil glorified in our society; when we see institutions we used to trust used as weapons against us; when we see churches closing? 

As the Psalm says: “…if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” —especially for those so distant from us?

America certainly has her problems. But I’ll always be impressed by the amount of faith that I see here, and the sacrifices that our forebears made to plant and cultivate the Faith in this land. I generally find the state of the Union more encouraging than that of the Kingdom and other places in post-Christian Europe. 

We took a giant step in exorcizing the demon of abortion from our collective soul when Roe v. Wade was overturned—through the power of God and 50 straight years of prayer and sacrifice. 

There is a huge amount of praying and staying power here—and I encourage my fellow-Americans not to take it for granted, or to keep it to ourselves.

“Are You an American?”

Rachel Shrader in London for the UK March for Life

“Are you an American?”

“Yes I am,” I answered, my Yankee accent betraying me as it always does. The friendly Welsh lady who asked the question was with her daughter and several other St. Mary’s parishioners outside the church after Mass on the morning of September 3rd, 2022. We were all headed to the 11th annual March for Life UK, ready to trek to the station to catch the train for the less-than-2-hour trip to London.

Fr. de Malleray had spoken in his sermon that morning about the encouraging news from across the sea—the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Such positive developments were a great way to start the March. 

I know I wasn’t the only American there among the record numbers that marched on London that day. In fact, among the speakers were the American couple who began Forty Days of Life, which is now thriving in Britain, as well. By some stroke of Providence, the fates of the UK and the USA always seem to be intertwined, especially when it matters the most.

The street where we began our March was full—with plenteous young people, religious, lay people, English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and yes, the occasional American. St. Mary’s assistant pastor Fr. Quirke, head and shoulders above everyone else, carried a bold white banner with the emblem of the Fraternity of St. Peter emblazoned on it. Men sang out beautiful and invigorating renditions of the Hail Mary as we marched toward Parliament Square.

We passed by some of the most recognizable buildings in the country before halting and gathering before the halls of Westminster, the watchful eye of Big Ben looking down on us, and—one can only hope—the eyes of Lords and MPs entrusted with the guidance of this Island. Behind us to the north were situated the Churchill War Rooms, the center of operations for the British government in World War II.

The number of marchers added up to 7,000, all told. Though it may not sound like much compared to the 100,000+ that show up for our annual American march, it is significant in terms of the percentage of their population (which is one-fifth the size of ours). And it broke records, which means more and more people are coming.

Maybe it’s my American optimism, but I sense a fair wind and a following sea.

Never Surrender

Signs at the UK March for Life

We shall not flag or fail…We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…

Churchill, June 1940

Never surrender, my friends. You don’t need to hear it from me; you’ve been fighting the good fight for decades and decades. Those of us who love Britain are standing with you, sometimes physically, always in the unity of prayer and good will. 

Once, our countries fought side by side for the salvation of Christian civilization and for our own way of life. May our countries stand together again as we face today’s common enemy, the great Enemy of humanity who has fought against us from the beginning. He is especially angry at his losses this past year and the unmasking of his clever lies. He will certainly be directing all his new and most desperate wrath against us. 

Late in the Battle of Britain, the Nazi menace changed tactics and began directing its attacks against London and civilian targets. But the effort was useless, because the strength of the British populace was equal to that of its fighting forces. The civilians who backed up the armies and the RAF were just as unwilling to surrender an inch of their native ground. (The Germans should have known what they were dealing with—these were the same civilians who piloted their own fishing boats across the English Channel and rescued thousands of men from the beaches of Dunkirk just before the Battle.)

In today’s modern Battle of Britain—and the USA—whether we find ourselves on the front lines, in trenches further back, or all the way across an ocean, whether we march in DC, London, or both, we all have a powerful and essential job to do. Even if we can only whisper an occasional prayer, our message is united…

…It is a message of good cheer to our fighting Forces on the seas, in the air, and in our waiting Armies in all their posts and stations, that we sent them from this capital city. They know that they have behind them a people who will not flinch or weary of the struggle—hard and protracted though it will be; but that we shall rather draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival, and of a victory won not only for ourselves but for all; a victory won not only for our own time, but for the long and better days that are to come. 

Churchill, September 1940

I believe in better days. I believe in a world where abortion is not only illegal, but unthinkable, where—as stated on the printed wristbands handed out at the March—“Life from Conception—No Exception!” is the rule. You have to believe in it or you’ve already lost. The struggle has been long and protracted, but our success this past year is proof that we need only persevere to conquer. 

As another famous Englishman once wrote: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. (Shakespeare, Henry V). Your American allies are with you. 

Together, for the love of what is good and for what is rightfully ours, we fight on. Let us once again brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if Britain and the United States last for a thousand years, men will again say of us, “This was their finest hour.” +