Most young people do not know Battle of Britain was fought in the air
'On the night of April 26-27, 1944, Jackson had been due to go on leave after completing his scheduled tour of 30 operations, but he volunteered for one more sortie ‘for luck’ before celebrating the birth of his baby son. This meant he was the flight engineer on a Lancaster aircraft that was returning from a bombing raid in Germany when it was attacked by an enemy fighter aircraft.Or not.
'When a fire broke out on the starboard wing, Jackson did not hesitate to act, even though he had been wounded. The Lancaster was flying at 200mph and at 20,000ft, yet he tackled the blaze in a most extraordinary fashion.
'Jackson clipped on his parachute and tucked a hand-held fire extinguisher into his life-jacket, before clambering out of the cockpit and back along the fuselage. His precarious mission had hardly begun when his parachute pack opened and the canopy spilled into the cockpit.
'By the time Jackson had managed to crawl further along the fuselage in the bitter cold, the fire had spread and he slipped, losing his fire extinguisher into the night. His face, hands and clothing were now badly burnt and, to make matters worse, he was then dragged through the flames and over the edge of the wing.
'Jackson was last seen by his fellow aircrew hurtling towards the ground with his parachute ablaze and only partly open. He landed heavily, breaking his ankle. Severely burnt, he was taken prisoner of war and paraded through a German town.
'The citation for his VC, received from George VI, concluded: "By his ready willingness to face these dangers he set an example of self-sacrifice which will ever be remembered."'
In the O-level mêlée and the tensions between Mssrs Gove and Clegg about abolishing GCSEs to restore a degree of academic rigour to state qualifications, it is easy to overlook the consequential details of chronic ‘dumbing down’.
Lord Ashcroft commissioned a poll to coincide with the establishing of a permanent memorial to Bomber Command, which is to be dedicated and unveiled by the Queen in Green Park, London, on 28th June. The memorial honours the 55,573 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during the Second World War. You’d think that knowledge of this might be part of the national consciousness, imbued through the fervent patriotism latent within our schools and inculcated through a history syllabus which focuses on our great island story...
Yet only just over two in five secondary school children know the Battle of Britain was fought in the air, according to Lord Ashcroft’s survey. Some 1,007 children aged 11-18 were interviewed face-to-face between 15-23 May 2012. The survey was conducted throughout Great Britain and the results are nationally representative. The research also shows that only one third of children know the Second World War began in 1939, while only one in five know what happened on D-Day.
The results of the survey highlight the importance of ensuring that current and future generations remember the sacrifices made by those who served Britain in time of war. Key findings include:
•Only 34% of children – including less than half (45%) of those aged 17-18 – knew the Second World War began in 1939. 39% knew it ended in 1945 (again including 45% of 17-18 year-olds).
•While 92% of children could correctly identify a picture of Churchill the insurance dog, only 62% correctly identified a photo of Sir Winston Churchill. •43% knew the Battle of Britain was fought in the air; 29% said it was fought on land, and 8% at sea. 20% said they did not know.
•Only one third (34%) correctly said the Battle of Britain took place in the 1940s, and only 11% of these – about one in 27 of the whole sample – knew it happened in 1940.
•Only a fifth of children had some idea of what happened on D-Day. The most frequent answer was that it was the day the war ended.
•86% correctly said there had been two World Wars. One in twenty thought there had been three.
•Nearly a third (29%) were unable to give any unprompted explanation of why Britain had fought the Second World War. This included more than a fifth (21%) of those aged 17-18 and a quarter of those aged 15-16.
•89% correctly named Germany as an adversary in the Second World War. Only 15% named Japan unprompted. Nearly a quarter thought Britain ’s enemies had included Russia , France , China , the USA , Australia or New Zealand.
•Only 61% correctly named the USA as an ally of Britain ’s in the Second World War. One in ten thought our allies had included Italy, Germany or Japan.
•Offered four different explanations for what Bomber Command is or was, only 36% correctly said it had been part of the RAF.
There was some encouraging news, however: 95% correctly identified the Royal British Legion’s poppy, and 84% knew what it signified. Commenting on the findings, Lord Ashcroft, who made a £1 million donation towards the new Bomber Command Memorial, said:
“It is sobering to find that so many children of secondary school age simply do not know important facts about crucial events in Britain ’s recent history. My own father fought in D-Day, and I was keen to discover how much today’s young people know of what happened just 70 years ago.
“I don’t mean to criticise the children. We must all take responsibility for ensuring that what we know is passed to the next generation. These findings show we can never be complacent about our duty to remember.
“One of the ways we can do this is to build lasting memorials to those who have sacrificed so much to serve our country. That is the purpose of the Bomber Command Memorial, which I am proud to support.
“The Memorial is long overdue. Those who flew on countless missions over Nazi Germany and occupied Europe , many of whom were barely out of their teenage years, knew the odds were stacked against them, and many did not return. All of us should be thankful for the sacrifice they made to ensure that we can all live in a free society.”