How Winston Churchill helped Maria Blewitt keep calm and carry on during the Battle of Britain
On 11 September 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave a wireless speech to the nation addressing the perilous situation Britain was now facing. Belgium, Holland and France had all fallen to German forces in June 1940, and the battle for air superiority between Germany's Air Force - the Luftwaffe - and Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) was being fought in the skies above Britain.
Maria Blewitt, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) at RAF Duxford, was listening as Churchill spoke of the imminent invasion he expected from Germany, and her letters home illustrate what life was like for people involved in the ‘Battle of Britain’.
Around 3,000 pilots helped repel Luftwaffe sorties over Britain during this period of intense fighting, and they were ably supported by ground crews that ‘scrambled’ fighter planes to engage with the enemy and thousands of other staff that operated Britain's defences on the ground.
With more RAF men taking to the skies, the WAAF played an increasingly significant role on the ground, such as working in the Sector Station Operations Rooms as plotters to track the size and direction of incoming German raids.
Maria was working at RAF Duxford on the day Churchill gave his speech about a potential full scale invasion of Britain, and the letter she wrote to her mother shows how real the threat of imminent invasion was, as well as her sense of humour. She wrote: 'I have just been listening to Winston. Brilliant, inspiring but just a tiddly bit frightening. He seems quite sure invasion will come within the next week or so. If not I shall be home for 48 hrs on 17th.’
When Maria and her colleagues weren’t protecting Britain from Germany, they kept calm and carried on with life as normal. This is reflected in the letters Maria would send to her family about life at Duxford, where she wrote about dances in concrete-floored aircraft hangars and socialising with RAF pilots, as well as her daily duties and fears for Britain.
Maria knew many of the pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain. They were not distant heroes or ‘Brylcreem Boys’ to her, but brave young men flying to keep Britain safe and fighting for their lives. She wrote: ‘The rot written about the R.A.F. makes me feel ill… I’ve met a good many [pilots] by now, as a whole not gentlemen, hard swearing, hard drinking, tough, amusing and grand fun. I have the very greatest admiration for them all.’
Visit IWM Duxford to see more of Maria Blewitt’s letters and discover more stories of people caught up in conflict through our collections.