Remembering Lord Dowding, leader of ‘the Few’

Lord Dowding

It is 70 years ago, today, that Sir Winston Churchill made his most famous and stirring speech. Speaking in Parliament, he praised the Battle of Britain aircrews who defeated the Nazi attempt to invade the United Kingdom. It was the speech in which he declared: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” and it led to those brave airmen being known as “the Few”.

The man who led the Few, as head of the British Royal Air Force Fighter Command, was Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. A former pilot, he proved himself to be a brilliant air combat strategist.

He was also a Spiritualist and many believe that his open belief in mediumship and spirit communication – declared in books he wrote while war was still raging – was the reason why he never received the recognition that was his due at the end of the war.

He did, however, receive the Knight Grand Cross and a baronetcy in 1943, two years after he was forced to retire as head of Fighter Command.

Historians now acknowledge that he was one of the more important military commanders of the war, playing a major role in defeating Hitler.

It was one of Lord Dowding’s books that first interested me in Spiritualism as a schoolboy. I had seen it reviewed or serialised in a London evening newspaper and so I borrowed it from my local public library. It was a revelation.

It may have been Many Mansions, but it could just as easily have been Lychgate, God’s Magic or The Dark Star, the only one that is now in my library. Published in 1951, it includes chapters on “Rebirth”, “Discarnate Ethics” and “Astral Life”.

I was privileged to meet Lord Dowding on one occasion and his wife Muriel, Lady Dowding, several times. By then in his late 70s and crippled with arthritis, he still retained the reserve that led his men to nickname him “Stuffy”. But no one who knew him doubts that he put his men – and his country – above all else.

TV news programmes have said much about today’s special anniversary, and particularly about Churchill’s speech, but I have heard no mention of Dowding’s enormous contribution to our victory.

In my own small way, I am pleased to use this occasion to honour a man who was astute enough to mastermind the Battle of Britain and brave enough to declare his belief in afterlife communications.

Interestingly, I read that Churchill’s speech was probably inspired by a book written by another famous Spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In his historical novel The Refugees – a book Churchill admired – is a passage that reads: “Never, perhaps, in the world’s history has so small a body of men dominated so large a district and for so long a time.” It refers to the Iroquois Indian tribe from which Churchill claimed to have been descended.

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