Born Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estévez, the man whose stage name is Martin Sheen was the son of a Spanish father and an Irish mother, who emigrated to the United States prior to his birth. Good Catholics both of them, they gave him eight brothers and a sister.
Sheen adopted his now familiar stage name in order to counteract racism among those casting for acting jobs, although the choice was not one he made without certain regrets. In his own words:
“Whenever I would call for an appointment, whether it was a job or an apartment, and I would give my name, there was always that hesitation and when I’d get there, it was always gone. So I thought, I got enough problems trying to get an acting job, so I invented Martin Sheen. It’s still Estevez officially. I never changed it officially. I never will. It’s on my driver’s license and passport and everything. I started using Sheen, I thought I’d give it a try, and before I knew it, I started making a living with it and then it was too late. In fact, one of my great regrets is that I didn’t keep my name as it was given to me. I knew it bothered my dad.“
The Battle of Britain is virtually unique in the annals of wartime history for being one of the few extended campaigns to be fought almost entirely in the air – most other aerial conflicts named battles were single engagements, but the Battle of Britain lasted for nearly five months.
What it was, basically, was the way that air supremacy was decided in the Western European theatre of World War Two. The Axis forces launched an all-out aerial assault on Britain, bombing both civilian and military targets in what became known as The Blitz. Much has been written about the tactical superiority of the British, and there’s certainly truth in that – the Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF by 2 to 1 in raw numbers, for example. But in the end, the British simply outlasted them. If the Luftwaffe had been better equipped in terms of manpower and aircraft, they might have succeeded in the end, but the RAF was perhaps the pre-eminent air force in the world in 1940, and they demonstrated this here, in their finest hour.
It would be another two years before the momentum of World War Two turned decisively against the Germans, but this was the first major victory of the Allies, and Germany’s inability to conquer Britain at this point would lead Hitler – never that interested in invading the British Isles to begin with – to turn his attentions eastward, leading inexorably to the twin defeats of Stalingrad and El Alamein, and finally, to the unconditional surrender of his nation after he committed suicide in despair.
In the wake of the fall of France to the Nazi advance and the desperate evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, rose in the House of Commons to reassure the nation (and its allies). The speech he made that day is now routinely considered one of the greatest orations of the Twentieth Century.
The whole speech is worthy of your attention, but only these last three paragraphs are reproduced here:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. 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.
Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’