U.S., Royal Air Force officers commemorate Battle of Britain with piano burn
By By Airman 1st Class Alexa Culbert , 42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 16, 2015
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- American Airmen and international partners joined Royal Air Force officers to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with a piano burn here at the Maxwell Club, Sept. 11, 2015.
Although its origin is unknown, the burning of a piano is not only a long-lived tradition of the Royal Air Force, but is performed by U.S. Air Force pilots as well.
The Battle of Britain was the air campaign waged by the German Luftwaffe against the United Kingdom during World War II in 1940.
During the ceremony, RAF Lt. Col. James Radley, an Air Command and Staff College student, shared a couple of stories relating to the tradition's beginnings with the crowd.
One story is that the high demand of pilots during World War II forced the Royal Air Force to lower its standards. To make up for the lack of education, the Royal Air Force provided additional training in the form of weekly piano lessons in hopes of enhancing cultural depth. The building where the piano was housed mysteriously burned to the ground one night, ending all piano lessons and beginning the tradition of burning a piano.
(U.S. Air Force video by Senior Airman Jessica Thomas)
The second story is that a young pilot who served as the squadron piano player was killed while flying in an air raid. In honor of his memory, his squadron burned his piano.
Radley said he likes to think that the second story is the true one.
"It's that recognition of importance, that recognition by the squadron that something or someone made such a difference to them that it made a tradition," said Radley. "And I think this is a fantastic way to create a common bond of tradition between the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Air Force."
"Here at Maxwell we have so many international officers who come together to celebrate air power and the life of freedom," said RAF Col. Shaun Harvey, Air University RAF Advisor. "The Battle of Britain is a really good example of how people can come together and get rid of a terrible foe."
The daylong commemoration also included a memorial lecture by Dr. Richard Muller, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies military history professor; the presentation of the General Muir S. Fairchild Educational Achievement Award to Col. Richard Bailey Jr., SAASS strategy and security studies professor and dean of students; and a scholarship presentation by the Order of the Daedalians through the Cadet Flight Indoctrination Program to two local high school students.