The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall joined World War II veterans yesterday at a thanksgiving service to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Defence Minister John Reid and outgoing Conservative leader Michael Howard also joined the 580 veterans, widows and next of kin for the ceremony at Westminster Abbey in central London in the largest gathering of veterans in many years.

Government representatives of the nations who flew alongside British pilots were also present.

A simultaneous service took place at the RAF church at St Clement Danes, Aldwych, from 11am.

Earlier, Lady Odette Dowding, widow of the son of Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, who led Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, laid a wreath in the RAF chapel in Westminster Abbey where he is buried.

Between July 10 and October 31, 1940, the RAF and the Germans fought for supremacy over Britain.

The RAF scrambled pilots into the sky to do battle often three, four or five times a day. Britain's air defence bent but did not break.

Despite being outnumbered four to one on September 15, 1940, RAF Fighter Command claimed victory over the Luftwaffe after a day of bombing raids ended in heavy losses for Germany.

Shortly after, Hitler postponed and then cancelled invasion plans, turning his attention to the defeat of Russia.

If the RAF had not succeeded it is believed the Germans would have been able to invade the UK easily.

Later Charles unveiled a monument to the Battle of Britain at Victoria Embankment. The striking £1.65 million memorial was commissioned by the Battle of Britain Historical Society.