Annual Review 2020

Listen to Alan’s review here…..

Or read his commentary for each slide below……

It’s been a year since the launch of The Spitfire Makers Charitable Trust project. Whether you were with us at the Shirley Parish Hall on February 23rd last year or not, here’s an update on what’s been happening and where the project is going next. 

Immediately after the launch the BBC got in touch and, along with contributions from Solent Sky museum and Dave Key of The Supermariners, we helped them make several episodes of the radio documentary, “Spitfire, The People’s Plane”. You can still listen to it on BBC Sounds…

Like everyone else, our plans for the year had to be revised when the pandemic took hold. The first casualty was a tour of various Spitfire production sites with the BBC programme maker. VE Day celebrations were the next to disappear but did lead to me making the first of the Spitfire Makers pennants to go with the red, white and blue bunting on my front  garden fence. We now have two dozen or more of these designs honouring the roles played by individuals and groups. They have been professionally printed for us and more candidates are being sent to us all the time.

The 80th anniversary of the bombing of the Supermarine factories in Woolston was something we had always planned to commemorate. Due to Covid restrictions we had to rethink what was possible and, once again, this took us further than we might have done otherwise.

With amazing support from various local heritage groups we were able to track down the final resting places of nearly all the 44 Supermarine staff who were victims of the bombing on 24th and 26th September, 1940. These sites, in cemeteries across the city and beyond, have been recorded with maps showing each one on The Supermariners website in a section entitled Remembering the Fallen and each grave and the factory site itself was marked with floral tributes and commemorative cards.

Perhaps most memorable of all was being able to inform the family members of John Hughes and Roland Barfoot where their relatives were buried.

From 24th to 26th the Supermarine flag was flown outside the Southampton Civic Centre by kind permission of Councillor Chris Hammond, and I was interviewed about the bombing and our commemorations on BBC Radio Solent.

Another side project that grew from the limitations imposed by the pandemic was the Shirley Spitfire Trail. Originally conceived as a speaker-led group walk for the weekend of VE Day celebrations, this became a self-guided, lockdown tour of the cluster of Spitfire production facilities in that part of town. When it reopens, paper copies of the trail will be available from the ParkLife Café in St James’ Park or can be downloaded from the Shirley Local History Group Facebook page.

In October and November The Spitfire Makers Charitable Trust was delighted to appoint two Honorary Presidents and a Patron. Don Smith and Margaret White, both former workers for Supermarine and now well into their nineties, were inducted on their respective birthdays and Squadron Leader Mandy Singleton RAF, Senior Engineering Officer of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, became our Patron. Keeping, as she does, six Spitfires in full flying order is a very tangible connection to the many workers who built the plane during WW2.

Track and Trace -During the year we have followed up leads to confirm the location of further Supermarine production facilities both in Southampton and beyond. We have found where the canvas engine and wheel covers for the Spitfire were made, at least two more sites where jettison fuel tanks were made and another where they were coated with a self-sealing compound. Further afield we have found that parts of the Merlin engine’s spark plugs were made at The Royal Worcester Porcelain Factory and a cabinet making business, housed in the old Worcester Prison, was making Spitfire wing leading edges.

We also now know that two Supermarine transport hubs, set up in garages outside London and Birmingham for the distribution of finished parts and raw materials, were on the site of present day filling stations in Bagshot and Kenilworth.

Further information has also come to light about the secret production for Supermarine being done at The Shirley Parish Hall – where we held our Launch. I have traced the daughter of Fred Stilwell, the foreman in charge of the Hall, and have a copy of the June 1974 article that appeared in the Southampton Daily Echo in which he describes in detail the vital work they were doing in the run up to D Day. We are now getting closer to erecting the first of our commemorative Spitfire Makers plaques which we hope will be at the Hall and we will invite Fred’s daughter to be a guest of honour at the unveiling.

In the autumn Spitfire Makers joined the Southampton Heritage Federation and with Southampton bidding to become UK City of Culture 2025 we have met with the council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Satvir Kaur and a member of the Bid team. We explained how Spitfire Makers can contribute to the heritage aspect of the bid and, as a result, Spitfire Makers have been invited to join the bid’s Heritage Steering Group.

Before the Christmas lockdown came into force we were able to take our Honorary President back more than 80 years to the wartime Spitfire Makers factory in the back streets of Shirley. Autometalcraft Ltd was a Supermarine subcontractor making jettison fuel tanks for Spitfires. The Maskers Theatre Company who now occupy part of the premises filmed Don explaining what he remembered was done in each part of the building. We hope to share the film at a future Spitfire Makers event

Online Talks– Scheduled talks to local groups and societies, entitled “Building Spitfires Without a Factory”, have had to be postponed during the pandemic but some have been rearranged to happen via Zoom. If you belong to or know of a group who might be interested in an online talk by Spitfire Makers Chair, Alan Matlock, please contact spitfiremakersresearch@btinternet.com

The talks are usually presented in two parts: a general introduction to the story of Supermarine and the Spitfire, the bombing and the dispersal of production in 1940 is followed by a second half which looks at Supermarine facilities that were operating in a particular locality of most interest to the audience. Talks can be tailored to Southampton in general, Shirley, Millbrook, Bitterne, Woolston, Warsash, West End, Botley, Bishops Waltham, Eastleigh, Chandlers Ford, Hursley, Rownhams, North Baddesley, Romsey, Winchester etc etc.

Any speaker’s fees or proceeds from ‘ticket’ sales for these talks will be donated to The Spitfire Makers Charitable Trust to fund the commemorative plaques we want to place at the location of each production facility across Southampton and beyond.

Looking back at our first year we have achieved so much and now there’s so much to look forward to. In the words of Captain Tom, “Tomorrow will be a good day.”

%d bloggers like this: