December 2020

2nd December 2020 – Alan Matlock on Facebook

PATRON APPOINTED

Spitfire Makers are delighted to announce that Squadron Leader Mandy Singleton, RAF, has kindly agreed to be our Patron.

Mandy has been in the RAF for 30 years and is currently the Senior Engineering Officer of The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.Based at RAF Conningsby, Lincolnshire, she is in charge of the team of RAF engineers who are tasked with maintaining the BBMF planes in airworthy condition. This entails looking after the nuts and bolts, rivets and paintwork on two Chipmunks, a Dakota, a Lancaster, two Hurricanes and no less than SIX Spitfires!

We met her virtually in our project team Zoom meeting last week and look forward to a fruitful collaboration, spreading the story of those who worked so hard to build the original planes.

We are all excited to know that her role with the heritage planes of the BBMF, and the Spitfires in particular, is a perfect fit to reflect the fact that so many Spitfire Makers involved in the wartime production of the Spitfire were women.

Squadron Leader Singleton is pictured with the two original BBMF Spitfires, PM631 AND PS915 (the latter in the background). She is currently working with her team of over thirty on the aircraft in the hangar at Coningsby where they are undergoing their scheduled Winter maintenance programmes.

15th December 2020

President Don goes back in time to his wartime Spitfire factory

Don Smith, one of Spitfire Makers’ Honorary Presidents, took a journey back to his teens with the help of the Maskers Theatre and the other businesses now occupying the Emsworth Trading Estate units in Shirley. (Masks were worn whenever distancing required.)

94 year old Don was filmed as he recalled the wartime work he was doing in the buildings behind Shirley High Street. Auto Metalcraft Ltd was one of Supermarine’s main subcontractors making Spitfire jettison fuel tanks, tropical air filters and other details. As the war progressed so did the number of women employed and one of them, Nell, became his wife.

He is pictured with Angela Stansbridge, Chair of The Maskers Theatre. Don explained the Studio Theatre situated on the first floor of Unit 1 was once the paint shop where the Spitfire parts were undercoated with cellulose primer.

After touring the workshops in the other units Don looked across Emsworth Road at the first floor flat where he lived at the start of the war. He said, “I could fall out of bed and get to work in no time!”

At the foot of the angled stairs, now metal, is the Anderson shelter, now covered in ivy, that he had to persuade his grandmother to go to when the siren went.

It is hoped that the film of Don’s return to Auto Metalcraft and other interview footage from a previous visit to his home in Bitterne will be shown at an event at the theatre in the new year.

21st December 2020

CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM SPITFIRE MAKERS – a message from the chair, Alan Matlock

Image courtesy of Southampton Cultural Services Archives

Santa in a Spitfire, circling the equally iconic Southampton Civic Centre Clock Tower, is sending you warm wishes for the best Christmas possible in this unprecedented year. (Card design from a wartime original in the Southampton Cultural Services Archives.)

Alongside our main aim to get commemorative plaques placed at the site of Spitfire production facilities across Southampton and beyond we have seen a number of exciting ‘side projects’ emerge and, despite the Covid headwinds, Spitfire Makers has been able to move ahead in lots of ways.

Inspired by the VE Day 75 celebrations, we now have a string of professionally printed Spitfire Makers pennants honouring those who helped to get the Spitfire airborne from shop floor to boardroom. We’re gathering more stories and photos for more of these pennants all the time so if you think you can help with this please let us know.

In June we heard that Southampton Rotary Club were adopting us as their Charity of the Year and in September we attended the Southampton Heritage Fayre at the Mayflower Theatre’s open day.

Along with Dave Key of The Supermariners website, I contributed to BBC World Service and Radio 4 documentaries, Spitfire: The People’s Plane and Spitfire: From the Ashes. (Both still available on BBC Sounds.)

On the morning of the 80th anniversary of the second bombing raid on the Supermarine factories I was interviewed on BBC Radio Solent and with help from several other local organisations we located and marked the final resting places of nearly all those workers who died.

In October we welcomed Spitfire Makers Don and Margaret as our two Honorary Presidents and then, as Patron, Squadron Leader Mandy Singleton, Senior Engineering Officer of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. We look forward to their involvement over the coming months.

In association with Shirley Local History Group we have exceeded the fundraising target for our first plaque. Any surplus will be held over for future plaques and, despite massive problems with opening a bank account, it seems we may now have that sorted.

Our Facebook page has also climbed to new heights. In the last month we have reached more than 101,000 (up by an incredible 228%), engaged over 11,000 (up by 170%) and more than doubled the number of page ‘likes’ to nearly 300.

Throughout the year, with help from many online and social media sources, on-going research has led to us being able to confirm the locations of numerous sites that were part of the Supermarine production network, not just in Southampton but even further afield.

To put this year in perspective, the official UK coronavirus death toll (67,401 by 20th December) has now overtaken the number of UK civilians who died during the whole of the Second World War, marking another grim milestone in the pandemic.

We all look forward to a safer and less restricted 2021 when we might again be able to hold live events and see the first of our planned plaques unveiled.

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