December 2021

Alan Matlock posted on Facebook 14th December 2021

A tribute to our Spitfire Makers Honorary President, Margaret White.

Did you know her?

RIP Margaret.

Margaret White: Supermarine worker, survivor, Spitfire Makers Honorary President.

28.10.1923 – 26.11.2021

It is with great sadness that we bring the news of the death of Margaret in the 99th year of “a great long life”. We will remember her vibrant fascination for everything that was going on around her and the vivid recollections she shared with us of her experiences while working for Supermarine.

She was born Margaret Cox, daughter of a shopkeeper in Eastleigh. She is pictured here on the left with her sister Beryl and a friend outside the shop in the High Street.

Her father, John Henry Cox, is standing by the door. Perhaps unusually for the time, the shop was in her mother’s name:

By her teenage years the family had been able to buy their own home in Wide Lane, a new residential development in Swaythling, designed by the renowned local architect Herbert Collins. By then she had developed a keen interest in ice skating and she would travel in to the rink in Banister Park, Southampton.

Here is an account, in Margaret’s own words, of how she left school and went out to work…

“I left school in 1937 at the age of 14 with no qualifications and found work for 10 shillings (old money) a week in an office as a filing clerk.  Within 3 years I had found a better job in Vickers Armstrong Supermarine factory at Woolston working in the accounts department.

The war started in September 1939 and things were quiet to start with but in September 1940 the German air force started daytime bombing raids on our factories and towns and, of course, as our factory was making Spitfire fighter planes we were an obvious target.

I remember it was a Tuesday when the first raid on Supermarine happened.   We were all working on the 5th floor of the building and there was no warning until we heard the roar of the planes and we knew instinctively they were German bombers as they sounded different from the British.  I was pushed under a solid desk as there was no time to get to a shelter.  I saw through the window bombs coming down and falling on waste ground beyond the factory but thankfully they missed our building.   I cannot recall now if there was any other damage around but I cannot imagine everyone escaping scot-free … not everybody managed to get to the shelters in time and some of the workforce were killed.  In fact, one of the air raid shelters got a direct hit from the bombing.   However, the factory was safe for the moment.

On the Thursday the German bombers came again and succeeded in bombing the factory.  This time the air raid siren gave us warning but I, with some of my work mates, ran alongside the factory across a single railway line and up a hill to a pub and into their deep cellar where we stayed it seemed like hours while the factory was being bombed.   The bombs made the pub shake, plaster was falling off the ceiling and we were all very frightened.

The main staircase of the factory which was the exit route for Margaret from the 5th floor

Eventually the all clear sounded and we emerged from the cellar disoriented and shattered but lucky to be alive.   I lost all track of time and it could have been 4 – 5pm.   We could see the factory in ruins and I then had to get from Woolston to my home in Swaythling near the airport, about 6 miles.   That morning I had cycled to work but in the aftermath of the bombing my bicycle was nowhere to be seen and I never saw it again.  I do remember walking home on my own in a bit of a daze and of course my poor parents had been frantic with worry and I eventually got home about 7.00pm. 

The story of the aftermath of the bombing of the Supermarine Factory has recently been made into a play called “The Shadow Factory” by Howard Brenton    This is another story of how the factory was re-born from the ruins, although the building was bombed some of the machinery could be rescued and production of the Spitfire was started again in various locations around the city of Southampton.   The Accounts department was relocated within a few weeks and I went to work at Deepdene House in Bitterne initially, until I transferred to Hursley House near Winchester.”

Margaret – front row – 4th from the right – with the cast of the Shadow Factory

I first met Margaret in September 2018 when she accompanied the “Out of the Shadows” project vintage bus tour of the Spitfire dispersal sites in Shirley. The project was set up by the Nuffield Theatre where I had performed in “The Shadow Factory”.

Here she is, with her daughter, when we stopped at the Shirley Parish Hall (soon to be the first Supermarine production site to have a Spitfire Makers commemorative plaque).

We had the privilege to then interview Margaret, to hear and record her amazing stories. These were shared with a national audience when she and Don Smith, our other Honorary President, took part in the Remembrance Day “Songs of Praise” recorded at Solent Sky Museum.  Telling her wartime experiences to Katherine Jenkins was one of the highlights of her latter years.

She attended the launch of the Spitfire Makers project in February 2020 and she was delighted when, on her 97th birthday, we invited her to be our Honorary President. On being presented with the framed certificate she hugged it!

Spitfire Makers events have been restricted by lockdowns but I visited her, for what was to be the last time, on her birthday back in October. She was on fine form and thrilled to receive mementoes from a trip to meet up with our Patron, Squadron Leader Mandy Singleton, at the BBMF earlier that month. 

Alan Matlock, chair of The Spitfire Makers Charitable Trust

To her daughter Pauline and the rest of Margaret’s family we extend our sincere condolences. Pauline said this about her Mum:

“She made friends wherever she went and this did not stop when she went to Abbotswood and this was apparent for her final days.

She had a great long life and kept busy and interested until the very end.   I have such a long list of people who knew and loved her from many directions.

Thank you for all the kindness and interest you all showed in her wartime experiences, the last few years were such a boost for her and how she was encouraged to share her memory of the Supermarine Factory bombing.    

We are so glad she could participate in the project and that her memories will live on.

We echo those words and, thanks to Margaret, her ‘inside story’ of what happened at the Supermarine Works on those fateful days in September 1940 are now and forever part of Southampton’s heritage.

Margaret White (Cox) 28.10.1923 – 26.11.2021   RIP

Alan Matlock posted on Facebook 21st December 2021

Farewell to Margaret.

Spitfire Flypast Farewell for Spitfire Makers Honorary President Margaret White

Friends and family gathered yesterday morning at the Test Valley Crematorium to remember the Spitfire Makers Honorary President, Margaret White, and to give thanks for a remarkable and very much-loved lady.

Tributes in words and music honoured the memory of a long life, lived to the full and Margaret’s ethos of “Be positive and just get on with it!” was very much to the fore.

In the middle of her personal address, Margaret’s daughter Pauline informed us that, as a fitting tribute to Margaret who met her husband when they both worked for Supermarine, there would be a Spitfire flypast after the conclusion of the Service.

The clouds were low but not too low and, right on cue at 11.37, one of the Spitfires.com planes from Lee on Solent flew in fast and low before performing several sweeping turns and aerial manoeuvres. The sight and sound of the display was hugely appreciated by all who saw it and no doubt left a few in the area wondering what was going on.

There were not many dry eyes as SM520, flown by ex-RAF and BA pilot, Captain Jim Schofield, headed for home with a final wave of the wings to salute a very special lady.

Margaret White, 1923 – 2021

A table of Margaret memorabilia. The ‘butterflies’ are in fact shells collected and displayed by Margaret from one of her trips to Florida. Spitfire SM520 (photo Spitfires.com). Grainy phone shots of the flypast.

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