Public Talks

Building Spitfires Without A Factory

Alan Matlock, Chair, The Spitfire Makers Charitable Trust

Eighty years ago, with the Battle of Britain being fought out over the summer skies of southern England, the Luftwaffe switched tactics from attacking the RAF and their airfields and targeted the aircraft factories.

After three attempts the Supermarine factories on the banks of the Itchen were finally put out of action in late September 1940. A plan to move production of RJ Mitchell’s iconic fighter from the Woolston and Itchen Works had already been begun some months before but now a complete dispersal was ordered by Churchill’s Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook.

My talk will tell the human story of those attacks from the point of view of those in the buildings or watching from across the town at the time. Some of these are first-hand accounts I have recorded or collected myself and will be illustrated with period costume and sound effects!

Images by The Spitfire Makers Charitable Trust

I will go on to share some of the nearly 30 secret sites that we now know of just within Southampton, and more beyond, where production was transferred to by Supermarine and ask if the audience can help to identify some which remain unconfirmed.

From the accounts of the everyday lives of those who lived and worked in Southampton during those unprecedented times there are tales of tragedy and triumph which I will bring in equal measure: tales of ingenuity, inspiration and even a little passion – people who met extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary determination and dedication!

I have been appointed Chair of the recently launched (Feb 2020) Spitfire Makers Charitable Trust. Based in Southampton, home of the Spitfire, we are aiming to place memorial plaques at the sites of Spitfire ‘shadow factories’ around the city and beyond, honouring the girls, women, boys and men who became Spitfire Makers in them. For more information please contact spitfiremakersresearch@btinternet.com or click the link below for a list of past and future dates.

In the present crisis we are doing what we can to keep the project moving forward and from the outset we have been working in association with the Solent Sky Aviation Museum here in the city and the excellent website, The Supermariners – https://supermariners.wordpress.com/

2020 was the 80th anniversary year of both the Battle of Britain and the bombing of the Supermarine Works. While we still have some of the veteran Spitfire Makers with us, we are hoping we can pay tribute to the “so many” who built the plane so that the “so few” could fly them.

Photos courtesy of Vickers Archive and The Supermariners

1. (Left) The Polygon Hotel, temporary management offices before moving to Hursley Park.

2. (Top Right) Deepdene, Midanbury Lane, Southampton – wages and accounts.

3. ( Bottom Right) Austin House Garage (Carey and Lambert) now Doves on the Avenue.

%d bloggers like this: