By Mark McConville
FASCINATING true tales about the Spitfire have been revealed in a new book by those who designed, maintained and flew the iconic plane.
Incredible images showcased in the book include Prime Minister Winston Churchill observing a female riveter working on a spitfire at the Castle Bromwich factory in Birmingham and delaying his return journey to sit down and talk to Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw after an impressive demonstration flight.
Other striking shots show workers from a Spitfire factory examining one of their aircraft as part of morale-boosting schemes to enable workers to see the results of their labours, ground staff re-arming a Spitfire Mk 1 and WAAFs learning how to handle a barrage balloon.
The wartime photographs are included in a new book, Spitfire Stories, by Jacky Hyams and published by Michael O’Mara Books.
“As soon as war was declared in September 1939, the Spitfire was up in the sky: in October 1939 an enemy aircraft was intercepted over Britain for the very first time and the Spitfire dominated the front pages as the first ever plane to tangle with the enemy,” writes Ms Hyams in the book’s introduction.
“Beneath the icon and its history, there remains another, equally fascinating story: that of the people behind the Spitfire.
“We tend to associate the Spitfire, quite naturally, with its wartime heroes: the RAF pilots from many countries who served through the war and beyond, flying the Spitfires and other planes, or ‘The Few’ of the Battle of Britain whose valiant efforts will never be forgotten.
“Yet there are many others whose lives have been affected in some way by the Spitfire – the factory workers, the ground staff and the engineers, as well as the pilots and individuals whose love and passion for the Spitfire changed their lives. Such stories resonate down the years from wartime right to the present day.”
Spitfire Stories chronicles the birth of the iconic plane through to the first flight, how it was made, aerials battles it was involved in, how it was maintained and its lasting legacy.
The tales are told by those who were closest to the plane, from its conception to those on the factory floor and the brave pilots who flew it.
“Thousands of Spitfire workers, many of them women who joined the ‘secret army’ of Britain’s munitions workers, toiled in these factories, in often difficult conditions, as the country struggled to survive and work through the frequent bombing raids overhead,” writes Ms Hyams.
“Others were engaged in a wide range of Spitfire roles for the RAF and its wartime auxiliary organisation, the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), whose female ferry pilots were the first women in the world to fly brand new Spitfires and other planes from factory to RAF airfield.
“It is also a little acknowledged fact that it was the RAF ground crews, the ‘erks’ as they were called, who worked through the night and in difficult conditions to get the fighting Spitfires back up into battle.
“Every one of these many thousands of workers and their families played some part in this story of the Spitfire.”
Spitfire Stories: True Tales from Those Who Designed, Maintained and Flew the Iconic Plane by Jacky Hyams, out now in hardback, priced £16.99 (Michael O’Mara Books).