Being born in 1948 I was very prone to hearing stories of WW2 when my father fought in North Africa and Italy.
Equally I would hear a lot about the Home Front including tales from my Mother and Grandparents of the air battles which took part over Kent.
This led me into a fascination for the Supermarine Spitfire and has led me to spot one by sound by quite a distance.
The purr and apparent need not to ever strain the beautifully built Merlin Engines must give it one of the most perfect noises in aviation history.
In the early 1950′s, living in Sevenoaks, I would often go with the family to watch the Biggin Hill Air Show. Later on and having the will to be more independent I would cycle up the hill, hide my Bicycle in the woods, jump the fence and get in for nothing. I hope enough time has passed not to be arrested upon my confession!
The Spitfire has left a legacy beyond reproach; Housing Estates with names such as ‘Spitfire Close’, for T20 and one-day Cricket the Kent Cricket Team have taken the name ‘Kent Spitfires’ and Shepherd Neame Brewery, the oldest in the country sport ‘Spitfire Ale’ alongside some rather pointed but funny advertising.
Designed by R.J.Mitchell, the Plane was first produced in the Southampton area with tests taken at Eastleigh Airport.
Such was it’s performance during WW2, it was the only Plane to be manufactured for the whole period between 1939 and 1945.
Because of it’s manoeuvrability, it had the highest ‘victory to loss’ ratio.
My Mother, who kept watch on the roof of the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells so often spoke about the days when there was an Air Raid coming, she would look to the skies to see hundreds of Aircraft heading toward London, then hear the purr of th Spitfire and roar of the Hurricane as they went about their business to defend our Nation.
If one, either friendly or foe, came down within a few miles, her and friends would jump on the Bicycles and pedal at speed to hopefully see a recovered Pilot.
Such was life at that time, it seemed strange that she often said those years were the best of her life. There was community, a coming together of all classes, creeds and colours.
I would also see them when on early days summer holidays when we would stay at my Great Aunt Nancy’s house in Selsey Bill. It was close to RAF Tangmere and although it was the time of testing the Meteor Jet forever booming above as it broke the sound barrier, we would still often see a Spitfire flying low along the coastline.
It’s always a joy for me to see one and it’s not a rarity to see me have a tear in my eye when I do so. Thank heavens I never experienced the fears and losses of those traumatic years when it was used in battle but the tales of their conquests and memories of seeing them at Air Shows flood back every time.