Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Salisbury Spitfire memorial to honour secret workforce

Salisbury Spitfire memorial to honour secret workforce

Another favourite subject of mine now; an aircraft from a different war, which has featured on these pages many times before - the Supermarine Spitfire.

In this case it is the fascinating and largely untold story of the secret production lines set up in and around the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire following the bombing of the Supermarine's main factory in Southampton at the height of the Battle of Britain.  While that facility recovered from the attentions of the Luftwaffe, nearly a dozen top secret production sites were being hurriedly established in such unlikely locations as motor garages, bus depots, sheds, back gardens - even hotels and bedrooms for a variety of smaller parts.  These small-scale assembly lines were nevertheless able take the pressure off the remaining factory in Castle Bromwich in the Midlands and went on to produce over 10,000 Spitfires, a frankly amazing achievement made all the more so by the fact that the majority of the workers were unskilled locals - young women, boys and older men overseen by just a few skilled engineers.

Salisbury’s best kept secret comes to light

This astounding feat has only really come to light in the last four years - having remained mostly forgotten in the intervening eight decades - thanks to the hard work of a local charity and historians, following the creation of a documentary by a Salisbury-based filmmaker.  Featuring interviews with surviving members of the workforce (whose admirably stoic reticence in respecting the secrecy surrounding the work - much like the Bletchley Park codebreakers - meant that even their own family members were unaware of their involvement until the documentary came out) the Secret Spitfires film was a welcome and long-overdue acknowledgement of the incredible efforts and sacrifices made by the people of Salisbury during some of the darkest days of the Second World War.

source - Salisbury Journal

Inspired by this documentary local residents set up a charity in June 2019 with the aim of creating a lasting memorial to these sterling workers and their hidden accomplishments in the form of a replica Spitfire to be placed at one of the shadow factory's sites, now part of Salisbury Rugby Club.  I'm delighted to see that in the intervening year enough money was raised to make it a reality and last month the full-scale fibreglass Spit was completed at the specialist manufacturers in Norfolk.  It now awaits its final erection on the site in Castle Street, Salisbury, (when Covid permits) which will also serve as the terminus of a splendid-sounding tourist trail complete with blue plaques at other known locations of the factories in the city area.

source - Secret Spitfires Memorial

Once again this is a welcome example of civic pride and recognition of an important aspect of local [WW2] history and one I am very pleased has come to fruition.  It certainly sounds as though it will prove of great interest to both the people of Salisbury, for whom this stirring story of their townsfolks' role in the war effort will be a new and exciting one to them, as well as students of Second World War history (myself included) and I congratulate everyone involved in seeing it through successfully.

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