George Kerevan of The Scotsman has written a wonderful tribute to the Spitfire on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. An article that I just had to draw your attention to for its poignancy and the skill of its writing. The article is simply entitled- “The Spitfire – An Appreciation”. You won’t read anything like it in the NZ Herald.
75 years ago today, as darkness loomed across Europe, an achingly beautiful aircraft soared into the heavens on its maiden flight. The plane would become both an eight-gunned instrument of freedom and a near-spiritual symbol of it. The Spitfire was born.
AT 4:35pm on the afternoon of 5 March, 1936, a pilot called Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers walked across the grass of Southampton Airport – currently a hub for Flybe. Summers had spent a tiring day testing a new RAF bomber. Now, he had to squeeze in the first flight of a new fighter called the “Spitfire”. A plane that would become a legend and – arguably – hold the pass in 1940 long enough to save us from fascism.
[..]The Spitfire was the inspired creation of a true engineering genius, Reginald Joseph Mitchell. He was born in 1895, the son of two Stoke-on-Trent primary school teachers. His poor background precluded university, so he began an engineering apprenticeship with a locomotive builder.
[..] The Spitfire is one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed. One Battle of Britain veteran later called it “flying totty”. Its trademark elliptical wing curves like a piece of Lalique glass. But the wing was more than an ornament. It gave the Spit the manoeuvrability and turn of speed that proved the edge over the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitts during the Battle of Britain.
These are just excerpts. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, please go and read the full article, it is well worth it. Mr. Kerevan finishes off thus-
The nearest the non-pilot will ever get to what it felt like to sit alone in the cockpit of a Spit is a poem by John Gillespie Magee, a Scots-Irish American who came to Britain in 1941 to fight the Nazis:
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth;
“And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
“Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth;
“Of sun-lit clouds – and done a hundred things;
“You have not dreamed of…
“And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod;
“The high untrespassed sanctity of space;
“Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
On 11 December, 1941, Magee was killed when his parachute failed to open. He was 19. At a time when the RAF is being cut to shreds, we should remember the Spit. But we should also remember the men and women who built it and flew it.
I have to reflect too on a man like Magee, who wrote that wonderful poem at 19, but more, came from America to the UK just to fight against the Nazis. At that young age. And what of today’s youth with their nihilistic worldviews and their cellphones and their gaming? Would they want to go and fly that plane and shoot down other men in planes? Would they write such a poem? A more stark measure of what we have lost would be hard to come by.
A Spitfire from the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a 3 Squadron Typhoon fly in formation over Lincolnshire (from the Daily Mail)