The author’s fascinating story inspires the new Spitfire book
ALASDAIR Cross has been interested in airplanes from a young age.
Growing up in the Orkney Islands, he was a regular visitor to Britain’s smallest airshow there, which he remembers a year with a powder pink Spitfire.
Growing up, he was always interested in the ‘little boy side of things’ – the aforementioned Spitfire, the Battle of Britain, the necessary war movies.
Now a successful BBC radio and television producer, Alasdair had the opportunity to explore this lifelong passion on the BBC’s ten-part podcast Spitfire: The People’s Plane.
From there, he wrote his fascinating first book, The Spitfire Kids, which comes out this week, and traces the remarkable stories of those who helped build, sustain and fly this iconic WWII fighter plane.
When I met Alasdair last week, he explained to me that while he had always loved the airplane, it was the people who helped assemble the airplane that really captured his imagination when making the podcast. from the BBC.
The original Spitfire production plant was the Supermarine factory, located at Woolston in Southampton.
Alasdair described how in the years leading up to the war Southampton and the South Coast were somewhat of a high-tech hub, a ‘1930s Silicon Valley’, with the Thornycroft Shipyard also in Woolston, building corvettes and destroyers, and the Pirelli. Factory for manufacturing machined parts for airplanes, boats and ammunition.
While it made economic sense for these facilities to be so close to each other, its location on the south coast was particularly vulnerable.
For the Luftwaffe, the Isle of Wight was easy to find: and unlike the north or the Midlands, Southampton was comfortably within range of their Messerschmitt 109s.
It was only a matter of time before the city and its factories were hit: on September 26, 1940, more than 100 German planes dropped seventy tons of bombs, razing the Supermarine factory and halting production.
The minister of aircraft production was the baron of the newspaper Lord Beaverbrook: visiting the ruins of the factory the next day, the decision was made to disperse production.
Rather than rebuilding a single factory, production of Spitfire parts was rather hidden throughout the region – in Salisbury, Trowbridge, Newbury and Reading.
Much of the workforce was young – hence the title of the book – and many women.
There was a legacy for those involved, many of whom took on careers they might never have imagined.
And this was true for the region more broadly as well, as high tech workers settled in rural communities.
Hursley Park, near Winchester, where the design departments were relocated, first offered living conditions “ which resembled one of Thomas Hardy’s darker novels ”: when Supermarine left in the years 1950, it was taken over by IBM and still remains an R&D center today.