People behind the Spitfire

Oral recordings of those behind the scenes who contributed to the success of the Spitfire but rarely heard. © IWM
REEL 1 [Cunnings and Mills] Recollections of period as fitters with Supermarine Aviation at Eastleigh, Southampton, GB, 1936-1941: recruitment, 1934; qualifications; duties including preparing Supermarine Spitfires for testing and delivery, 1939-1941. [Gray] Recollections of period as clerical worker with Supermarine Aviation at Hythe, Southampton, GB, 1930-1935: initial impressions of factory; duties; wage; delivery of Supermarine Southamptons; closure of Hythe works, c1935. [Harvey] Recollections of period as foreman in leading edge and wing shop at Supermarine Aviation at Eastleigh, Southampton, GB, 1934-1945: opinion of Jim Reedy; work on Supermarine Walrus and Supermarine Seagull; duties in other workshops; knowledge of plans to construct Supermarine bomber.

REEL 2 Continues: [Gray] question of knowledge of Schneider Trophy Race at Calshott, 1929. [All] development of Supermarine Spitfire prototype at Eastleigh during 1930s; impressions of Reginald Mitchell and his wife [Cunnings] story of visits by German engineers to Eastleigh during 1930s; story of RAF inspection of captured Messerschmitt Me 109 at Eastleigh, 1940; opinions of Supermarine Spitfire and Messerschmitt Me 109; maintaining combat damaged Supermarine Spitfires.

REEL 3 Continues: [All] stories illustrating staff discipline at Supermarine Aviation, 1934-1940: question of trade union activity; reactions to recruitment of women fitters, 1939-1945.

REEL 4 Continues: [Cunnings] construction problems on Supermarine Scimitars and Supermarine Swifts during 1950s [All] impressions of Joe Smith.

Harry Griffiths – British civilian apprentice and metallurgist with Supermarine Aviation Ltd in Woolston and Hurstley Park in GB, 1928-1958.

REEL 1 Background in Shifnal and Southampton, GB, 1914-1928: family; education. Recollections of period as employee of Supermarine Aviation Ltd in GB, 1928-1958: obtaining apprenticeship at Woolston site, 1928; nature of apprenticeship; wages; lack of industrial discontent; obtaining work as metallurgist; construction of Supermarine Southampton flying boat; problems with first experimental high speed aircraft; R J Mitchell’s insistence on thin winged aircraft; reasons for shape of Supermarine Spitfire’s wing; initial Air Ministry order for Supermarine Spitfire; character of wing spars in prototype aircraft; memories of R J Mitchell; R J Mitchell’s illness.

REEL 2 Continues: background to naming of Supermarine Spitfire; contact with test pilots; development of Supermarine Spitfire during Second World War; increasing fuel capacity of Supermarine Spitfire; work carried out to increase operational height of Supermarine Spitfire; testing of pressurised cockpit; improving rate of roll on Supermarine Spitfire; bombing of factory by German Air Force, 9/1940; behaviour of workers after bombing; effects of bombing on production; dispersal of production.

REEL 3 Continues: skill of female workforce in dispersed factory; move of design team and laboratory to Hurstley Park near Winchester; memories of Joe Smith and his role in development of Supermarine Spitfire; destruction of experimental bomber aircraft; work on experimental reconnaissance aircraft; VIP visits; lack of contact with German aircraft designers post war; use of term ‘boffin'; story of internal stresses experienced in development of Supermarine Spitfire wing.

Eric John Davis – British civilian apprentice and draughtsman with Supermarine Aviation Ltd in GB, 1925-1930; draughtsman worked for Westland Aviation Ltd in GB, 1930-1931; worked for Boulton Paul Aviation Ltd in GB, 1931-1933; worked for Supermarine Aviation in GB, 1933-1950.

REEL 1 Background in Southampton, GB, 1908-1925: family; education. Aspects of period as apprentice and worker with Supermarine Aviation Ltd in Southampton, GB, 1925- 1930: joining company, 8/1925; reputation of company; types of aircraft produced by company; test pilot Henri Biard; reasons for leaving company, 1930. Aspects of period as draughtsman with Westland Aviation Ltd in Yeovil, GB, 1930-1931: work under GTR Hill on wings of experimental Westland Pterodactyl; reasons for enjoying work. Aspects of period as designer with Boulton and Paul Aviation Ltd in Norwich, GB, 1931-1933: memories of J D North; liaison with Air Ministry representatives; opinion of Boulton Paul Sidestrand; work on wings of experimental bomber; question of trade secrets; redundancy, 1933. Recollections of period as draughtsman with Supermarine Aviation in Southampton, GB, 1933-1950: rejoining company, 1933; work on kitchen equipment of Turkish Supermarine Southampton; work on Supermarine Scapa and Stranraer; problems mounting cannon on Supermarine Spitfire; work on ducting hot air to Supermarine Spitfire guns to prevent freezing mounting cameras in photo- reconnaissance Supermarine Spitfire; emphasis from team leader on simplicity and accuracy; effects of pressure on workforce; work on wing of Supermarine Spitfire Mk IV, later Mk XX.

REEL 2 Continues: redesigning radiator duct for Griffin engine in Supermarine Spitfire Mk XX; memories of Reginald Beaumont; taking over Folland drawing office in Cheltenham; work on Supermarine Seagull air sea rescue flying boat; German Air Force bombing of works; dispersal of company after German Air Force raids; memories of R J Mitchell; his opinion of Hawker Hurricane; lightness of Supermarine Spitfire wings; superiority of Hawker Hurricane over Supermarine Spitfire as gun platform; working at Hurstleigh Park; post-war work on undercarriage of Supermarine Swift, 1950; Air Ministry orders to concentrate on Supermarine Spitfire production rather than B12/36 experimental bomber from 1940.

Cathy McPherson – British civilian worker at Supermarine Aviation Company in Southampton, GB, 1924-1942.

REEL 1 Aspects of background in GB, 1904-1924: family; education. Aspects of period as worker at Thorneycroft engineering works: relationship with male colleagues; duties; description. Recollections of period as worker with Supermarine Aviation Company in Southampton, GB, 1924-1942: description of offices and factory; duties; memories of Captain Biard; construction of S4 for Schneider Trophy race; memories of R J Mitchell; opinion of S4 aircraft; social life; working atmosphere; flights in flying boats; memories of Schneider Trophy races; watching first flight of Supermarine Spitfire; opinion of Trevor Westbrook; memories of O E Simmonds and Lady Houston.

REEL 2 Continues: impact of outbreak of war on Supermarine works, 1939; bombing of family home in Southampton and mother’s injury; move to Romsey; social life; movement of production and workers after bombing of Supermarine factory, 9/1940; story of sheltering in VIP bunker during air raid; various anecdotes re Supermarine; pre-war visits to Supermarine by Amy Johnson, Amelia Erhardt and the Prince of Wales.

REEL 3 Continues: memories of R J Mitchell; pre-war holidays; social life, 1930s; VIPs that visited Supermarine; memories of Abdication; outbreak of war, 9/1939; working as Air Raid Warden; working conditions during 1924-1939.