SMHS Meeting - Spitfire from the sands

17 Oct 2012

The Reporter has a dog and the reporter's dog has a penchant for socks. When Fido has secured one of a pair of the reporter's warmest, most comfortable walking socks he takes it out to the reporter's garden and buries it in the perennials border, more often then not there is collateral damage and a scolding ensues. Time goes by, weeks, months even and eventually the day comes when Fido goes to retrieve his buried treasure.”

Now the reporter isn't that keen on decomposing, wet, holey, worm-ridden socks - but Fido sees beyond the ravages of time to the prize it once was.

On 24th May 1940, Peter Cazenove flying Spitfire P9374 was covering the withdrawal of troops from France. P9374 was hit by 1or 2 bullets in the coolant system and Cazenove, knowing he was too low to make it back to Dover brought her down on the sand at Calais where he left her, joining up with the Queen Victoria Rifles, he was eventually taken POW and nearly featured in The Great Escape!

Forty years on, our October speaker SMHS member Andy Saunders received a call from the Manager at the hover-port at Calais, informed him a Spitfire was rising up out of the sand! By the time Andy got to Calais the Spitfire was in a bad way, at the hands of souvenir hunters and vandals much had already been taken. The efforts to bring the Spitfire up from her sandy grave were inexpertly done - causing further damage and P9374 was little more than a mangled wreck. Some parts were put on display in a local aerospace museum, others boxed and stored, and thereafter purchased for use as spares.

In 1990 American entrepreneur Thomas Kaplan wanted a Mark I Spitfire. Moreover, he wanted to return it to flight. The Mark I, in Andy's opinion is the purest of all Spitfires but even those that still exist have been heavily modified and Mr Kaplan wanted a 1940 Spitfire - thus that mangled wreck, P9374, the Spitfire from the Sand began its long journey back to flight.

Describing the project as a reconstruction rather than a restoration Andy told us how much of the original plane as possible was used; those parts that could not be used became patterns” for replacements. Spares were sought, all within the remit of being dated 1940 or earlier, the cost was eye-watering.

In September 2011 P9374 piloted by John Romain took off from Duxford 71 years after her last flight, Mr Kaplan, like Fido had taken something long-forgotten, buried and left to rot and envisioned it as something to be loved and cherished.

Andy's book, Spitfire Mark I P9374 The Extraordinary Story of its Recovery, Restoration and return to Flight on which the talk was based is available from booksellers and would make an excellent gift for any enthusiast.

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7.30pm for 8.00pm start
Function Room of the
Royal Oak Public House,
Station Street, Lewes,
East Sussex.

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