The Merlin roars again
The Spitfire & Hurricane return to the skies of
by Paul Isles
The Association of Men of Kent and Kentish Men has, over the course of it’s history, made many important contributions to the county but possibly one of the most timely came in the early years of the Second World War, as Britain stood alone in its fight against Germany.
On August 18, 1940, in a ferocious dogfight over Kent, a Spitfire flown by Flight Commander Bob Stanford Tuck was seriously damaged, forcing him to bale out near ‘Plovers’, the Horsmonden home of Lord Cornwallis, the then president of the Association.
Having despatched a car to pick up the pilot, a bath was prepared and the doctor summoned. On meeting Lord Cornwallis, Tuck thanked him for the loan of his bath and immediately fell asleep for seven hours.
When he awoke, Lord Cornwallis told Tuck that a cheque for £5,000 (£143,600 in today’s currency) had been received from Stanley Johnson of Bearsted, with the suggestion that the money be used to purchase a new Spitfire (£5,000 being the price set by Lord Beaverbrook for a ‘Presentation’ aircraft).
The idea caught Cornwallis’ imagination and after chatting with Stanford Tuck, he proposed that the money would be the first instalment towards not one Spitfire, but a whole flight, to be known as ‘The Invicta Flight of Spitfires’ and the Kent County Spitfire Fund came into being.
Very soon £29,370 (£843,506.40) had been raised by the people of Kent and three Spitfires (aptly named ‘Man of Kent’, ‘Kentish Man’ and ‘Fair Maid of Kent’) were purchased.
© IWM Collection
By March 1941 the fund had risen to £67,677 (£1,943,683.44) and in November that year to over £100,000 (£2,872,000), enough money for an entire squadron.
In a letter to Lord Cornwallis, the President of Aircraft Production, Colonel Moore Brabazon wrote: “We are very pleased that the County of Kent has been successful in achieving sufficient money to pay for a full fighter squadron. This will be a County of Kent Squadron and Kent will be the first county to have a squadron named after it”.
As a result, No. 131 (County of Kent) Squadron RAF was reformed in June 1941 with the motto “Invicta” and though it only resided briefly in the county at RAF Biggin Hill, the squadron served on the Home Front and India with distinction. Five of the commanding officers gained the DFC with several of the airmen ‘Mentioned in Despatches’.
The squadron was finally disbanded in March 1946, but today, TA805, a Mk IX Spitfire flies in memory of the squadron bearing the inscription ‘Spirit of Kent’.
Based at Biggin Hill, the Spitfire performs during the summer airshow season at many events and in 2013 it will appear in Kent at the following: May 18/19th at Kent & East Sussex Railway, June 22nd at Manston, June 29th at Coolings Garden Centre, July 12/13/14th at Detling (Kent Show), July 13th at Chelsfield, July 20th at Rochester Castle, August 17th at Biggin Hill and Headcorn and September 21st/22nd at Chatham Dockyard.
© Locations Photography
Further details can be found on the Kent Spitfire website, www.kentspitfire.co.uk
However for those who wish to experience the full thrill of flying alongside the iconic Spitfire and Hurricane, Stephen Burt’s ‘Action Stations!’ company operates from Lydd Airport, flying three times a month during the season and offering a unique opportunity to ‘fly with the few’.
Further details can be found by visiting the website at www.goactionstations.co.uk or calling 01227 721929. 10 ROUND