WORDS BY ROSS PEDDLESDEN
“The City of Bundaberg and District donates the first Spitfire from Queensland in memory of the late Squadron Leader Bert Hinkler, also in admiration of the Royal Airforce fighter squadrons. Respectfully suggest name plate ‘City of Bundaberg and District’.”
So began a telegram from Mr HJ Harvey of Bundaberg to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941. You might assume the war in the skies over Britain was far away for the citizens of the small Queensland town of Bundaberg early in the Second World War. But the Battle of Britain had caught the imagination of people across the Commonwealth, and many of them were desperate to do their bit.
By early 1941 a Spitfire Committee had been formed in the town with the express purpose of donating one more desperately-needed super fighter to the squadrons defending the mother country from Nazi bombers. It set about raising the necessary cash in a number of ways, including a Bundaberg Spitfire Queen competition where entrants raised money to enter. It was won by Susie Wilmington and raised £2,666.
But more money – a total of £6,500 in all – was needed, and so a second fundraising scheme was devised, one which you can still see the results. A beautiful hand-painted scroll was produced, and Bundaberg citizens paid an amount to have their names added to the ‘Roll of Spitfire Supporters’. The scroll is now a prized exhibit at the Bundaberg Historical Museum.
The aircraft – a Spitfire F2B powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin RM12 engine – was manufactured at the Vickers Armstrong factory near Birmingham, rolling off the line in June 1941. It first saw action with 308 Squadron which was staffed by Free Polish fighters, who made a huge but little-recognised contribution to the Battle of Britain.
The aircraft later saw service with 616 Squadron over Britain and France and finally 504 Squadron over Britain and France and then Northern Ireland, where it provided cover for that province, Scotland, Western Britain and the Atlantic. Typical of these desperate times, the aircraft’s life was short and it was abandoned over the Irish Sea west of the Isle of Man on February 4, 1942.
A short operational life, but a proud contribution to WWII by the citizens of Bundaberg.
Ross is a member of the Bundaberg & District Historical Museum, as well as an author, Rotarian and passionate community volunteer.