Saturday, 14 April 2012

Spitfire Repatriation

Here is an interesting story in the Daily Telegraph  about twenty old Spitfire aeroplanes which have been buried in Burma since the Second World War and are to be returned to the United Kingdom, thanks to David Cundall, facilitated by David Cameron, the Prime Minister.

Mr Cameron secured a historic deal that will see the iconic aircraft dug up and shipped back to the UK almost sixty-seven years after they were hidden more than forty feet below ground, amid fears of a Japanese occupation.

The plight of the buried aircraft came to Mr Cameron’s attention at the behest of a farmer from Lincolnshire. David Cundall, 62, spent fifteen years doggedly searching for the Spitfies, an exercise that involved twelve trips to Burma and cost him more than £130,000.

When he finally managed to locate them in February, he was told Mr Cameron “loved” the project and would intervene to secure their repatriation.

Mr Cundall told the Daily Telegraph:
“I’m only a small farmer, I’m not a multi-millionaire and it has been a struggle. It took me more than 15 years but I finally found them. Spitfires are a beautiful aeroplane and should not be rotting away in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and they should be preserved.”
He said the Spitfires, of which there are only around 35 flying left in the world, were shipped to Burma and then transported by rail to the British RAF base during the war.

However, advances in technology and the emergence of more agile jets meant they were never used and in August 1945, officials fearing a Japanese occupation abandoned them on the orders of Lord Mountbatten, the head of South-East Asia Command, two weeks before the atom bombs were dropped, ending the conflict.

“They were just buried there in transport crates,” Mr Cundall said. “They were waxed, wrapped in greased paper and their joints tarred. They will be in near perfect condition.”

The married father of three, an avid plane enthusiast, embarked on his voyage of discovery in 1996 after being told of their existence by a friend who had met some American veterans who described digging a trench for the aircraft during the Allied withdrawal of Burma.

He spent years appealing for information on their whereabouts from eye witnesses, scouring public records and placing advertisements in specialist magazines.

Several early trips to Burma were unsuccessful and were hampered by the political climate.

He eventually met one eyewitness who drew maps and an outline of where the jets were buried and took him out to the scene.

“Unfortunately, he got his north, south, east and west muddled up and we were searching at the wrong end of the runway. We also realised that we were not searching deep enough as they had filled in all of these bomb craters which were 20-feet to start with. I hired another machine in the UK that went down to 40-feet and after going back surveying the land many times, I eventually found them. I have been in touch with British officials in Burma and in London and was told that David Cameron would negotiate on my behalf to make the recovery happen.”
Mr Cundall said sanctions preventing the removal of military tools from Burma were due to be lifted at midnight on the 13th April, 2012.

A team from the UK is already in place and is expecting to begin the excavation, estimated to cost around £500,000, imminently. It is being funded by the Chichester-based Boultbee Flight Acadamy.

Mr Cundall said the government had promised him it would be making no claim on the aircraft, of which 21,000 were originally produced, and that he would be entitled to a share in them.
“It’s been a financial nightmare but hopefully I’ll get my money back. I’m hoping the discovery will generate some jobs. They will need to be stripped down and re-riveted but it must be done. My dream is to have a flying squadron at air shows.”

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