This brand new memorial was unveiled in July 2021 and commemorates Salisbury's hidden history of manufacturing Spitfires during World War II, a fact which has only recently been made public with the 2016 release of the film Secret Spitfires.
In 2016, filmmaker Ethem Cetintas and spitfire engineer and historian Norman Parker got together to make a film called The Secret Spitfires, uncovering a secret which had been kept for over 75 years; the role Salisbury played in the manufacture of this iconic plane which helped to win aerial Battle of Britain.
The Supermarine Spitfire, designed by R.J. Mitchell in the 1920s and 1930s, was an innovative fighter plane which became the backbone of the RAF during World War II. Beloved by both pilots and the public, the Spitfire was a fast moving, high performance machine which was a good match for the German Meschershmitt.
The Spitfire was initially built in Southampton and the Morris Motor car factory in Birmingham, under the management of Lord Nuffield. Their manufacture was beset with problems and spiralling costs, but they soon started rolling off the production line.
Images from Secret Spitfires
The Germans made concerted efforts to destroy the factories which built the Spitfire, realising that they would not be able to win air supremacy against it. The Luftwaffe bombed the Southampton factories in September 1940, causing great loss of life and casualties, mostly of experienced aircraft workers, and thought that they had put the dreaded Spitfire out of action.
What they didn't realise however was that production of the Spitfire had moved to secret locations around the south, with all of the various component parts being constructed in garages, sheds, bus depots, even a laundry, hotel and bedrooms. Local, untrained personnel of women and older men had been trained and were working around the clock to produce the Spitfires.
Salisbury, Trowbridge and Reading built half of the 22,000 spitfires produced during the war, with the other half from the factory in Birmingham. Salisbury was one of the major secret centres with locations scattered across the area - Castle Street, New Street, Devizes Road and Castle Road. Fuselages, wings and tails were built and then taken to Highpost Airfield, in the village of Little Durnford which is just outside Salisbury. Highpost became an assembly and testing site for the Spitfires, which were then flown to the various airfields across the country.
Salisbury has long had a history of military aviation, as both the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service started life on Salisbury Plain. Just outside Salisbury you can visit the Museum of Army Flying which charts the history of the role of Army Flying and its connection to the area.
The film Secret Spitfires was made in 2016, and after 75 years the secret was out; people became aware of the role the city and its inhabitants had played in the war. A charity was formed to raise money for a memorial to the ordinary people who had achieved so much, and who had never been acknowledged for their contribution to the Allied victory.
The memorial is a full size fibreglass replica of a Spitfire made in Salisbury and flown by Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, a famous pilot who shot down 14 enemy aircraft with this plane. Inside, there is a mannequin in the cockpit, dressed in authentic flight gear and accessories.
The memorial is located next to the Rugby field, close to where Factories 1 and 2 were sited. Underneath is planting which is meant to resemble the land the Spitfires flew over so often on the White Cliffs of Dover. Nearby is a bench in the shape of Spitfire wings, dedicated to filmmaker Etham Cetintas who died suddenly just a few months before the unveiling.
The grand unveiling of the memorial was delayed due to the pandemic, but on 9th July 2021 there was a ceremony to officially welcome the memorial to Salisbury.
Locals turned up in force, dignitaries were suited and booted and an RAF band opened the ceremony. The ribbon was cut by Norman Parker, Salisbury Spitfire Engineer and historian, with a pair of scissors which he made out of Spitfire material. In attendance was Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston KCB CBE ADC, the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire Mrs. Sarah Troughton and Mayor of Salisbury Mrs. Caroline Corbin. There were speeches and the Queen’s Colour Squadron gave a drill display which was fascinating to watch.
A Spitfire flew overhead, that wonderful noise, so familiar to those of us who love old black and white war films and which seemed the perfect tribute to those who had worked in the factories.
Visiting The Salisbury Spitfire Memorial
Postcode: SP1 3RX
Public Transport: There are several bus stops on Castle Road. The one nearest to the memorial is called Old Castle.
Parking: You can park in the Rugby Club parking which is right next to the memorial.
Walking: You can walk from Salisbury Cathedral to Old Sarum and visit this en route.
Find out more from the Secret Spitfires website>>