Recollections of the Spitfire Aircraft – As part of Airfix’s 70th anniversary (one of the world’s oldest and most well-known manufacturers of model kits), Airfix met with three wartime veterans, all of whom either flew or were in direct contact with Spitfires, to capture and share their incredible memories – their military journey and recollections of the aircraft.
This interview was from the late Sapper George Batts MBE Ld’H – age 97 who sadly recently passed.
I was 14 during the Battle of Britain and I remember the Spitfires flying over. We kids wanted to be heroes and fly Spitfires. All of us lads from the country had stories to tell.
I was in Partridge Green, West Sussex, outside when I was riding along on a bike and a Messerschmitt came down and machine-gunned me. Then, again, on the Coolham Road in West Grinstead, another Messerschmitt came down and machine-gunned me. That’s a funny story actually – our local pub was called the Tabby Cat. I was walking down the road from the pub with my friend and this Messerschmitt came over and we had to dive in a ditch, and it was rather muddy. I remember getting home, covered in mud, and my mum saying, “What on earth have you been up to this time?” When I told her she didn’t believe me. So, I said, “go and see”. She apologised to me!
Between, the Spitfires, and the Hurricanes, it whetted our appetite toward joining the air force.
I was mad about joining the Royal Air Force. I was a member of the Air Defence Cadet Corps – the organisation which preceded the Air Training Corps when we paid for every bit of equipment and uniform. This was prior to the Government taking over, cutting out the Aircraft Apprentice exam and paying for equipment etc. so I am proud to say I was an initial member.
When I was 15, I sat for the Aircraft Apprentice exam. The year before, they had accepted 1,000 applicants, but the year that I passed they only took 100 applicants because the Air Corps and the Air Defence Corps were outdating them.
I lived in a very small village in West Sussex – only three boys lived there. One of those boys was my friend, John. We both went for our RAF medical for flying duties together. He passed but I failed because I’m colourblind (strangely enough, the RAF won’t have you if you’re colourblind!). I wouldn’t serve on ground duties for the RAF, so I volunteered and joined the Royal Engineers on 19th March 1943.
I landed in Normandy on D-Day and spent a year there. Then I went up to Holland and from there was posted to the Far East for two and a half years. What a lot of people don’t remember is that there was still a war going on at that time in the Far East. I was a member of that – the invasion of Malaya. However, with VJ Day, that invasion never happened so, although we landed, it wasn’t a fighting landing. I worked guarding prisoners of war.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Army. Not the fighting, but when I served during two years of peacetime. I was offered a job to continue my time in the Far East. I’d already been posted out there for two and a half years, so I said if they could give me 7-14 days leave back in the UK, to catch up with my family, then I would take the job, but they wouldn’t let me have it. I wasn’t prepared to stay out there for nearly six years without seeing them, so I declined. I served until 5th September 1948.
I came home and worked in an office for many years before starting my own business, which I carried on with until I retired.
Did you have any involvement with Spitfires –
A memorable moment of being involved with a Spitfire was when I was living in West Grinstead, age 13-15. My job was to mow the lawn and, as we couldn’t afford a lawn mower, we used to borrow one. I was coming back from borrowing one when a Spitfire circled around and crashed-landed in the park. I ran over and helped the pilot out of the cockpit as it was on fire (it eventually burnt right out). I helped him out – I had been trained to do that in the Air Training Corps. I was taking him home for a cup of tea when one of our local dignitaries turned up, led him away and told me to clear off.
Why are Spitfires synonymous with Britain?
The look of it. Its appearance is different. It was light, and the RAF pilots liked the Spitfire and were always talking about it. For pilots, if you want anything to be the favourite, it’s got to be light. It went into folklore and, I think you’ll find, more families paid for the manufacture of a Spitfire in memory of their son who had been killed.
The other thing with the Spitfire – it was such a lovely-looking machine. It had lovely curved lines, whereas its big competitor the Hurricane had squarer lines. Consequently, the ones with the good lines, as with all things whether man or woman, the one with the good lines is favourite!
There’s no doubt about it, the Spitfire was and still is, a beautiful plane.
People are also more interested in memories. I was National Secretary of the Normandy Veteran’s Association, and the demand for my services to talk to people has been phenomenal (we disbanded in 2014). People nowadays are genuinely interested. It’s wonderful because our friends that were left behind are never forgotten.
For the first 50 years after the war, there was very little interest. In fact, many of us vets weren’t a bit interested in ourselves. I didn’t join anything until 50 years after the war as there was too much to do with work, mortgages, families etc. Everything had to take its own priority. But once it started, there was no stopping. I remember the Association at one time had 15,000 members. We’re now down to about 60. And the youngest of those is 97.
As veterans, we want to talk, and we push like mad because war must never be forgotten. We never ever want another world war. We’ve been close to it. People don’t realise how it affects the world.
We must never allow another war and, while we have something like the Spitfire which can keep flying, war will be in people’s minds, and with any luck, it will be a positive outlook with no war. It’s not glamourous, nobody wins – everybody loses. We can fall out with people, but you don’t need to fight like that.
Your thoughts on modelling and your memories of Airfix –
I’m so delighted to see this (looking at the Spitfire Airfix model).
I had two grandsons, and I must have made 20-24 Airfix models that used to hang from their bedroom ceilings. I made planes including Bombers and Fighters. I know their school used to host a competition every year too, making a big model. My eldest grandson made a Halifax model.
I served in the Far East, so we made a model of my camp with all the tents etc. My youngest grandson was convinced that I was in the Army and the RAF (if only) and that I was a pilot who flew out to Singapore in an RAF Bomber, guarded by Spitfires. Obviously, this wasn’t true, but we let him believe it! I knew this was bending the truth and making up stories, but I was entertaining my 10-year-old grandson and he loved it. I got cursed by my daughter though, the model I made with him to take to school took up all the space in the car and it took three people to carry it.
If you get into modelling, you’ll be delighted with the result. You’ll never ever, ever, ever find that sense of achievement elsewhere. As with all models, when you get to the last bit, there’s always one bit that is causing you a problem. You’ll overcome that problem and it will be perfect for you.
I used to kid my two grandchildren that they’d done most of the work guiding me. To me it guided them along the path to doing things properly, taking an interest in things, and being proud of the result and of any job they did. Without that, a job’s not worth doing. Unless you feel phenomenal pride, it’s only a chore and not a joy. To me, doing these models was such a joy. Even going and buying them. You get that sense of enjoyment; I can’t describe it because I don’t feel you get it anywhere else. You’ve got the package; you open it up and start making the model. When you finish it, the sense of achievement is phenomenal.