Spitfire

Usually around this time of year there would have been a post about the Chalke Valley History Festival and I was particularly looking forward to this year’s festival, booking tickets covering two great passions: military history (John Nichol on his latest book, Spitfire: A Very British Love Story, and James Holland in conversation with a veteran of the Burma campaign) and Terry Pratchett (who lived in the Chalke Valley; his writing studio was replicated on site along with various Pratchett-ian talks and events).

Unfortunately the car decided it would be an excellent day to pack in, so we had a slightly less exciting morning of Standing By The Roadside then being towed home. Gutted is an understatement. Still, shortly after I noticed that a new documentary about the Spitfire was on the way and would be in cinemas for one day, so I snagged a couple of tickets for that, some minor recompense.

It’s an excellent documentary that worked both for me (owner of a medium-sized pile of books about the Spitfire, banger-on at tedious length about all things Battle of Britain) and my wife (tolerantly puts up with being dragged along to such things). It combines archive footage, interviews with veterans, and modern air-to-air sequences with restored aircraft (mostly Spitfires, obviously, but there’s a Hurricane in there as well so they’re not completely overlooked). The modern footage was stunning on a big screen; I believe it was only on general release for a day, but if you spot it at the cinema again I’d highly recommend it, or it’s available for download now. A word of warning for it or other documentary/event screenings: there wasn’t the usual interminable collection of adverts, trailers and suchlike before it started, and the first quarter of an hour was slightly disrupted by late arrivals, in particular a whole row of septuagenarians who took some time to ascend the steps and find seats in pitch blackness.

The interviews are incredibly moving, not just RAF pilots who flew in combat but also female ATA (Air Transport Auxilliary) pilots who flew Spitfires (and a great many other types of aircraft) from the factories to operational airfields. They’re all the more poignant as a number of the participants have passed away since filming; Nigel Rose and Joy Lofthouse last year, Tom Neil the week before the film came out, Geoff Wellum just days after, and most recently Mary Ellis who was 101 years old, beating the RAF itself by a year. As The Few get ever fewer I feel very fortunate to have seen Geoff Wellum at Chalke Valley in 2014, he was very sharp, extremely engaging, and funny. I’m looking forward to the line-up for the 2019 festival, and will be giving the car a thorough check-up beforehand.

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