Meeting two Spitfire pilots is not something that happens often. So when four cadets from 1289 (Stratford-Upon-Avon) Squadron were asked if they would be willing to represent the Air Training Corps at the official VIP launch of the “Spitfire Gallery” at the Thinktank Museum in Birmingham they leapt at the chance.
Following the official welcome speech, the cadets were asked to mingle with the VIPs and press in the new gallery; an exhibit showcasing the Spitfire’s revolutionary design, its role in the Second World War and the legacy it left in Birmingham. The cadets were thrilled with the opportunity to talk to the stars of the show: former Spitfire pilots Sid Cleaver and Mike Horsfall, as well as former Castle Bromwich Spitfire factory workers. Cadet Flight Sergeant (CFS) Brian Molloy spent considerable time talking to Mr Cleaver about his life and time in the RAF. “The only time I was scared”, recounted Mr Cleaver, “was when my fuel gauge dropped to zero over the Mediterranean.” Considering he had previously been evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches; everyone was rather impressed.
The war on the home front was just as important. The Castle Bromwich factory produced around 10,000 Spitfires during the war, including the example at the museum. Meeting Mr Cleaver, Mr Horsfall and the factory workers proved extremely inspirational and was an experience that will stay with the cadets for many years.
As the only uniformed presence at the launch, the cadets were also given the chance to share their experiences when the veterans and young children at the exhibit quizzed them on flying in the ATC. The media were in attendance, and were keen to take photos, while FS Katie Patterson was interviewed by BBC Midlands Today (a backup career perhaps?)
Pilot Officer Dave Ariss, the Officer In Charge, of 1289 Squadron commented this is a rare and humbling opportunity for our cadets to meet some of the few who flew the Spitfire and also those who worked to manufacture the aircraft at the Castle Bromwich factory.
The cadets have found this a fantastic experience to learn about the spitfires design and role in the Second World War, the life experiences of the pilots and factory workers involved as well as being able to view the exhibits and enjoy the interactive STEM activities the museum has to offer.
Civilian Instructor Kay Medlin, Cadet Warrant Officer Jack Crisp, CFS Brian Molloy, FS Katie Patterson and Cadet Sergeant Melissa Thornton would like to thank all at ThinkTank for enabling this fantastic opportunity in particular Flying Officer Chard, Officer Commanding 497 (Daventry) Squadron, who made the opportunity possible.