SPEAKING OF SPITFIRES

Back in June I wrote an original piece on an automotive grille badge that was issued for sale as part of the Automobile Association of Malaya’s initiative to raise funds to aid in the purchase of a Supermarine Spitfire for Great Britain’s RAF. The badge, issued in two sizes, was called the Malayan Motorists’ Fighter Fund badge. The story I wrote was titled Gerda Exposé, a title that would have been lost to all but the likes of Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill and Sir Roland Braddell. I thought it was an appropriate title – the discovery of a grille rare badge issued in Malaya/Singapore in 1941. The funds raised ($48,759.96) was used for a Spitfire named Gerda. B.L.444 became a member of the Eagle Squadron etc. etc.

The AAM’s Malayan $10 badge, first issued in December 1940.

A couple years ago I purchased a box of 35mm colour slides, more for the photos of the cars racing in the 1970 Singapore Grand Prix. There were a few shots of the environs of RAF Changi, one or two of Orchard Road, and a couple of a Spitfire on display in RAF Changi. On one photo of a five-blade Spitfire F Mk. 24 was the ID of the plane – PK683. This Spitfire is the only known survivor of the Malayan Auxiliary Air Force  (Singapore Squadron). The MAAF fleet consisted of four De Havilland Tiger Moth trainers, six Harvards, three Spitfire Mk. 24s and four DHC Chipmunk T10 trainers. The Singapore Wing of the MAAF was disbanded on 23 September 1960 (formed in June 1950). We’ll return to the MAAF in another article, not on aircraft but on P- and T-Type MGs that raced in Malaya and Singapore.

PK683 – Spitfire Mk24 Griffon, 5 blade prop. RAF Changi, 1970.
PK683 – Spitfire Mk24 Griffon, 5 blade prop. RAF Changi, 1970.

I have a few ex-RAF Seletar friends who have made a point of documenting their memories in Malaya/Singapore. One is Charles White and lo and behold, some years ago Mr White wrote about PK683 on the RAF Seletar & Tengah Association website (https://www.rafseletar.co.uk/flying-squadrons/supermarine-spitfire/schoolboys-spitfire/). It’s a fascinating story of how he and his school mates ‘broke’ into PK683 when it was on display at RAF Seletar in 1955. He took photos of the plane with his Kodak Brownie 127. Mr White’s tells that PK683 had been ‘struck off charge’ by the time he saw it on display at RAF Seletar as a schoolboy.

A Spitfire Mk XVIII [SM997] at RAF Seletar’s Parade Ground, 1955.

PK683 then spent time on display at Kallang Airport (till 1960) and later on at RAF Changi (1962 to 1970). When the British pulled out of Singapore, PK683 was returned to UK aboard an RAF Short Belfast heavy lift turboprop. Mr White writes that after a period of storage at various RAF depots (including at RAF Bicester from 1970-1972) she was finally issued to No. 424 [Southampton] ATC Squadron and displayed at the RJ Mitchell Memorial Museum (1976 to 1984), finally being moved to her present home in the Solent Sky Museum in Southampton. The next time I’m in the UK, I’m going to drive down to Southampton to do two things – visit an old friend and the Solent Sky Museum. 

Eli Solomon

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