Feature: Buried Treasure in Burma
During World War 11, my mother Ellen Harland, then a 20 year-old slip of a girl, worked at the Supermarine factory in Southampton, England. They turned outSpitfires, the famous British single-seat fighter aircraft that did so much to help win the war.
World War II Spitfire inspector Ellen Harland. Still going strong at 92.*
My mother’s job was to inspect the wings as each aircraft was assembled. The Spitfire’s elliptical wing had a thin cross-section, allowing a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters. Speed was seen as essential to carry out the mission of home defence against enemy bombers.
During the Battle of Britain, concerted efforts were made by the German Luftwaffe to destroy the factory. The first raid, which missed, came on 23 August 1940. Over the next month, other raids were mounted until, on 26 September 1940, the factory was wrecked, with many aircraft production workers being killed or injured. Fortunately, my mother survived.
But work continued, though the British Govern-ment decided to disperse production to a number of smaller factories in the Southampton area.
Some 20,351 Spitfires of all versions had been produced when production stopped in 1948.
Imagine my mother’s surprise when she read recently that 20 of these iconic aircraft had been discovered in Burma (Myanmar) having been buried during the war to prevent the Japanese getting their hands on them. It is quite possible some of the aircraft were inspected by my mother.
The planes were shipped in 1945 from England to Burma: waxed, wrapped in greased paper and tarred to protect against the ele-ments.
They were then buried under 40 feet of soil deep in the Burmese jungle in the crates they were shipped in, rather than let them fall into enemy hands, said British farmer David Cundall, an aviation enthusiast who has spent 15 years and about $200,000 (P13m) in his endeavors to reveal the lost planes.
Thanks to the efforts of British Prime Minister David Cameron it is planned to exhume the planes and return them to England.
Only about 35 Spitfires are currently flying. Each plane is said to be worth around US$3m (P129m).*