In February of this year, we purchased a J Boat J/145 racing sailboat based in Long Island Sound and brought her up to the NYC this spring to replace my Catalina that I had also sold during the winter. We renamed the boat ‘Spitfire’ from its previous name of ‘Swirl’. I have been asked several times ‘why Spitfire?’ Apart from the obvious dislike of its uninspiring former name, for me and my family there is a good reason for the new name and having returned recently from a special event in the UK I thought I would share it with you.
The year 1940 was a dark one in the history of the UK. The British Isles were forecast to be shortly overrun by vastly numerically superior German forces and in the summer of that year the Luftwaffe launched what became known as the Battle of Britain. Some 2,000 aircrew of the Royal Air Force’s Fighter Command flying Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft stood in their way and defeated the onslaught and leading Churchill to give his famous speech ‘Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few’. My father was a young Spitfire pilot, one of the ‘Few’ and an ‘ace’ having shot down several enemy aircraft and, fortunately for me, one of the even smaller number that survived the war. My father stayed in the RAF for over 20 years, I was born on an RAF base in the Middle East and, in the 1970’s I also served four years as an RAF officer. My grandfather had served in the Royal Flying Corp the predecessor to the RAF (but as a batman or officer’s servant!) so all of this is a significant part of our family history.
The British defense during the Battle of Britain was directed from Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory an historic mansion in North London. A few years ago the site was sold to a developer and was to be converted into apartments. This incensed my father and he took a major role in the founding of a trust to save this part of Britain’s history as a museum for the nation. The trust raised over £11 million for renovations and, with the support of people such as Prince Charles, arm-twisted the developer into surrendering the main Priory building. My father did not live to see his efforts realised but on September 8, Diane and I along with my mother attended the ceremony to open the site as a museum. On a wonderful sunny day, with a WW2 Spitfire flying overhead, a full sized Spitfire replica was unveiled at the entrance to the building. The Spitfire was painted in the colours of 610 Squadron that my father flew with in 1940 and with his name on the side. I hope you will appreciate how moving this was for our family. The purchase of our new boat coincided with the planning for this September’s events and the name ‘Spitfire’ became an obvious choice. My father also loved sailing and his last boat trips were from the NYC.
The photographs here are of the two Spitfires in our lives this year – one during the museum opening and one during this year’s Lake Ontario 300 race.
by Jonathan Bamberger