A family at war in Southern England

Article written by Keith Pratt outlining the reason for his interest in the Spitfire.

My grandfather was a WW1 war hero (twice decorated). He died in 1937 before WWII whilst injecting himself with “Opium”, his long term treatment for pain relief due to mustard gas poisoning.

This left Grannie seven children and when I add their partners, it totals to fourteen siblings in 1938/40! Four joined the army, two joined the navy, three worked in an aircraft factory, one in an ammunition factory, one cared for refugees (from London), and three were too young to partake in the war effort. I’m sure that this sort of involvement was common to all families in the UK at that time.

At a family reunion a few days ago with my last remaining aunt and uncle, I mentioned our “Spitfire project “. I was surprised to hear from my aunt Joyce that three of her sisters had worked in a Spitfire factory during the war. I couldn’t believe this initially because my information was that Spitfires were made elsewhere. Uncle Peter also chirped in how as a small boy he had watched a flight of Messerschmit’s being attacked by a squadron of Spitfires from his family garden, the noise of the guns and engines being interrupted only by the screaming voice of his mother telling him to get into the shelter before he got shot!

Enthused by these conversations, I decided to investigate our local history and discovered that when on 26 September 1940, the Southampton Supermarine factory was bombed and destroyed. Production was then split into various locations around the countryside, these being Swindon, Winchester, Salisbury, and Reading, my home town. In Reading this production took place at several factories including Miles Aircraft Ltd (later to become Handley Page), in Woodley as well as Vincent’s & Great Western Motors in the town centre. Parts including wings and fuselages were made before being assembled at local airfields such as Woodley, Aldermaston and Henley before being flown to various RAF units. This continued until the new Supermarine factory was opened at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham and assembly was moved there, but parts continued to be made locally throughout the war.

Our local village also had its very own Spitfire Ace, Pilot Officer William Kenneth (Ken) Manifold, who as a young man flew Spifire (P9315) from June 1940 until April 1941 when he was shot down and killed over Brest in France by German Ace Lt.Horst Uhlenburg.