Three dozen Mark X1V Spitfires, buried for decades in a remote part of Burma may be back in the UK by the end of the year. It follows a long battle by British farmer David Cundall who has spent a fortune in his quest to find and save the fearsome Birmingham-built fighter planes. He talked to Justine Halifax.
Iconic Birmingham-made Spitfires that have spent almost seven decades buried deep underground in Burmese soil could be flying home to Britain within months following a British farmer’s 16-year battle.
In an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post, aircraft enthusiast David Cundall reveals he hopes to bring 36 of the Mark XIV Spitfires back to Britain in November.
The 62-year-old says he has high hopes of signing a landmark contract in Burma within the next three months following the lifting of sanctions put in place on Burma by the British Government.
In April this year, the European Union agreed to suspend sanctions against Burma for 12 months in recognition of the moves it is making towards democracy after 50 years of military rule.
The lifting of most restrictions now allows European companies to invest in the country – but the move is set to be reviewed in October.
Speaking after returning from a recent visit to Burma, Mr Cundall, said: “I am delighted to say that I hope to sign a contract within three months with the Burmese people which will allow me to bring 36 of the crated Mark XIV Spitfires back to Britain, so British people can see them again in their former glory.
“And I am delighted sanctions put in place by the British Government in Burma, which were stopping me furthering my plans to be able to recover the planes, have been lifted.
“I now hope to go back to Burma in November to recover the Spitfires.”
Mr Cundall has spent more than £130,000 travelling to and from Burma over the years but said he was not looking to profit from the Spitfires’ return.
He has secured private backing to cover the £1 million cost of flying them home.
Mr Cundall also unveiled details of what will happen to the Spitfires – which were made in Castle Bromwich from as early as 1938 and sent to Burma to help the fight against Japan in World War II – on their return to British soil.
The iconic airplanes will be renovated in workshops across the country, including in Birmingham and Cambridgeshire, creating around 300 jobs.
Mr Cundall’s goal is to see the Spitfires soaring high once again and going on display at air shows across the country. There are currently only 35 Spitfires flying in the world.
“We already have loose agreements in place with proprietors of workshops, including near Birmingham, to carry out the labour intensive renovations of these planes so they can appear at air shows across the country,” he said.
But the Spitfires’ homecoming will not be the end of his long and selfless battle.
“In total, 124 Spitfires were buried in Burma at former RAF bases by the Americans for the British,” added Mr Cundall, of Lincolnshire.
“Although I got hold of the American file which revealed two locations and found eye witnesses still alive, there are another three locations to find.
“Personally I am looking to find all 124 Spitfires. If I could bring the rest home then I could create another 400 jobs.
“It has taken me 16 years of research to get this far and it’s not been easy. I’ve been close to getting a contract before but then people have interfered and created problems for me and I have had to battle through Government red tape.
“Signing the contract would be a milestone. The thought that 36 Spitfires could soon be coming home after years of battling is rewarding.
“Spitfires are beautiful aeroplanes and should not be rotting away in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and they should be preserved.”
In 1944/45, the Mark XIV aeroplanes, which used Rolls-Royce Griffon engines instead of the Merlins of earlier models, were put in crates and transported from the factory in Castle Bromwich, to Burma.
But after arriving by rail at a Burmese RAF base they were deemed surplus to requirements and never used. The aircrafts were buried in transport crates on the orders of Lord Louis Mountbatten.
Before burial, the Spitfires were waxed, wrapped in greased paper and their joints tarred, to protect against decay.
Mr Cundall says the burial of the Spitfires in Burma was political as they were payment to the Koreans for their efforts during the Second World War.
His efforts have been widely welcomed by Spitfire enthusiasts.
Pilot Mrs Carolyn Grace, who flies a Grace Spitfire ML407 which her late husband lovingly rebuilt, said: “The Spitfire is a British icon and represents so much to us all, in particular for me the Grace Spitfire, which flew 319 combat hours during World War II.
“It would be a great achievement if the Mark XIV Spitfires Mr Cundall has so painstakingly located in Burma are returned to Britain and restored to flying condition.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has been involved in the campaign to bring the Spitfires home, as has commercial property developer Steve Boultbee Brooks, 51, who runs Boultbee Flight Academy in Chichester, which teaches people to fly a two-seater Spitfire he bought in 2009 for £1.78 million.
Almost 12,000 of the iconic fighters rolled off the production line at Castle Bromwich.
History buff Doug Pullen has called for one of the returning Burmese Spitfires to go on display in the Tyburn ward of Birmingham, close to the aircraft factory, now run by Jaguar, and Castle Bromwich Aerodrome, now Castle Vale housing estate.
Visit http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/32913 for his online petition.