Thursday, September 16, 2010

70 Years Ago

Listening to: Pop Life - Breathe (1998). One of the fine crop of Wellington bands that never quite cracked it. I got into Breathe with their first EP in 1994, saw them live a few times then followed them through their first and second albums. The first one (this one) did quite well, but the second didn't match it and they subsequently faded into obscurity. In a very Wellington thing, I am pretty sure the bass player now works at a record store I frequent. And my wife mistook me for the drummer the first time we met. Subsequently she put a song from this album called 'Started Something' on to a mix CD she made for me not long after we got together. Appropriately as it turns out :)

Those Wellingtonians with the opportunity yesterday might have noticed an elliptical and noisy silhouette over the city yesterday morning. A short time later an unusual shape turned up on the approach to Runway 16 at Wellington Airport. Photos courtesy of a well timed and executed early lunch break:

I can't think of any other time one of these has landed at Wellington before. It is a Spitfire Mark IX *, and flew down from Ohakea to overfly the commemorations for the 70th anniversary of Battle of Britain day. It is a bit more developed than the Mark I's and II's that fought the battle itself (and overshadowed their more numerous and successful but less glamorous Hurricane partners in the process), but it wears the markings of a Spitfire IX flown by a New Zealander (Al Deere) who had participated in the successful defence and served with distinction through the rest of the war. While the battle was waged over several months, September 15th 1940 was chosen as the date that the British pilots definitively gained the upper hand over their German attackers. There is a reproduced BBC report for the day in question here, and a lengthy wiki article on the battle itself here.
The date is also shared with International Day of Democracy, which isn't entirely unbefitting, given the stakes that rested on the outcome. A German victory, leading to either outright invasion, or even a subdued and non participatory Great Britain would have had massive and far reaching implications to the outcome of the Second World War, none of them good. It was arguably the single most important battle on any front of the entire war, fought barely a year into its six year course.
In London the day was marked by the unveiling of a statue of in Waterloo Place of another New Zealand participant in the battle (stuff link). The figure depicted is that of Sir Keith Park, one of New Zealand's most unsung and forgotten heroes, whose acheivements in context are far more significant than any mountaineer, yachtsman or film-maker. Park controlled the defense of London, and his leadership, tactical skill and careful use of meagre resources were crucial to the overall British victory, which at one point came very close to a British defeat. He would later be instrumental in the succesful defense under similar circumstances of the island of Malta. Given what there was to lose he should be far more recognised in his homeland than he is.
*This particular Spitfire has its own web page, with a nice history of the aircraft and its history and restoration. It is owned by a nephew of Al Deere, hence the markings.
** The other resident Spitfire in NZ, which I have blogged about previously here and here, recently returned to flight after a post accident rebuild. Third time lucky rule will hopefully apply.

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