Photographs of Spitfires taken at Speke Airport, Liverpool, in 1939

Ann Renshall writes:

In 1939 my parents, Arthur and Ethel Renshall, brother Michael and I lived at Blundellsands, one of a number of suburban settlements which had grown up alongside the railway line between Liverpool and Southport. The intention was that Michael and I would attend the Merchant Taylors schools at nearby Crosby. However the advent of war put an end to these plans. In May 1940 father, then aged 46, re-enlisted into the Regular Army, where he was to become a Major in the Pioneer Corps (he had served in Salonika during the First World War) and later that year the rest of the family moved to North Wales in order to avoid the air raids.

Father and his business associate, Alderman John Village, owned a construction company called North John Estates. In 1939 they had recently bought land at Speke with a view to building houses. This land was subsequently requisitioned and compensation not paid until the Crichel Down ruling of 1954. Unfortunately it has not been possible to find out exactly where the land in question was situated, as the Liverpool Record Office, which might have this information, is temporarily closed.

In May 1939 I celebrated my sixth birthday, an event which was marked by the gift of a splendid new bicycle. We went down to the beach to try it out and photographs were taken of me with the bicycle and with each of my parents.. On the back of the prints was stamped the figure 2505.

Shortly afterwards father drove us in his Humber motor car to Speke Airport - several miles away to the south - to see the new Supermarine Spitfires Mark I, six of which had just been delivered to 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Three family photographs of this exciting visit survive, again stamped on the back with the figure 2505, so possibly taken very soon after my birthday. One is a general view of Spitfires with biplanes in the background, the other two are of my brother and myself in the cockpit of what is almost certainly a Spitfire. The Squadron code GZ is clearly visible on several of the planes.

It is not known how father gained access to the airport. No other member of the public seems to be present in the photographs, apart from a shadowy figure standing anxiously on the stepladder as I am being helped out of the cockpit, and this too could possibly be my father. It therefore seems unlikely that we were attending an Open Day, However the presence of the stepladder may suggest an official visit of some sort.

According to information provided by Aldon Ferguson, the squadron's Historian and Archivist, 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force was founded in February 1936 and based at Speke from May of that year. It had originally been intended as a day bomber unit but in January 1939 was reclassified as a fighter squadron. The first six Spitfires were delivered between 19 and 22 May 1939.
"On 13 August, 611 Squadron flew to Duxford for its annual training camp. It never returned to its peace-time base, for on 26 August the Auxiliary Air Force was 'embodied' into the regular RAF and in due course moved directly from Duxford to its war station."
The photographs in question must therefore have been taken between 19 May and 13 August 1939 and could well date from shortly after the delivery of the new Spitfires.

Leeds, October 2010

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