|Directed by||Simon Van Der Spoel|
|Published by||Ethereal Productions|
|Availability and pricing||Available online through www.etherealproductions.com.au|
Spitfire Guardians is a rather unique aviation documentary in that it has been created through dedicated work of a single person. Australian aviation enthusiast with professional movie-making skills Simon Van Der Spoel is the writer, director and producer of this 60-minutes long feature. The voice of the narrative comes from Charles “Bud” Tingwell, himself a former Spitfire reconnaissance pilot. One could almost say that it’s a film made by Spitfire enthusiasts – for Spitfire enthusiasts.
The film tells the story of the Australian Spitfire units, pilots and ground crew and their participation in the air war. The Australians flew the famous British fighter in the UK, Australia, New Guinea, Burma and, following the invasion, on the European continent.
Through tedious own research and hours of filmed interviews, Simon Van Der Spoel located and met an impressive number of surviving Spitfire pilots and ground crew members in Australia. Their memories and voices add great value to the movie. One that I found particularly moving was Fraser “Jum” Falkiner’s story of being hit by the enemy and trapped in the Spitfire cockpit blazing with petrol fire – he eventually was blown free as the aircraft exploded – but many others contribute to make it a lasting experience. Full list of interviewed men includes:
- Bruce Read 457 Sqn RAAF
- Dudley Grinlington, 222 Sqn RAF, 79 Sqn RAAF
- Earl Filshie, 601 & 81 Sqn RAF
- Eric Gray 41 Sqn RAF
- Fraser “Jum” Falkiner, 72 Sqn RAF
- Geoff Marsh, 457 Sqn RAAF
- Jeff Wilkinson DFC, 452, 75 & 79 Sqn RAAF
- Jim Tevlin, 452 Sqn RAAF
- Lindsay Richards, 451 Sqn RAAF
- Norm Smithells, 131 Sqn RAF & 79 Sqn RAAF
- Peter Branson 54 Sqn RAF
- Seth Parker 453 Sqn RAAF
The documentary follows these men throughout the war period, starting with the establishment of the Empire Air Training Scheme in 1939. Memories of air training are followed by experiences of a long journey to Britain and the miserably freezing conditions of the first English winter spent there.
Then come the stories of combat missions over France. Dogfights, Rhubarbs, even dive bombing. Memories of missing friends.
On 19 February 1942 Darwin suffered heavy bombing by the Japanese and Australia found itself on the frontline – barely prepared to defend itself. Thus the 452 & 457 Squadrons RAAF in England were immediately recalled to defend their homeland. They arrived there together with No. 54 Squadron RAF. Together they formed No. 1 Fighter Wing for the defence of the Darwin area.
Operational conditions of Darwin were worlds away from that of the UK. Living in tents in hot, sweaty tropical climate. Canned food. Torrential monsoon downfalls. Lack of basic technical facilities are all vividly described in the movie and illustrated through archive footage.
Next is the story of No. 79 Squadron and its operations in New Guinea. By the time the Japanese had ceased their daytime raids, so the Spitfire units were employed for ground support and strafing duties. Another, lesser known area of operations where Australian fighter pilots took active part was Burma, notorious for its jungle and monsoon weather.
Back in the UK, No. 453 Squadron RAAF operated in support of the D-Day landings. As the invasion pressed into the continent, the unit followed behind the front, flying close support operations and even hunting down the V2 rocket launch sites.
The interviews also tell the story of the end of the war in the Pacific, the sense of relief, but also emptiness as the Spitfire units were disbanded and nobody in the civilian life seemingly wanted the returning fighter pilots.
Simon Van Der Spoel also attempts to track down the fate of Australian Spitfires. After the end of hostilities, 232 surplus aircraft of this type found their resting place in junk depots at Oakey, Queensland. They were all scrapped. And, quoting after Spoel’s script, by 1947 who knows what pots and pans could have contained the remnants of a Spitfire?
Throughout the movie, there is a lot of valuable archive film footage coming from Australian War Memorial and Temora Aviation Museum. It is also in the latter location where sequences of a flying restored Spitfire Mk. VIII were filmed.
In all, this DVD is a fitting tribute to the Australian Spitfire pilots and ground crew. The fact that it is essentially an amateur production doesn’t show at all – the fact that the Spitfire Guardians had its premiere on the Australian History Channel in 2007 should serve as a good reference to that point. Pilot interviews and unique archive footage should make this disc particularly interesting to anyone interested in Spitfire operations in Australia and New Guinea.
Thanks to Simon Van Der Spoel for the review sample