Part of the aluminium collection donated in response to Lord Beaverbrook's 1940 appeal. © WRVS.
The Science Museum in London is hoping to recreate a famous wartime campaign as it prepares to open its new exhibition, Inside the Spitfire.
Opening on August 15 2005 Inside the Spitfire: Personal stories of Britain’s most famous plane aims to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with a look at the inner workings of the aircraft that proved so pivotal in that conflict.
A Spitfire has been loaned by the RAF Museum and the team behind the exhibition is planning to explore the engineering, design and manufacturing tale behind it. But they also want to create an echo of the social and human history that went into firmly establishing it in the national psyche.
So, as assistant curator Rob Skitmore explained to the 24 Hour Museum, a Lord Beaverbrook-style campaign for the public’s help has been launched: "We are desperate for your aluminium pans," he said.
The plan was to turn the aluminium in everyday kitchen ware into the Duralumin used to build Spitfires. © WRVS.
In 1940 the then Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook, called on the people of Great Britain to help him build more Spitfires.
With the Royal Air Force furiously trying to hold back the Luftwaffe bombers that arrived each night to make way for Hitler’s invasion force, the vital role aircraft would play in the war effort became frighteningly apparent.
The lightweight Spitfire frame was made from aluminium - in those days in ready supply in most kitchens - so as well as asking for cash Beaverbrook called on the nation to donate its pots and pans for recycling. The response was incredible.
Money poured in and mountains of pots, pans and aluminium in various shapes and forms appeared all over the UK.
The Spitfire is considered to be the machine that saved Britain during its darkest hour. © Science and Society Picture Library.
It’s been recently suggested that Beaverbrook’s campaign was really little more than a propaganda exercise offering otherwise helpless citizens a chance to feel they were contributing to the war effort. As Rob Skitmore put it, "in actual fact we had lots of aluminium, what we needed more of were pilots."
However, the Science Museum’s campaign is nothing of the sort. Rob’s team has assembled a small collection of pots and pans which it hopes to add to and turn into a display giving some idea of the strength of feeling that surrounded the manufacture of the Spitfire and in just how high a regard it was held.
On show until January 2007, the exhibition as a whole will offer visitors a unique deconstructed look at perhaps the country’s best-loved aircraft.
Displayed in pieces and stripped down to its original structure, the plane will be reduced to something like a giant Airfix kit to reveal its inner workings, including the famous Merlin engine that produced such a distinctive roar.
Mike Terry of the Aircraft Restoration Company works on a Mark 22 Spitfire which will go on display at the Science Museum from August 15 2005. © Justin Williams.
According to Rob, the exhibition is a chance to say "this was a really ground-breaking aeroplane, light years ahead of its time, designed by one man who was a genius and this is how it was made."
As well as a chance to get to know the inner workings of such an iconic fighter plane, the exhibition will introduce visitors to RJ Mitchell, its visionary inventor.
"Nowadays we have all the nostalgia about Spitfires, but it was the equivalent of the Stealth Bomber," added Rob. It marked a giant leap in aviation engineering, he said, "that they’d pulled out at the beginning of the war and said ‘look what we’ve got!’"
Anyone wishing to contribute to the Science Museum pots and pans appeal can do so by calling 0870 870 4868 for further information.
Follow the progress of the team behind the exhibition with Rob Skitmore’s Spitfire Weblog.