Month: October 2012 (page 3 of 4)

Spitfire will fly again

Forgotten Spitfire will fly again after major restoration

A project to create the most authentic flying Mark I Spitfire will be completed later this year when aircraft X4650 takes to the skies 70 years after the Battle of Britain.

A painting by Alex Hamilton showing Spitfires flown by Flt Sgt Howard Squire shortly before colliding with Sqdrn Ldr. Al Deere

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X4650 in the painting ‘Stick to me like glue’ by Alex Hamilton WWW.ALEXHAMILTON.NET

9:00PM BST 24 Jul 2010

The painstaking reconstruction of aircraft X4650 coincides with a public competition to design a permanent memorial to the aircraft’s designers.

It also shines a spotlight on the extraordinary story of young pilot Howard Squire who was flying the plane on a training mission led by RAF legend ‘Al’ Deere when the pair collided over North Yorkshire.

Sgt Squire, now 89, has visited the restoration project and hopes to see the finished aircraft fly over the south coast of England later this year.

Those involved in the project believe X4650 will be the most accurately-rebuilt Mark I Spitfire in the skies and will contain the highest number of original parts.

The wreckage was only discovered in the long, hot summer of 1976 when low river levels exposed the metal embedded in a clay riverbank on farmland near Kirklevington, Cleveland.


It had been there since December 28 1940, after Sgt Squire, then 20, bailed out after colliding with X4276 flown by Al Deere, Flight Commander of 54 Squadron at RAF Catterick.

New Zealand-born Deere, a Battle of Britain legend who went on to become an Air Commodore, was giving his junior a lesson in how to keep doggedly close to an enemy aircraft.

“Stick to me like glue,” he told Sgt Squire – a line that inspired a pilot training scene in the 1969 film, Battle of Britain.

However, the young man stuck too close and his plane – then only a few months old – hit Deere’s tail with his propeller at 12,000ft, forcing them both to ditch.

“I thought I was for the chop,” said Sgt Squire, who now lives near Birmingham. “There aren’t many pilots who knock their Flight Commander out of the sky. He was very good about it.”

Sgt Squire was shot down over France on February 26, 1941, and became a prisoner of war. He said: “The Spitfire was a beautiful aircraft, like a Tiger Moth but with real power. A doddle to fly. We used to throw them about all over the place, as unfortunately I demonstrated.”

The nature of the crash-landing later proved essential to the Spitfire’s revival.

In order to provide himself with the safest escape in his parachute, Sgt Squires had ‘trimmed’ the aircraft for stable flight that led to a slow, almost level descent into the riverbank rather than a high-speed impact that might have destroyed many more of the parts.

The aircraft has cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to restore but is now thought to be worth more than £2m and is expected to enter private ownership.

It is currently registered to Peter Monk, the Spitfire enthusiast overseeing the complex project in which the engine has been refurbished by specialists in Gloucestershire and the airframe restored by craftsmen on the Isle of Wight.

There are about 50 Spitfires flying – a higher number than in the early 1950s. Britain was littered with wrecks in the years after the Second World War until enthusiasts began to recover them for sale or for museums.

The fighter plane was designed in 1936 by R J Mitchell at Southampton’s Supermarine seaplane factory following urgent requests from the Ministry of Aviation because of the looming conflict with Germany.

So many RAF orders were placed that production was spread to additional sites including Castle Bromwich near Birmingham, where X4650 was built.

Air Commodore Deere was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in a ceremony conducted by King George VI on June 28th 1940 at RAF Hornchurch. He retired in 1977, died in 1995 and his ashes were scattered over the Thames estuary from a Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial flight.

Portrait of my Grandfather. A Heritage in Letters – Nick Garrett

Looking back a the flow of work since 1981 I can’t help but realise that I am incredibly lucky in many ways.  Not least due to the inspiration of others… especially my grandfather.

Francis Baker - Nick Garrett oil on Canvas

Portrait of my Grandfather – The Letter Master

Perhaps most importantly was the influence and encouragement I received from my grandfather, master stone mason, Francis Richard Baker.  This is a personal account of our relationship with regard to letters and art.

Grandad would come over to our place in Half Moon Lane, North Dulwich a few times a week, often arriving in his big old blue Commer work van.  I knew he was a stone mason at a very young age… it was important, important work cutting letters, often in memorial stones and even building traditional stone walls.

I watched him slicing the graceful grooves and applying yellow gilding size.

Above:  Norway House – Large Block lettering Francis Baker, of Fulham 

I must have been six or seven when I went with him one day to Putney Vale cemetery to help him clean some headstones.  After a couple of seconds rubbing the flat cleaning stone along the pitted marble face my arms began to sting…

I looked at my elbow thinking what’s that wierd feeling? .. and quickly sat back on the grass… ”Can’t do that grandad … it hurts!”

”Come here… do it like this…” he said slightly gruffly.

Frabcis Baker oil on panel by Nick Garrett

I watched him slide and skew the wet stone.

”Here..” He said gesturing the creamy rubber toward me.

”I can’t do that grand dad it’s too hard”

Back we headed to their home tucked away behind St. Mary’s school in Gresham Rd.  Nana (Squibbs as he called her) was dishing up her usual wonderful fare: suet pudding and veggies followed up by apple pie and custard… the cloves were the perfect spice in the steaming hot yellow sweet custard.


Above:  Sculptor: Sir Hamo Thornycroft Lettering:  Francis Baker

It was years later that he came into the garden to have a look at my first attempt at signwriting.

At 16 I had my first job in Camberwell Antique market and soon collected my first commission, a tall narrow sign panel.

The black frame I had glossed quite nicely and the panel face in white…

”Ah that’s nice… ” he thumbed his chin.

”Hmm is it?… I’m not sure..” I replied with a bit of self conscious insecurity.

”The thicks and thins are a bit out but it looks quite good… Nick… not a problem really..”


Below: Nice classic Caslon style block lettering again F R Baker.


Francis Baker Letter carver

Above York Stone wall c1971 designed and built FR Baker ( Roehampton Lane London)

Portrait time 1977

He had nurtured me toward my application and acceptance into Camberwell school of Art Foundation year. He went to Camberwell and it was the reason I decided to follow.

During my first year grandad sat for me over a period of 10 portrait sittings.

It was a time of close countenance.  He talked, repeated stories of the First World War, Mermansk, the ocean, the letters.

”I was bloody scared alright… the sea… dangerous… but we had some laughs too… raiding the Ruski’s stores at night!” He chuckled.

And about his work in progress..

”Bloody big letters those were … Norway House… was up there the other day didn’t look too bad.. I remember the surveyor of Westminster came into my workshop said Frank I’ve got a big job for you.. 1500 letters into granite, doya want it Frank?  No I said… I don’t want 1500 bloody letters!… not in granite… so he took off… turned out to be the unknown warrior’s tomb” He chuckled .

”Bloody stupid I was!!… but it’s hard stuff Nick that granite… too hard stone… keep you hands good… don’t work in stone Nick… always look after your wrists and keep the back of your hands warm… remember it’s in your hands Nick”  It was good advice and well heeded, in fact the last sentence has directed my life ever since – the belief that my future and that of my family is the fruition of my hands, and brush.


A Visit to my studio

It was some years later he came into my first sign studio for a look around…

”You did this gold?!  Nick!!”

I felt terrible, he was surely about to tell me my failings.

”It’s the best gilding I have seen in my life!!  You did all this?? … oh my.. bloody marvellous!” I brewed up.


Portrait of my Grandfather 1987 oil on board



”You know Nick it’s not so important the letters… my letters aren’t all that good really… they’re not bad… but my spacing is pretty good.  If your spacing is no good then… your finished”

”Lettering is pretty important grandad!” I smiled.

”Yep of course… s’pose your right… y’always bloody right!”  He chuckled slurping hot tea.


I have been very lucky.  My grandfather, his father and his grandfather all created great letters… carved in stone.

I still have his gold leaf in my kit and his guidance in my hands and heart.



Nick Garrett



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