Artist recalls work on Spitfire designs as Chichester marks remembrance day

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

The eloquent words of Sir Winston Churchill paid tribute to the efforts of our RAF squadrons fighting the decisive Battle of Britain in 1940.

More than six decades on, sparing a thought for those brave pilots who took to the skies from Tangmere to defend our nation and back up our ground and navy forces is still regarded by many as vitally important.

That’s clearly the view of Alan Bower, director of Tangmere Aviation Museum, who believes tomorrow’s annual remembrance day service at its famous wartime airforce base will be just as poignant as ever.

All too sadly, there have been numerous military engagements across the world during the post second world war era, which lie at the heart of the work from the Royal British Legion and campaigns such as Help For Heroes which have given millions to support families and individuals affected by armed conflict.

“The whole museum here is really about remembrance. I think it’s important we do in fact remember what those young people did during the second world war and their sacrifices, those who volunteered such as pilot Billy Fiske who came from a rich family and didn’t have to get involved, but knew we were facing a great evil that had to be stopped. It’s stories of people like him that our museum is all about,” explained Alan of Tangmere’s ongoing work which is carried forward by a hugely enthusiastic team of 130 volunteers who are ensuring the next generation are well informed of just how far their great-grandparents were prepared to go to defend their nation.

“Our garden of remembrance was opened back in 1994 by the Duke of Richmond and I still find it a humbling place which is looked after lovingly by the volunteers here.

“There are dedications to everyone from heroes such as Peter Churchill who were working to drop people behind enemy lines for espionage work in France through to those who were ground staff, both men and women who were just as much heroes in their own way,” added the director of the museum.

His views on remembrance are clearly shared by one Emsworth resident in particular, Stella Rutter, who has first-hand experience of exactly what those in the armed forces were going through during the second world war.

For more than two decades she worked on penning a book based on her top-secret work (Who Goes Where?) assisting as the only woman working on drawing designs for the legendary Spitfire fighter planes which were to prove a deciding factor in the course of the war.

Importance of remembrance

The 88-year-old gave a talk at Chichester Library on her remarkable experiences and believed in the sacrifices many made should continue to be marked, especially for younger generations who have not had to endure the horrors of global conflict.

“I think it’s important that we remember events of the war and cannot be complacent. There are so many people who don’t have knowledge of what happened during the war – so how are they going to remember?

That’s why I’ve done a number of talks with schools, including going back to my old school, Purbrook to speak to the children there,” explained the former wartime draughtswoman who proudly recalled her own experiences of using her artistic skills to serve the nation.

Coming from a creative family, she recalled it was an instinctive decision to study at the Southern College of Art in Portsmouth as a teenager during the 1930s.

From there she was snapped up to serve the war effort at the Experimental Drawing Office specialising in army gunnery.

But her finest hour was even more impressive when Stella gained a call-up to join Southampton firm Supermarine to work in the draughtsmanship office for Spitfire.

“I was inspired by the speeches of Churchill to do this work and I was proud to have done it. But it meant I gave up my entire young life for it and I had no social life at all. Where I was working we were not encouraged to speak to each other between departments because of the secret nature of our work.

“I never felt pressured by the work but knew it was very urgent. I knew I was good at it and at 19 in 1943, at that point I was getting paid the same as men who were working with me. I may be the first woman to have gained equal pay and it was great feeling to be doing something for the country,” said Stella, who said she built up a strong rapport with the firm’s chief designer Joseph Smith, who had recognised her considerable abilities.

As she revealed, perhaps her most memorable moment came with a special request from Major General DAH Graham, commander of 50 Northumberland Division. He invited Stella to be a hostess for a party that was to be held for senior British, Canadian and American officers to meet each other informally before the major push for the D-Day landings.

“It’s probably the thing I remember the most about it, being invited by Major General Graham to host the party in this nissen hut.

“They were all quite apprehensive before D-Day at it was my job to try and calm them down – they were told they had ten minutes to talk to me and I made a point of being informal by calling them Mr, rather than their military title which put them at ease,” remembered Stella of the surreal evening before one of the most momentous days as the war which had seen millions lose their lives on both sides drew to a close.