Alasdair Cross has been interested in planes since he was a young boy.

Growing up in the Orkney Islands, he was a regular visitor to Britain’s smallest air show there, which one year he remembers featuring a powder pink Spitfire.

Growing up, he was always interested in the ‘boy’s own side of things’ – the aforementioned Spitfire, the Battle of Britain, the requisite war films.

Now a successful BBC radio and TV producer, Alasdair got the opportunity to explore this lifelong passion on the ten-part BBC podcast Spitfire: The People’s Plane. From that, he has gone on to write his fascinating first book, The Spitfire Kids, which is out this week, and charts the remarkable stories of those who helped build, support and fly this iconic World War Two fighter plane.

When I caught up with Alasdair last week, he explained that while he’d always loved the plane, it was the people who helped put the plane together that had really caught his imagination when making the BBC podcast.

The original spitfire production facility had been the Supermarine factory, located in Southampton.

Alasdair described how in the years leading up to the war, Southampton and the south coast was something of a high-tech hub, a ‘Silicon Valley of the 1930s’, with the Thornycroft shipyard building corvettes and destroyers, and the Pirelli factory making machined parts for planes, boats and munitions.

While it made economic sense for these facilities to be so close to each other, its South coast location was particularly vulnerable.

For the Luftwaffe, the Isle of Wight made it easy to find: and unlike the north or the midlands, Southampton was comfortably in range for their Messerschmitt 109s.

It was only a matter of time before the city and its factories were hit: on 26 September 1940, over 100 German aircraft dropped 70 tonnes of bombs, flattening the Supermarine facility and halting production.

The Minister for Aircraft Production was newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook: visiting the factory ruins the next day, the decision was made to disperse production.

Production of the Spitfire parts was instead hidden across the region – in Salisbury, Trowbridge, Newbury and Reading.

Much of the workforce was young – hence the title of the book – and many female.

There was a legacy for the individuals involved, many taking up careers they might never have imagined.

And that was true for the region more widely, too, as high-tech workers moved into rural communities.

Hursley Park, where design departments were relocated, first offered living conditions ‘that resembled one of the grimmer novels of Thomas Hardy’: when Supermarine left in the 1950s, it was taken over by IBM and still remains an R&D hub today.

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