The Spirit of Britons collection
‘One of the Few’
The ‘One of the Few’ sculpture from the ‘Spirit of Britons’ collection was created from combining original material from two of the most iconic British Weapons of War. Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory and a 1940’s Supermarine Spitfire.
HMS Victory – Supermarine Spitfire – J Class Yacht Velsheda
HMS Victory; the only surviving 18th century first-rate ship of the line. The 104-gun ship was launched in 1765 and she is best known for her role as Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.
The Battle of Trafalgar; The battle that changed the world, was one of the greatest sea battles in British Naval history and gave birth to a legend. Off the coast of Spain's Cape Trafalgar, the British Fleet, led by Lord Horatio Nelson, took on the larger combined French and Spanish force to determine who would be the master of the waves. France's Napoleon Bonaparte was poised to send his powerful army across the English Channel to conquer the island and the only obstacle standing in his way was the British fleet, led by Nelson on Victory.
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft used by the Royal Air Force and other Allied countries before, during, and after World War II. It was also the only British fighter produced continuously throughout the war. The Spitfire was designed as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft and today nearly 60 Spitfires remain airworthy worldwide.
J Class yacht Velsheda.
The J-class yacht Velsheda was built in 1933 by Camper and Nicholsons at Gosport, Hampshire and restored in 1984. She won many races and competed with other great J class yachts such as Britannia, Endeavour and Shamrock V the world's most beautiful fleet of classic racing yachts – the J Class.
This original 1940’s Supermarine Spitfire armoured windscreen has been set in an oak frame carved from original timbers removed from Victory’s lower gun deck and has been placed upon a mahogany base which was once part of the mahogany timbers in 1984 Ian used to build the Galley for the J Class Yachts Velsheda. (17 inches high)
After having this rather special windscreen in Ian's studio for over twenty years he decided to finally do something with it and carved an identical setting to hold the windscreen which would have originally been made from aluminium.
After having this rather special windscreen in Ian's studio for over twenty years he decided to finally do something with it and carved an identical setting to hold the windscreen which would have originally been made from aluminium, but this time I made a replica from original centuries old oak removed from the lower gun deck of HMS Victory.
Both windscreen and frame were then placed onto a piece of mahogany that was once part of the mahogany I used to build the galley of the J Class yacht Velsheda in 1984. (17 inches high)
‘One of the Few’ Background Information
In 1984 a friend of Ian’s Mo gave him an original laminated armoured 32cm x 30 cm windscreen he had owned since 1953 which had been removed from an old damaged 1940’s Supermarine Spitfire which was one of various former WW2 aircraft, trucks etc that they had been breaking decades earlier in their scrap yard. This first sculpture on the ‘Best of British’ theme was created from combining original pieces of two of the most iconic British weapons of War, Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory and the WW2 Supermarine Spitfire.
Apparently, Hawker Hurricane’s were worth less to Mo and others in the scrap yard business than a Spitfire, as Hurricane’s had a lot of wood and canvas in their construction. However, both these historic aircraft, the real stars of the Battle of Britain a decade earlier, were at the time to many were deemed virtually 'worthless' due to the new Jet fighters being deployed by the RAF.
Mo rescued a couple of and placed them in his garden shed and then over time simply forgot about them, until during a tea break in Ian’s workshop over a cupper ,a few days after Ian had been to an Air Show he mentioned his admiration of the Spitfire, the following morning Mo kindly presented him with an original Spitfire windscreen.
Ian said I appreciate that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but wouldn’t it have been great if Mo he had decided to get a much larger shed and store one or two of those ‘worthless’ Hurricanes or Spitfires in!!
Ian still finds history is all around if you care to look, even when he is working peering though his studio window, across his back garden into the woods beyond, he can see the many dozens of now massive oak and Scots Pine timbers still growing which were originally planted centuries ago to supply the local ship building industry on the nearby Hamble river, that once built various wooden ships including some for Nelson’s Fleet.
These once busy yards during the Napoleonic wars era-built warships such as HMS Hotspur which was built less than a mile from where Ian built his sculpture of HMS Victory. Along with HMS Elephant, which was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line built in Bursledon a mile or so further down the river. In 1801 Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson chose HMS Elephant as his flagship due to amongst other lings its shallow draft required during the Battle of Copenhagen and it was on this ship that he is said to have put his telescope to his blind eye and claimed not to be able to see a signal ordering him to withdraw.
In the case of the original 1940’s Supermarine Spitfire armoured glass windscreen, which Ian received as a way of a gift in 1984 from an old friend who once co-owned a scrap yard in the 1950’s and amongst things they subsequently scrapped during this period was old MOD equipment and vehicles, including damaged or surplice WW2 aircraft. The eventual result was to be the ‘One of the Few’ sculpture which like all the others were produced in Ian’s studio in Warsash, a Hampshire village less than 10 seconds away as the Spitfire flies; from the former Supermarine factory where they were original designed and built in the 1930’s.
Even today whilst Ian is working, he occasionally still hears the unforgettable sound of the Merlin engine as a Spitfire fly’s over his studio, often on the way to make a fly pass over the spot just a few miles away where the former Spitfire was built. Such flight often happens on special occasions, or anniversaries and on one occasion Ian managed to take a photo with his phone, as a Spitfire flew low over the trees is at the bottom of his garden.
His home was west of Dover itself and several miles away from Hawking airfield which was a major RAF base particularly for Spitfires during WW2. Dover is only 20 or so miles across the English Channel from the then German occupied France and due to the constant air raids and shelling from France, that part of Kent became known as ‘Hell fire Corner’
"Although I am an OAP and have been for some time now and it was oh so many years ago now, Ian recalls “I still remember it all as if was only yesterday. Almost since dawn on this one particular day in June there was unprecedented activity with the constant drone of engines with aircraft arriving and leaving from the vicinity of Hawking airfield over the hill at the back of my garden. Aircraft were heading to and from the airbase constantly with many flying low and fast over the roof of our house out to sea and many more appearing to be frantically climbing in the distance trying to gain height. This had been going on off since early morning and well into the afternoon, I have never seen so much frantic activity it was like having a modern-day air display in your back garden, but that day there were obviously no modern-day jet fighters anywhere in sight.
At lunch time as all the activity appeared to be happening nearer the cliff edge so I decided to walk the 400 yards or so from my front door to the top of the cliffs and took my favourite vantage point me and my mates would often sit looking down onto the beach with a 350 feet sheer drop below. It was a bright and sunny day with very good visibility so it looked like I was about to get a grandstand view of what looked like would a rather exciting day about to unfold in front of me.
The distinct sound of the Spitfires Merlin engines along with the somewhat louder sound of the ME 109’s engine filled the air as the first wave of British and German aircraft started to fill the skies above and break formation. All of a sudden there was the amazing sight of a single ME109 that had broken away from the others flying low and fast around 400 feet or so above me swerving from left to right but then in level flight , a split second later it veered away to my left heading towards Dover Castle and then in an instant a Spitfire flew past a 100 yards or so behind it. You could just about catch the flash of the Spitfires machine guns on each wing, but the only sound you could hear was the scream of the Merlin engine at full song as it also veered to my left and the ME109 quickly disappeared downwards trailing smoke behind it obviously having been hit.
You wanted to stand up, wave your arms and cheer, but somehow that is not the British way and anyway it would have been rather inappropriate considering the circumstances, so I remained firmly seated on the grass, any way I was perched rather precariously on the edge of the 350 feet high cliff top so sudden moments in the wrong direction could end up being rather problematic to put it mildly.
Before I could catch my breath, it appeared total chaos with frantic sights and the defining sounds of British and German aircraft milling all around me in front and behind me. The distinctive sight of the RAF red, white and blue roundel painted on side of the side of the camouflaged Spitfire and the large black cross on the light blue Luftwaffe ME109 appeared to be flying all around my position, moving around and over me in every direction about 600 feet up in the sky. It was really difficult concentrating on all what was going on and as soon as you focused on an aircraft it was gone, only to be quickly replaced by another flashing past at a great rate of knots and it was impossible to keep up with the action try as you might.
The sounds were deafening it was amazing that the aircraft performing a sort of ballet in the sky didn’t crash into each other and you often wondered how they could tell at that speed with often the aircraft inverted, could make out in an instant who was friend and foe alike, before they opened up with heavy machine gun and cannon.
It was so exciting as they scream past from my sedimentary position watching as I sat on the grass with only a bag of boiled sweets to keep me company The courageous, efforts of both the Spitfires and ME 109 pilots frantically attempts to evade or engage each other was plain to see for any who cared to watch, now and again if you were lucky when an aircraft was close enough you could just about make out the face of a pilot at the controls staring intensely though the armoured windscreens, the only protection each pilot had of the potential front on incoming fire and you realised that many of these pilots at the time were just young men, all trying to make a difference, trying to do the right thing and trying to stay alive.
As I watched this real tense drama unfolding just yards away and fully aware, I was the same age as many of the pilots in the twisting and turning aircraft performing so admirably right before me, in what was termed by Churchill as ‘the Battle of Britain’.
The vapour tails could clearly be seen high up in the blue in sky’s over Southern England as they swerved and then some aircraft in formation began to swoop downwards although you couldn't make out at that height who was who. I then watched in the distance a pair of fighters chassed one other down to sea level, now just several hundred yards past the position I used to sit with my friends as a young lad growing up in the ‘Garden of England’ but then we were just talking and admiring the view looking towards the Castle, sea and then only watching seagulls as they flew by.
Slowly as the sight and sound of screaming aircraft began to intensify at my vantage point, looking behind me I could see more and more people leaving their homes and looking up began walking towards the top of the cliff, to get a better advantage point of the amazing sights and sounds going on above them. In the end there were possibly a hundred or so adults and young children riveted to the spot pointing upwards in total awe of the ferocious battle in the sky unfolding right before them, just yards from there front doors.
After what seemed like an hour of frantic activity going on but was most likely much less than that, with perhaps just minutes each time of frantic activity of dozens of German and British aircraft milling all around and then they were gone and it was all quite gain. Then a lone Spitfire flew close past my vantage point at great speed from nowhere which startled me and then it lurched away to my right from the cliff top as it then appeared to be hit as it then headed downwards spinning towards the sea followed closely by a chasing ME 109.
The Spitfire again lurched over to one side and now headed directly towards Shakespeare beach below. The same section of beach where me and a few friends were swimming and larking about in the surf just days before. Thick white smoke started trailing behind the obviously damaged Spitfire as it continued its perilous journey spinning downwards and now appearing totally out of control towards the pebble beach below.
And then at the last moment just seconds away from crashing at high speed into the pebble beach below, the Spitfire miraculously soared up to the right back over the sea and away from its imminent and certain total destruction. The thick smoke that had been trailing behind it had stopped as it continued to climbed up into the sky safely away from danger, no doubt to fight another day. The Spitfire slowly banked to its right and continued its journey upwards and onwards eventually re-joined the mass of both aircraft types still circling high above in the clear blue summer skies.
All the dozens of assorted aircraft now flew in a loose formation and were slowly headed back towards the bright red painted Mitchell Bomber slowly flying parallel with the cliffs that had just been filming yet another amazing realistic fight sequence for the epic ‘Battle of Britain’ film which was later released to great critical acclaim in 1969.
The next moment the skies were empty, not an aircraft in sight anywhere, the sound and smells of the aircraft were no more and once again it was just the gulls you could hear squawking away loudly, like they tend to do. So, I headed back home as did the scores of other people rather pleased with our selves having managed to get a day of work in my case, or school to witness first hand an event that was all too commonplace a few decades earlier from that very spot, all of which in the help prevent England being overrun by Nazi Germany, which had been the case for the rest of Europe at the time, in this instance by the courageous young men of fighter command. ‘The Few’.
“A moment of epiphany for me presented itself in 1989 when I was starting working on a large wood sculpture of a ‘Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets’ which was being carved from one of a line of lime trees that once grew alongside RAF Manston; a former ‘Battle of Britain’ aerodrome in Kent. I was given the tree by the land owner which was one of several that had blown down in 1987 during the ‘Hurricane’ winds that devastated Southern England. I arranged to have several of these trees hauled to a local farm where they could be stored for my future sculpture projects. The first of these sculptures to be carved from one of these huge trees was an almost life size ‘Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets’ wood sculpture.
The plan was to stay for a week or so at my wife Suzanne’s mother house which was not far away from the farm which enabled me to work on the carving each day until enough of the wood was removed with my chainsaw from the heavy lime trunk so the much lighter ‘sculpture’ could then be put into the back of the estate car and taken home to finish off. Four days later the Swan started to take shape and I planned to take the carving home the following day. The owner of the land, whose avenue of Lime trees had been uprooted in the storm, came over and then gave me a photograph of these once magnificent avenue of Lime trees, many of which had been blown down in the storm winds.
I showed the photograph to Sue’s mother and said, as you have lived around here all your life, do you recognise these trees in the photo as they were blown down near RAF Manston. She looked at the photograph for a while and then said, oh yes although they look a lot taller now than I remember them, but I remember those line of trees very well.
They were our ‘air raid shelter when I worked on the surrounding fields during the war. She then went on to tell us all a story none of us in the family had ever heard before although we were all aware that during the Second World War Sue’s mother who being a teenager at the time was in the ‘Land Army’ working on the farm.
Jane went on to explain, “One afternoon during the summer I was working in the fields along with my 15-year-old school friend and the farmer. We were working in the middle of a large field pulling Worzel which was near to RAF Manston, which was the closes airfield to Nazi occupied continental Europe and during the ‘Battle of Britain ‘So during the early part of the war it was extensively bombed almost on a daily basis, so much so during the critical part of the Battle of Britain Manston was forced to close for a while due to extensive bomb damage.
Jane said, for a few weeks we all watched the white vapour trails high above our heads being made by the Luftwaffe and the Royal air force pilots battling high up in the sky during the Battle of Britain. As they were all so high up there was no sound from these aircraft although you could still see and feel the drama above your heads most days of the week as we worked in the fields. As soon as an air raid on Manston was imminent the sirens went off and we all made our way to the shelters, when we were working in the fields our shelters were that was long line of trees in your photo.
Sometimes depending on which particular field were working in and how close it was to the end of airfield, the aircraft used to come in right over our heads with their wheels down very low as they were about to land at Manston. My friend and I would wave at the young pilots and often they were so close you could see their faces and often they would wave back at us. We even had one young pilot wiggle his wings as he flew low over us which gave me Goosebumps, you realised exciting as it was you were aware these aircraft were just a noisy machine with a young lad inside.
One morning there was yet another aircraft in the distance it appeared to be circling away in the distance. We were working in the middle of a large field and it started making a turn towards us so we and assumed it was coming into land at Manston. She said this aircraft although it looked a similar size to the spitfire and hurricanes that were frequently landing nearby, but this one was much noisier than the usual RAF fighters and it also didn’t have the distinctive Merlin engine sound we were all so used to hearing.
For a moment we turned to watch it as it was always exciting watching the aircraft landing and it appeared to be to be circling lining up for an approach to the airfield, so we watched it as it was getting closer and lower all the time as it and headed our way so we just carried on working the field.
The farmer turned around to me and my friend and said it is going in the wrong direction for landing at Manston and we then we all seemed to notice at the same time it had a large black cross painted on the side of the light bluish coloured aircraft. He then shouted it’s a bloody Messerschmitt, run for the trees, that was the only time I ever heard him swear. That was enough we all shot off towards the line of trees running as fast as we could but being right in the middle of the ploughed field it was impossible to run in my wellies when one of then came off, I stopped to get it and the farmer shouted, No, No leave it, run.
We were still about 400 yards from the trees and the Messerschmitt was now behind us and very low when the farmer screamed out, get down, get down and we all threw ourselves to the ground, a split second later a trail of machine gun bullets thudded into the soil either side of us and almost at the same time the aircraft flew fast over our heads. For a second I watched it fly past us and the farmer shouted get up, get up and run for the trees. I got up and `picked up my boot, I tried to put it on but couldn’t, so I just hung onto it as we ran towards the trees. As we ran, we all watched the Messerschmitt once again turning towards us but this time it was much lower. The farmer shouted its coming back run, run, my friend and I didn’t need to be told twice and once again we tried to get to the relative safety of the trees.
It was soon right behind us and we still had about 300 yards to go when he once again screamed at us, Lay down, Lay down and me and my friend threw ourselves down alongside each other and I was just inches from her face, we looked at each other but didn’t say anything, her eyes were so wide I thought they were going to pop out.
I looked away and then felt myself pushing my face deeper and deeper into a rut of the muddy ploughed field. The noise of the plane was getting so loud now but it felt like forever as I waited for it to start firing again, it was terrifying as the noise was tremendous as it got closer and closer all the time. I kept my eyes tightly closed when with a defining roar, it screamed right over the top of our heads, you could literally feel the wind in your hair as it flew right over us, but this time it didn’t fire.
I looked up after it went by and a split second later something else flew right over my head which really made me jump, it was flying just as low and fast, but it was a Spitfire. The last time I really noticed those lines of trees in the photo was when I watched the Messerschmitt being chased low and fast over the top of the trees by a lone Spitfire, me and my friend got up and rushed into each other’s arms and then both burst into tears, the farmer said come on you two enough of that we have two more rows to pull before I take you home”.
It was never spoke off again, until now. We never did find out who that Spitfire pilot was, or what happened to the Messerschmitt, it was just another single incident in so many during the war. We assumed the spitfire was coming into land at Manston and saw what was going on below and flew down to help us. It would have been lovely to thank the pilot but we never got the opportunity, I wonder if the pilot is alive today”.
It was then I had that epiphany moment, although I have always realising like many what the 1940’s generation had done for us all, particularly those who served in the armed forces and all the sacrifices and hardships they endured for the generations to come. Here was just another incident no doubt a small one in the great schemes of things performed by a young man possibly a pilot only in his late teens that was to him all was soon forgotten but it had no doubt saved the life of my mother-in-law and by his actions my wife, along with our daughter Emma.
As we were still staying with Sue’s mother and due to leave for home the following day, I collect my roughed-out Swan carving from the barn along with my tools ready to take them home. In the morning the newspaper was delivered to Sue’s mother’s house when an advertisement in the paper was drawn to my attention. It was by the RAF Benevolent fund asking for donations during as next year will be the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
I then thought what if the Spitfire pilot Sue’s mother spoke about is indeed still alive and is perhaps now going through hard times in need of assistance from the RAF Benevolent Fund. I took down the address from the paper and the next day wrote a letter to the RAF Benevolent Fund in London and asked whether it might be possible for me to help in some way in raising funds for the Benevolent Fund. I explained although I am afraid I had no money, however I would be prepared to give my time on perhaps creating a sculpture which I would be happy to donate to the upcoming auction they were planning at Bentley Priory, the former RAF headquarters during the Battle of Britain.
A week later I had a reply from an Air vice Marshal retired, at the Benevolent fund who invited me up to Portland Place in London to discuss the possibility. The meeting went well and it was decided I would carve a Harrier in flight, not the aircraft the RAF were currently using as the modern day front line fighter, but the ‘marsh harrier’ which is a rare bird that could sometimes be seen hunting its prey around the fields of Kent over which much of the Battle of Britain was being fought 50 years ago. As I was kindly given by the land owner all of the lime trees that had been blown down in the storm winds close to the former Battle of Britain airdrome so I thought it would be quite appropriate to carve the full-size Harrier from one of these particular trees.
Once again with the story my mother in law told us about with the spitfire pilot saving her, her friend and the farmer still fresh in my mind a few weeks later I started carving the Marsh Harrier from within the trunk of one of these once magnificent lime trees being stored alongside a barn in Thanet, Kent.
The 'Swan protecting her Cygnets’ which was being carved at the time from one of a line of lime trees was to be the irst of these series of detailed life size bird in flight sculptures all to be carved from one of these huge trees ‘The Swan was to be followed by a life size Osprey catching a Pike and then as it turned out the 'Marsh Harrier' wood sculpture, which then took priority.
During 1989 I spent several months carving from lime wood, a life size ‘Harrier in flight’ which was now to be auctioned off to raise funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund for the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain the following year.
The plan was to stay for a week or so at my wife Suzanne’s mothers house and a suitable large tree was selected from the massive pile of Lime trees I had been given for the life size Harrier wood sculpture After a morning work a roughed-out shape of the Harrier which was removed from within the trunk with my chainsaw. On occasions my ‘workshop’ would alternate from outside the barn to under the wings of a WW2 Spitfire and Hurricane on display at the former RAF Battle of Britain base and finally at my studio back home.
I was asked by the CO if I would like to set up an exhibition in the museum of Manston, not only with the Harrier sculpture but with many of my other sculptures which were placed not only on tables but both on and under the wings of the aircraft on display, which I was happy to do. We placed RAF Benevolent Funds collecting tins all around with many visitors to the Battle of Britain museum, who were very generous with their donations to the Fund and during lunch breaks I was able to spend some time sitting in both the Hurricane and Spitfire.
The carving of the full-size wood carving of the ‘Harrier in flight’ shown here before and after sealing and polishing. Ian alongside a Hawker Hurricane in the museum presenting the completed ‘Marsh Harrier’ sculpture to the RAF which was later auctioned off at Bentley Priory, alongside other artist who had also donated their work for the RAF Benevolent Fund, on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain
Taking a break
Climbing into a 1940’s Spitfire is an awe-inspiring expiring experience; I sat a bit lower down than your average Spitfire pilot would have sat as there was no parachute which he would normally be sitting on. I found the Hurricane had slightly more room in the cockpit than the Spitfire but both were still a rather tight fit even for a tall, skinny 10 stone guy like I was at the time.
It was a bit like sitting in a narrow bath, but everything you need to fly the machine was easily in reach. They used to say that especially with the spitfire you sit inside and kind of strap the machine on and you then become part of it. I was given a quick instruction over the Spitfires controls and then told I could move any of them I wish, but best not touch than one he said, pointing to the one that lifted the undercarriage.
The first thing I noticed when I sat down, closed the small door flap and pulled the canopy closed, was the strong smell of leather and oil. Looking around was the rather basic looking instruments panel considering what the aircraft was capable of, but obviously all you needed. Looking forward through the thick armoured windscreen in front of me, was identical to the windscreen I had back in my studio, I began to think what sights the pilot had seen through it flying this very machine in combat and begin to realise I had nothing but admiration for all the pilots who flew and fought in these machines, especially as your average Spitfire pilots most of which were only in his teens and early 20’s.
I was told that some of these old RAF pilots, Churchill's ‘Few’ that sacrificed so much for Britain in the 1940’s, of those that were still alive today may now in their old age perhaps one or two may well be going through some hard times financially, but can and will should be being helped by the RAF Benevolent Fund, something I was now hoping to be contributing in my own small way, by spending my time over the coming months creating the wooden Harrier sculpture to help raise some money for the Fund, as many people up and down the country had also been doing at the time.
Looking through the windscreen in front of me all you can see is the long wide nose of the Spitfires leading up to the huge propeller and nothing else looking forward. You can understand why the taking off was always a bit tricky and you had to rely on looking through the side window’s in the cockpit as they started down the runway preparing to take off, until you quickly get the Spitfire up to speed and as the tail lifts of, the nose drops and you can then finally clearly see ahead and a few moments later you were up looking at the clear sky ahead no doubt filled with the anticipation of whatever that the day and occasionally night ahead might bring.
Once the RAF Harrier sculpture was completed several months later and delivered to the RAF I once again started working on the ‘Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets’ woodcarving that started it all which was eventually completed in 1992. the Harrier sculpture was then auctioned off at Bentley Priory and raised several thousand pounds with all the proceeds going to the RAF Benevolent fund.