FORMER RAF Flying Officer Pat Woodward has vivid memories of his time in Burma after end of the Second World War. They were endless days of boredom in an oppressive heat broken only by tremendous monsoon storms, as he waited for word that he could return to Blighty. But one thing the veteran pilot does not recall is Spitfires being buried at RAF Mingaladon in the capital Rangoon.
That is, he says, because it simply did not happen.
Mr Woodward, 87, says: “I still have a very good memory. I really have for a man of my age. I flew in and out of there for eight months and I remember nothing of the sort.” The retired chartered surveyor of Durham City spoke as a Lincolnshire farmer and aviation enthusiast’s search for the planes at the site ended this week in recriminations. For 16 years Mr Cundall, 62, has been convinced that dozens of Spitfires were buried in their shipping crates, including 36 at Mingaladon – now Rangoon International Airport.
In the last week, however, his archaeologists and the delegation sent by a multi-millionaire backer who had helped fund his search, were reported to be heading home, privately accepting there are no Spitfires. After site excavations and scouring hundreds of 1940s documents, the archaeologists suggest Mr Cundall may have been swayed by servicemen’s rumours. Mr Woodward says: “I could have told them from the start.
“When news of the expedition first came through I was chatting to a friend of mine, John Bell, who was at Burma at the same time as me and worked in the accounts department at RAF Mingaladon.
“We were saying how far-fetched it all was.
“I just knew it was a tall story and told everybody. But because it was in the newspapers and on television people assumed that I didn’t know what I was talking about. It’s the old story.” Mr Woodward saw action at the tail end of the Second World War, flying American Thunderbolt P-47s with 113 Squadron. After the war the “Yanks wanted their aircraft back” and he converted briefly onto Spitfires, before being posted to the Burma Communications Flight at RAF Mingaladon, in January 1946.
He says: “I was there until August 1946, when I got the boat to come home. I was flying continuously during that period, going up and down that runway. “I never saw anybody digging any holes. In fact it would have been quite dangerous for them to dig holes there. “What intrigues me is where he got the story from.
“I mean who would start a story like that? You need a jolly big hole to fit a Spitfire in when you think about it. “And there were no hole digging machines in those days. If you wanted to dig a hole that size you had to dig it by hand which would have taken lots of people to do. “They are talking about dozens of Spitfires. If it was happening anywhere near the runway we would have been warned about it. It would have been on the hazard list.”
He adds: “It is an interesting story. But it is outrageous that people would be burying Spitfires. “If a Spitfire was flyable you flew it out. It was a very valuable piece of machinery. “Why go to all that trouble when there were pilots like me hanging about doing nothing. I would have been prepared to fly a Spitfire out of Burma if necessary There is no logic it. “We never buried any other planes because we were frightened they would end up in enemy hands.
“You would only bury things if you want to dig them up at a later date. But we were all getting out as quickly as possible.” Mr Woodward says the irony is that, before he joined the RAF in 1942, he had worked for a company that made chicken coops – then started making crates for shipping Spitfires. Several crates were made a day, flat-packed and sent away, he says. Mr Woodward adds: “Aircraft, such as Spitfires, were regularly sent overseas in crates, but they were offloaded in India and they were put together there and test flown, before they were distributed further by ferry pilots.
“You couldn’t have Spitfires put together all over the place. There had to be a certain place for it to be done.”
Mr Cundall remains defiant in his belief that the Mark XIV Spitfires were buried in the country in 1945 and 1946. Speaking to a national newspaper he said: “I will prove to the world that there are Spitfires down there. I am more convinced now than I have ever been.” The dig at the international airport was suddenly cancelled last Thursday after the team had probed a few feet below the surface and found live cables and functioning equipment connected to the airport.
Mr Cundall said: “We had to stop the dig because, while we have equipment to detect Spitfires at 20ft, we don’t have the equipment to detect cables at 5ft.”
The treasure hunt will now move to a second location at Myitkyina, 900 miles to the north, where a submerged crate has already been discovered – though it only contained muddy water.
Mr Woodward is convinced it remains a quixotic venture and is all a waste of time.
Source: The Northern Echo