Sunday 1 August 2021

Salisbury Celebrates the Secret Spitfires

A full-size replica of a Spitfire has been erected in the grounds of Salisbury Rugby Club, situated on the same estate as Burlen’s headquarters, manufacturers of SU carburetters. 

Made from fibreglass over a steel shell by GB Replicas, the Spitfire has a wingspan of 36.5ft and measures just over 31ft in length. Standing on a 20ft support pole the Spitfire appears to be flying alongside the A345. 

The Spitfire memorial stands on the site of the former Spitfire Factory Number One, serving as a visible and lasting tribute to the hundreds of women and men of Salisbury who contributed to an astonishing part of the city’s history by building over 2,000 Spitfires in total secrecy. Their story was brought to wide attention by the 2016 film The Secret Spitfires which also provided the inspiration for a permanent memorial to be created. 

Unskilled and unqualified young girls, boys, women worked in secret to build over 2000 Spitfires in Salisbury (10% of the total built during WWII). With more built elsewhere around the southern counties, it was an achievement instrumental in winning the war. In 1940, the Germans destroyed the Spitfire factories in Southampton and believed they had ended the threat from their nemesis. Unknown to them, the British were building Spitfires in secret and Salisbury become a major centre for manufacturing these aircraft.

SU Carburetters has a long history with military aviation, manufacturing aeronautical carburettors for a number of aircraft engines during WW2 with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine being the most significant.
The vast majority of aero carburettors made by SU during the Second World War were for the Merlin engine, with three different choke sizes and at least four sub-variants to cope with the increasing power requirements of the engine. In addition to aero carburetters, SU also produced fuel pumps for tanks, landing craft and flame throwers. 

As a result of their importance to the war effort, security at the SU factory in Adderley Park was increased dramatically with observation towers, 24-hour security and even the provision of an armoured car to Carl Skinner (the Skinner family created Skinners Union (SU)). Until the autumn of 1940, the SU Carburetter Company at Adderley Park was the only manufacturing plant supplying aero-carburetters for the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines but, due to demand, a duplicate factory was created at the Riley factory in Coventry. 

Today Burlen is the sole manufacturer of SU carburetters and operates out of a building once used as a factory to produce Spitfire parts during WW2 as part of the secret manufacturing program. Burlen has named the factory Spitfire House in honour of its Spitfire manufacturing past, and in memory of the link, SU has with the Merlin engine. 

The Secret Spitfire Memorial was the brainchild of Chris Whalley, former President of the Salisbury Rugby Club. Chris decided that Salisbury needed a lasting tribute to the extraordinary people of the city who contributed so much to the war effort and created the Secret Spitfire Charity to fund the creation and upkeep of the Spitfire replica. 

Mark Burnett, Managing Director of Burlen, said: 
“What an honour it is for all Burlen staff to pass the Spitfire replica every day to reach our Headquarters. We’ve always been immensely proud of our aviation and WW2 history, and feel inspired to work in an ex-Spitfire factory, but to be reminded of the huge part Salisbury played in manufacturing the much-loved Spitfire through a life-sized replica on our doorstep is humbling. 

We urge anyone who loves the Spitfire to support the Secret Spitfire Charity and to pay a visit to this spectacular memorial of the people who created these wonderful machines in complete secrecy.”
For more about Burlen Ltd visit -

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