Heritage: Iranian children learn tale of Fairlop Spitfire

The piece of Karel Pavlik's Spitfire. Picture: David Martin

The piece of Karel Pavlik's Spitfire. Picture: David Martin - Credit: Archant

Local historian David Martin explains how his wartime story was translated into Farsi for visiting children

Last July, Fairlop Heritage Group had a stand at Fairlop Fair. A group of Asian children arrived. accompanied by their teacher. He was the only one who spoke English. The children were Iranian and spoke Farsi.

I had brought with me a section of Spitfire VB BM361, flown from Fairlop for the last time by Karel Pavlik of 313 squadron.

On May 5, 1942 he took part in Circus 157, code name for an operational tactic in which RAF bombers were sent out to bomb vital targets in France. These bombers were escorted by large numbers of fighters for protection.

313 Squadron flew top cover at 22,000 feet (a touch over 4 miles high), with 122 Squadron middle cover at 21,000 feet and 64 Squadron lower cover at 20,000 feet.

Twenty-four of these fighters engaged in dog fights with 21 Focke-Wulf 190 fighters.

Local people had to hide in the safety of cellars, with the rain of machine gun bullets, cannon shells and other falling debris, which included aircraft. There followed twenty minutes of dramatic aerobatics and dog fighting in which four young men were killed, with several pilots returning to their airfields either wounded or with badly damaged aircraft.

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Telling the story to the teacher, he translated it into Farsi, as the section of Spitfire contained within a Perspex box was being passed around by the children.

The first to die was F/Sgt Stacey Jones when he crashed in the front garden of a house near Poperinghe.

Sgt Roland Joffre Ribout bailed out from his stricken Spitfire, but his parachute failed to open and Roland jumped to his death. The fate of F/Lt Baudoiun de Hemptinne is unknown. He crashed on farmland. S/Ldr Frantiek Fajtl survived his crash, and succeeded in returning home via Spain.

Sgt Karel Pavlik’s Spitfire spiralled down and buried itself in the side of Kemmelberg, so deep, his body, still strapped in his cockpit, was not recovered until 1945. It appears that he was shot in the head and died before his Spitfire reached the ground.

On May 5, 2011, I visited the crash sites and laid a wreath during a moving ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Afterwards I saw the Merlin engine of Karel’s Spitfire in the garage of Wim Huyghes who excavated it. He the presented me with a piece of wreckage.

This was still being passed around by children.

When the teacher realised what the item was being passed around, he retrieved it and handed it back to me. I asked why?

His reply surprised me. “In case it gets damaged.”

I laughed, as it was not possible for it to be damaged any further!