Spitfires buried in Burma during war to be returned to UK
Twenty iconic Spitfire aircraft buried in Burma during the Second
World War are to be repatriated to Britain after an intervention by
The Prime Minister secured a historic deal that will see the
fighter aircraft dug up and shipped back to the UK almost 67 years
after they were hidden more than 40-feet below ground amid fears of
a Japanese occupation.
The gesture came as Mr Cameron became the first Western leader to
meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy campaigner held under
house arrest for 22 years by the military regime, and invited her
to visit London in her first trip abroad for 24 years.
He called on Europe to suspend its ban on trade with Burma now that
it was showing prospects for change following Miss Suu Kyi’s
election to parliament in a sweeping electoral victory earlier in
The plight of the buried aircraft came to Mr Cameron’s attention at
the behest of a farmer from Scunthorpe, North Lincs, who is
responsible for locating them at a former RAF base using radar
David Cundall, 62, spent 15 years doggedly searching for the Mk II
planes, an exercise that involved 12 trips to Burma and cost him
more than £130,000.
When he finally managed to locate them in February, he was told Mr
Cameron loved the project and would intervene to secure their
Mr Cundall told the Daily Telegraph: I’m only a small farmer, I’m
not a multi-millionaire and it has been a struggle. It took me more
than 15 years but I finally found them.
Spitfires are beautiful aeroplanes and should not be rotting away
in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and
they should be preserved.
He said the Spitfires, of which there are only around 35 flying
left in the world, were shipped to Burma and then transported by
rail to the British RAF base during the war.
However, advances in technology and the emergence of more agile
jets meant they were never used and in August 1945, officials
fearing a Japanese occupation, abandoned them on the orders of Lord
Louis Mountbatten, the head of South East Asia Command, two weeks
before the atom bombs were dropped, ending the conflict.
They were just buried there in transport crates, Mr Cundall said.
They were waxed, wrapped in greased paper and their joints tarred.
They will be in near perfect condition.
The married father of three, an avid plane enthusiast, embarked on
his voyage of discovery in 1996 after being told of their existence
by a friend who had met some American veterans who described
digging a trench for the aircraft during the Allied withdrawal of
He spent years appealing for information on their whereabouts from
eye witnesses, scouring public records and placing advertisements
in specialist magazines.
Several early trips to Burma were unsuccessful and were hampered by
the political climate.
He eventually met one eyewitness who drew maps and an outline of
where the aircraft were buried and took him out to the scene.
Unfortunately, he got his north, south, east and west muddled up
and we were searching at the wrong end of the runway, he said.
We also realised that we were not searching deep enough as they had
filled in all of these bomb craters which were 20-feet to start
I hired another machine in the UK that went down to 40-feet and
after going back surveying the land many times, I eventually found
I have been in touch with British officials in Burma and in London
and was told that David Cameron would negotiate on my behalf to
make the recovery happen.
Mr Cundall said sanctions preventing the removal of military tools
from Burma were due to be lifted soon afterwards.
A team from the UK is already in place and is expecting to begin
the excavation, estimated to cost around £500,000, imminently. It
is being funded by the Chichester-based Boultbee Flight Acadamy.
Mr Cundall said the government had promised him it would be making
no claim on the aircraft, of which 21,000 were originally produced,
and that he would be entitled to a share in them.
Its been a financial nightmare but hopefully Ill get my money
back, he said.
I’m hoping the discovery will generate some jobs. They will need to
be stripped down and re-riveted but it must be done. My dream is to
have a flying squadron at air shows.
Published on the internet – April 2012
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