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City hosts only exhibition of first excavated spitfire in Ireland

01/12/2011

An exhibition proudly showing the only excavated remains of a WW2 Spitfire anywhere in Ireland was launched by Derry City Council’s Heritage and Museum Service at the Workhouse Museum today, 01 December.

The Mk IIa Spitfire, was abandoned by its American Pilot Officer Roland ‘Bud’ Wolfe, who parachuted to safety, on 30 November 1941 when it developed engine trouble. The pilotless aircraft proceeded to dive at high speed and bury itself into a remote mountain bog near Gleneely in Co Donegal. The spitfire was found by aviation enthusiast and Claudy resident Jonny McNee in January 2011 who was searching for it as part of a forthcoming BBC NI series entitled Dig WW2. The subsequent excavation in June 2011 was the first licensed recovery of a WW2 aircraft to be undertaken in Ireland and involved a large and specialised team. The aircraft was tremendously well preserved in 30ft of peat and mud and many iconic pieces were recovered.

Derry City Council will host an exhibition allowing the public to view many of the excavated items. The Mayor, Alderman Maurice Devenney said he was particularly delighted that the event would be attended by the pilot’s two daughters Betty Wolfe and Barbara Kucharczyk and 12 other family and friends who travelled from the US.

Speaking about the significance of the exhibition, the Mayor said he was delighted Derry City Council was able to present the artefacts from the excavation at the Workhouse Museum.

“This is a fascinating story and of interest to people across the island of Ireland who will want to travel to our city to view the artefacts and learn about this extraordinary project. The story has many angles to it. The aircraft diving into the bog, the pilot being apprehended near the crash site in Donegal and interned in the Curragh by the Irish Army before escaping from neutral Ireland and making his way back to his base at Eglinton, before incredibly being sent back to the Curragh Camp on Churchill’s orders! The City is very appreciative of a significant donation from businessman W Galen Weston in Toronto to assist with the exhibition. Significantly, it was his father Garfield Weston who donated this Spitfire and others to the RAF during the Battle of Britain. I am particularly delighted that the family and their friends of Flying Officer Roland ‘Bud’ Wolfe are here for the exhibition launch and to celebrate this life and years of service with both the RAF and US Air Force.”

The Mayor added the city of Derry~Londonderry has a long and proud history. “The city was at the forefront of the Battle of the Atlantic both as a convoy port and also providing front line airfields for convoy patrols and Uboat hunting. This exhibition is a significant attraction for tourists and aviation enthusiasts alike across Ireland and I am delighted that it has been documented as part of a major BBC(NI) series to be aired next year.”

Roisin Doherty, Head of Heritage and Museum Service at Derry City Council said the exhibition was a major coup for the Service.

“We are delighted to host an exhibition on such a significant part of the city's history during the War. We are currently working on developing the Maritime Museum and Archive Centre at Ebrington and when this is accomplished , we will be able to display the remains of Spitfire P8074 on a greater stage. This launch in the Workhouse Museum is just one step towards making that a reality. The human story of the pilot and his life make it a particularly interesting exhibition. The archaeological story and the exceptional state of preservation of the items is fascinating and we are greatly honoured to host it at the Workhouse Museum.”

Jonny McNee said: “This launch is the culmination of a year of solid work and commitment by many people. I and the team behind the excavation are indebted to everyone who took the leap of faith with us on this unique project. Mr Galen Weston’s donation echoes his father’s famous wartime gift. I am delighted that P8074 has been given such a significant launch in the city in which it was based. Putting on a Spitfire display brings with it many challenges and I extend my sincere thanks to all the Council Museum staff for everything they have done. To meet Bud’s daughters and friends has been very special for me. It was an honour and a privilege to tell them of their father’s wartime exploits in Derry, Donegal and the Curragh, of which he rarely spoke to his family.”

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