Harry to lead ‘Red Lichtie’ Spitfire celebration

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ARBROATH businessman Harry Simpson, who has only recently completed his hugely successful tenure as chairman of the Year of the Light committee, has agreed to chair another group which will organise events to mark the 70th anniversary of the donation of the Arbroath Spitfire.

And local people who helped raise £5,000 to buy the aircraft during the Second World War are being invited to join in to help commemorate the event.

Mr Simpson revealed that there are already events at the planning stage but said that things were rather “hush-hush” at the moment, and he could not reveal too much.

He commented: “There are certain things that we cannot divulge although I can confirm that there are a lot of things planned and some dates are already set. At the moment we are trying to organise a parade on High Street, from the Abbey area down to the harbour, but we cannot say when until everything is in place and the police have given their approval. We hope that 45 Commando Group Royal Marines and other regiments with local connections will take part.

“There is a meeting coming up this month after which certain dates will be set in stone. Edwina Barraclough and Jamie Hutchison are putting on a show in the Webster Memorial Theatre and the date for that is already set, as the theatre has to be booked well in advance.

“There will also be a dance at the Helen Street clubrooms of the Arbroath branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland later in the year, so there is a lot going on. We hope to get as many Arbroath folk as possible involved.”

Mr Simpson gave a strong hint that there will also be a Spitfire fly-past involved in the celebration. He said that the local branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland is heavily involved in the organising and planning as are Angus Council and the Arbroath community planning team.

The idea of a celebration was first mooted last year by Arbroath East and Lunan councillor Donald Morrison, who had been approached by local historian Morris Scott.

The Arbroath Supermarine Spitfire EP121 - named ‘Red Lichtie’ - was taken on charge by the Royal Air Force at Burtonwood on May 24, 1942.

The aircraft was allocated on May 30 to No. 50 (County of Gloucester) Squadron engaged on convoy patrols, Rhubarb and Roadstead operations from Ibsley, suffering Category B damage on July 24 when Sergeant W.N. Strang landed on the wrong runway and the port wheel collapsed.

It was allocated for repair in works on July 29, being sent to Westland at Ilchester on August 1. Ready for collecting on September 19, the aircraft was delivered six days later to No.39 MU Colerne, then went to Phillips & Powis at South Marston on October 10 to be flown to No. 38 MU Llandow on November 23.

On December 29, EP 121 joined No. 131 (County of Kent) Squadron at Westhampnett to fly sweeps, Circus and Rhubarb operations until January 20, 1943, when No. 610 (County of Chester) Squadron moved in from Castletown to continue with the offensive, taking over EP 121, now coded DW-B.

On February 13, the commanding officer, Squadron Leader J.E. Johnson, flying ‘Red Lichtie’, probably destroyed a FW 190 southwest of Boulogne.

On March 7 the aircraft joined No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron at Perranporth to be engaged mainly on shipping patrols, being Category Ac damaged on April 18 when the radiator shield was torn away during a high-speed dive, to be repaired and returned to flying duties with No. 412 (RCAF) Squadron on April 24 at Perranporth.

On June 10, EP 121 was transferred to No.416 (RCAF) Squadron at Digby, where the engine cut on approach on June 26 and the aircraft stalled and spun into the ground, Sergeant W.H.Palmer (Canada) being injured.

The pilot of the ‘Red Lichtie’ on February 13, 1943, was Squadron Leader, later Air Vice Marshal James Edgar ‘Johnnie’ Johnson CB, CBE, DSO and two Bars, DFC and Bar, one of Britain’s most distinguished fighter aces of the Second World War with 34 confirmed victories.

Councillor Morrison commented: “As in the 1940s, when Arbroath residents got together to lead the fund-raising efforts for the Red Lichtie, it is important that on its 70th anniversary the community lead.

“As one of the stalwarts in the community, Harry worked tirelessly as the chair during last year’s Year of The Light celebrations, so I am delighted he agreed to chair the Red Lichtie group.

“The amount of interest already from organisations and residents in the town keen on remembering Arbroath’s own Spitfire and the sacrifices made by those home and abroad during the Second World War is superb.”