RAF veteran given memorable day with a Spitfire and its pilots

Seeing a Spitfire again and chatting with the pilots was part of a special day for an RAF veteran who suffered terribly at the hands of the Japanese during the Second World War.

Bob Morrell chatting with Spitfire pilot Jack Rann
Bob Morrell chatting with Spitfire pilot Jack Rann

There are many aspects of his war service Bob Morrell would rather not talk about but the aircraft he worked on and the sound of the engines put a smile on his face.

A resident at Care for Veterans in Worthing, Bob was given a memorable day out at Solent Airport, where everyone was keen to meet the 97-year-old former mechanic.

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Fundraising officer Kim Bowen-Wood, who arranged the day, said: “I was completely impressed by Bob’s stamina and his level of recall was incredible. He was telling us about the different engine noises, remembering the smell of the fuel and even running through his pre-flight checks before each flight.

“As soon as we arrived, he became so animated and thoroughly enjoyed speaking to the pilots. The other spectators all wanted to meet Bob and were coming up to him to shake his hand. It was a really special day.”

Originally from Brighton, Bob joined the RAF in September 1938 and trained as a fighter mechanic before being posted to No. 1(Fighter) Squadron at RAF Tangmere.

After war was declared, Bob was made part of the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force to go to France.

Having faced the German onslaught and with the Battle of Britain just starting, his squadron was sent to RAF Northolt, where he worked around the clock to keep the fighter pilots in the skies.

Bob was then posted to Carlise to pick up crashed aircraft, before being sent out to the Far East, where the Battle of Singapore was fought against Japanese forces. He became a prisoner of war in Java, where he and 100 others captured in March 1941.

Speaking to artist Caroline de Peyrecave for the WARpaint project, where he was the subject of a portrait with consultant psychologist Imogen Sturgeon-Clegg, Bob said: “Here beginning a journey I would never want to repeat, sent to an island called Haroekoe, 2,000 men were to make an airstrip, 600 men were buried there and as the allies advanced across the Pacific I was aboard the Maros Maru with 610 men of whom 320 died of thirst, starvation and dieases.

“Suffice to say I survived but the memories etc live for ever in the brain. When in the years following the war they didn’t know how to help you, I was 80 years old when I disovered Combat Stress. Thank God it was Imogen who took me under her care and hence I am the person I am today.”

Bob was moved around the Pacific Islands as a prisoner for three-and-a-half years and did not return to the UK until 1945, after the Japanese had surrendered.

Kim said Bob finds his experiences in the Far East extremely difficult to talk about and understandably becomes very upset whenever it is mentioned.

However, being able to see a Spitfire fly again was a special moment for Bob, who was accompanied on the trip by Care for Veterans staff.

The Spitfire is owned and operated by Boultbee Flight Academy and the pilots were more than happy to chat to Bob about the aircraft and the technical aspects. They also let him get up close to the aircraft for some photographs and he was able to witness three flights.