Twenty iconic Spitfire aircraft buried in Burma during the Second World War are to be repatriated to Britain after an intervention by David Cameron.
Victoria Ward, and Rowena Mason
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 this year.
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 imaging technology.
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 repatriation.
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
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 July 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 Burma.
He spent years appealing for information on their whereabouts from eye
witnesses, scouring public records and placing advertisements in specialist
Several early trips to Burma were unsuccessful and were hampered by the
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 with.
“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 them.
“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
Mr Cundall said sanctions preventing the removal of military tools from Burma
were due to be lifted at midnight last night (FRI).
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.
“It’s been a financial nightmare but hopefully I’ll get my money back,” he
“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.”
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