Essex Memorial Spitfire arrives, committee seeks Essex County veterans to recognize

 

Karen Billing touches the side of the replica Spitfire that will be displayed in Essex. Her husband Jerry used to fly a Spitfire.

Karen Billing touches the side of the replica Spitfire that will be displayed in Essex. Her husband Jerry used to fly a Spitfire.

The Essex Memorial Spitfire, as it sat in the former Essex Arena Sept. 4. RAF and RCAF veterans from across Essex County are being sought for the plaque that will be installed at "Spitfire Park" in Essex.

The Essex Memorial Spitfire, as it sat in the former Essex Arena Sept. 4. RAF and RCAF veterans from across Essex County are being sought for the plaque that will be installed at “Spitfire Park” in Essex.

By Ron Giofu

 

The Essex Memorial Spitfire has arrived and the committee that brought it to the region is looking to remember all those who served in the air.

A dedication ceremony will be held in Essex’s “Silo District” near the Essex Legion Sept. 21 but Essex Memorial Spitfire committee members are emphasizing it is a county-wide effort. Michael Beale, co-chair of the committee, said there would also be a plaque near the replica Spitfire to commemorate those from Essex County who served in the RAF and the RCAF.

“The Spitfire is a tool to bring people to the plaque,” explained Beale. “It’s about all of those who served.”

Beale said organizational efforts started in January at a kitchen table and, after some discussion, the idea to bring a replica Spitfire to Essex was born. The disassembled plane was built in England, shipped by boat to Montreal, sent via train to Brampton before being hauled by truck to Essex, where it arrived Aug. 29.

Volunteers assembled the Spitfire in the old Essex Arena, where last Thursday morning’s official unveiling was held.

“It moved so quickly, so rapidly that today, we sit with a completed Spitfire,” said Beale.

Fundraising efforts were, as of Thursday, $4,000 short of their target but Beale noted events would continue to raise the needed cash. The overall budget sits at approximately $133,710.

The Spitfire will have its wings removed this Sunday and be paraded down to the site where it will be permanently displayed, with the official dedication the following Sunday.

“It belongs to everyone in the county,” said Beale. “It is very much a county project.”

The plane is similar to the one flown by Essex native Jerry Billing, who continued to fly one after the war. In all, he flew a spitfire for 56 years.

Efforts to bring Billing, now 93 and living in a long-term care facility in Windsor, to the dedication ceremony are underway. Billing’s wife Karen and son Erik are part of the Essex Memorial Spitfire committee.

“I think it’s incredible,” said Karen. “I never thought it would happen. It meant a lot to my husband. It really perked him up.”

Karen commented that the replica plane is identical to that of her husband’s.

“It’s exactly the same as the one he flew,” said Karen.

To ensure the name of an RAF or RCAF veteran from Essex County is included on the plaque, contact Southern Ontario Military Muster secretary/advisor Linda Iler at 519-796-3393 or linda.iler.somm@gmail.com.

 

 

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