The naming of the new aeroplane was carried out by the
directors of Supermarine, who for a time were considering
calling it “The Shrew”. However, the decision was finally
taken to keep the name given originally to the Type 224 –
the Spitfire. Mitchell’s sister-in-law Elsie recalls him saying:
“Bloody silly sort of a name.”
In 1932 Mitchell was awarded the CBE for his outstanding
work. In 1933 he was diagnosed with cancer of the rectum
and in August that year he had a colostomy bag strapped to
his side. He was a shining example to cancer sufferers of how
you can carry on without fear of embarrassment or indignity.
In 1936 Mitchell was again diagnosed to have cancer and
in February 1937 went into a London hospital but was home
soon afterwards. Mitchell had to give up work, but watched
the Spitfire test flights at Eastleigh airfield from his car when
he should have been at home resting.
He flew to Vienna for treatment in April 1937 but returned
to England at the end of May.
During the last months of his life he would sit in his garden,
admire the flowers and listen to the birds singing. He died
of cancer on 11 June 1937 aged 42. Responsibility for the
development of the Spitfire fell to ‘Joe’ Smith, who had
been Supermarine’s chief draughtsman for many years.
The era of the monoplane piston-engined fighter lasted
only about 15 years from around 1935 to 1950. The Spitfire
was unique in that it was the only aircraft to span this
whole period and stay supreme. This was the true mark
of Mitchell’s genius.
Thanks primarily to Mitchell’s genius, Britain was able to
give to its heroic young pilots a fighting plane which was the
equal, or better, of anything then available in the world.
Indeed, so good was this airframe, that it remained in service
until 1963, and even achieved latterly a speed of 680mph,
which was almost twice that of the original version. It was
arguably the greatest machine ever designed both in form
and function. He was never to know the Spitfire’s success.
Brother Mitchell resigned from Jasper Lodge in February
1934, citing his inability to attend regularly. He did, however,
join Lodge of Concord No. 4910 in Southampton in
September 1931. His last attendance there is recorded as
being in January 1936. That Lodge clearly kept in contact
thereafter with Bro Mitchell.
A 1940 water colour by Raymond
McGrath of fitters working on
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