Arming a spitfire
monaghan museum

Spitfire that crashed into Monaghan field and Nazi invasion plans to be put on show

The year-long exhibition will take place in Monaghan.

A SPITFIRE THAT crashed into a Monaghan field, and plans for a potential Nazi invasion of Ireland, are to go on display for the first time in Ireland.

The Monaghan Museum is to host ‘The Monaghan Spitfire: Life on the Border with a World at War’ for one year after it opens on 28 June, and its curator Liam Bradley told us everything you need to know about it.

The exhibition centres around the remains of a Battle of Britain Spitfire which were excavated in a field in Emyvale last summer, and was developed in partnership with numerous organisations north and south of the border, including: the RAF, Queen’s University Belfast, the Irish Air Corps and the Imperial War Museum, London.

WW2 Gas Mask and Bag A WWII gas mask and bag

Key exhibits at the museum will include:

  • Original ‘Operation Green’ Plans – plans for Nazi Germany’s invasion of Ireland which have never been on display before
  • The Monaghan Spitfire – remains taken from a crash site excavated in 2017 by the museum and a cross-border group involving the RAF Benevolent Fund, Queens University and students from Secondary schools on both sides of the border. Visitors will get to see the door, instruments from the cockpit, the fuel tank and the iconic Merlin Rolls Royce Engine.

The exhibition will also feature other occasions when the war exploded across the border into Monaghan, such as in December 1940 when a German bomber dropped a 500kg bomb on the townland of Bocks Upper in South West Monaghan, an incident called the Bocks Bombing.

Thankfully nobody was killed, but the incident created an enormous crater and destroyed a number of buildings. The exhibition will feature an exact replica of the bomb for visitors to see.

There will also be two short dramatic films about the events of the Monaghan Spitfire crash and the bombing at Bocks, which were made with filmmaker Luke Leslie.

Aviation archaeology

Liam Bradley, the curator, told us that two years ago the museum was contacted by amateur aviation archaeologist Johnny McNee who told them about the 1942 Spitfire crash.

They did a survey of the suspected area in 2017, where they found a lot of metal. After receiving permission, they then did a one-day excavation of the site, during which they found the engine and other items.

R6992 Crashed A Spitfire

“The key thing we found was the Merlin Rolls Royce engine or a good bit of it,” said Bradley.

He said they believe the plane crashed while taking a meteorological flight to check out wind coming from the Atlantic.

It would have sent that information to London where it would have been used to plan bombing raids on the Nazis.

The pilot survived the crash, bailing out and landing in the north, while the plane landed in the south.

“The plane went into the ground at 400m an hour at about an 85 degree angle. Most of it smashed up on impact, the engine was buried.” Some of the remains were taken by the army, while others were left in a hole in the site.

The items were cleaned and conserved in Derry. “We have part of the fuselage twisted and bent,” said Bradley. “The engine was in such good nick considering it was such compacted soil. We were amazed to find nearly half of engine. It was twisted and contorted.”

He said that the state of the engine shows “the violence of the impact and violence of the era in which it came from. It’s a very visceral piece on display and we anticipate people strongly interacting with it.”

McNee also helped the museum to put on the display the plans for Operation Green. “The maps are his, they’re one of very few known to be in existence,” explained Bradley. “They’re in a pack from 1940. They show the main routes, harbours, landing sites, water services, photos of major cities, landmarks. It is incredibly detailed and really is a ‘how to invade Ireland’ pack.

It seems so innocent when you look at it, but when you look at the detail…

“The plans themselves really show a place and time when Nazi Germany were really close to winning the war,” he added. It’s believed the papers were found by a man in the British Army who was in Berlin in 1945.

PastedImage-59968 Inside a scrambler hut

Stories from the border

The exhibition’s aim is to tell the story of the Monaghan border, and those of people from Monaghan who were affected by WWII.

One story to be told is that of Monaghan woman Mary Cooper, who joined the imperial nursing corps and was stationed in China. “She was captured by the Japanese and endured two years of brutal captivity, then died in Japanese captivity just before the camp itself was liberated,” said Bradley. “She would be one of the people forgotten over the passage of time.”

“We want to tell the story of monaghan people,” he went on. “To show we are on the border but we reflect both sides of the traditions that are in Monaghan. During the war there was a strong anti-British sentiment in Monaghan as well. [But] some people went off and fought in the British Army.”

One of those men, who will be featured in the exhibition, is William Timber Woods, who moved to the UK aged 12 and as an adult became a fighter pilot in the British army. He died in 1941 taking part in a futile battle over Greece – one of the men fighting with him was author Roald Dahl.

“He named one of his characters in one of his short stories Timber Woods – is it a total coincidence? Chances are they all knew each other,” said Bradley.

The event opens on Thursday 28 June and more information can be found on the Monaghan Museum website.

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