This year marks 30 years since a replica Spitfire plane was installed above the building of Vernon’s Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans Club on 46th Avenue.
The ANAVETS is Canada’s oldest veterans association, believed to have been founded in 1840, with the first unit in Montreal. Meanwhile, ANAF Unit #5 has served the Vernon area since 1971.
In the 1980s, the unit approached the Department of National Defence with the goal of purchasing a genuine Spitfire plane, but could not afford the $90,000 price tag. The spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft used during and following the Second World War. Today, the spitfire remains popular among enthusiasts, with approximately 70 still operational around the world.
Although ANAF Unit #5 could not secure an authentic spitfire, they were determined to see one “fly” over Vernon, and took on the task of creating a replica. The model was the brainchild of Jack Brash, Glen Fletcher and Doug McNichol, and construction on it began in 1992.
In 1993, the built-to-scale replica was complete, and measured 31 feet from nose to tail. A dummy, named Jackson Glen, after two of the three original contributors, was even installed in the front seat. This fake pilot is allegedly so realistic that he had engaged in a one-sided conversation with a Vernon utility worker while seated on the back porch of Glen Fletcher’s home before being installed in the plane.
According to an ANAF Unit #5 brochure, the letters and numbers on the model were borrowed from the log book of a spitfire which was piloted by Vernon veteran Philip Bodnarchuk. Bodnarchuk served as a pilot with the RCAF in the Second World War. Despite being shot down three times, he survived until demobilization and passed away at the age of 79 in 1996.
In 2010, Vernon’s spitfire was discovered to have been damaged by rock-throwing vandals which allowed water to enter the model. The damage was so extensive that it had to be completely rebuilt, including dummy pilot Jackson Glen.
Glen Fletcher, then 74 years old, was aided by Randy Lundman in this task, which took the two men 11 months. Finally, in August of 2011, the replica was returned to its rightful place above the ANAVETS building.
Gwyn Evans is the Head of Archives with the Museum and Archives of Vernon.