Nanaimo Spitfire display one of the finest in Canada

Pat Murphy works on one of his Spitfire models at the museum.

Story and photos
BY MERV UNGER
Nanaimonet.com

The wild blue yonder has been a lifelong passion for Pat Murphy. He’s had his head in the clouds since he was a four-year-old living on a wartime military base in Nova Scotia – if he was in the house and heard an aircraft, he’d drop everything and rush outside to watch planes take off and land. 

It began there and sparked an interest that led to a hobby building models and creating one of the largest Spitfire dioramas in Canada, at the Vancouver Island Military Museum in Nanaimo.

He never forgot those early years – the Y2-K Spitfire restoration project at the Comox Air Base in 2000 re-ignited his passion after he had settled in Nanaimo.

He’s been building model aircraft for more than 68 years, and in that time you can run out of space, particularly when it’s in your home. As his display grew Murphy needed more room, so he contacted Roger Bird, president of the Vancouver Island Military Museum in 2009 and offered to donate the 30 or so Spitfire models to the museum.

That offer was warmly accepted by the museum which gave his models a spacious, attractive landing strip to display the model Spitfires. When you have a hobby like this, and there are more stories to tell, it continues to grow. Murphy devoted himself to the museum and has added another 38 Spitfire models. 

The display has room for two more models and he’s working of one now. Given that Canada operated 14 Spitfire Squadrons during World War II the subject list of Spitfires that honours these young Canadian heroes is virtually endless. Murphy takes great pride, as does the museum, in honouring these great men. 

The display at the military museum is considered to be the largest in Canada that honours Canadian Spitfire pilots. The museum has developed a large reference file on Squadron activity and pilots’ logbooks. On numerous occasions Pat has helped families with information about a family member, where he fought or died. VIMM shares information with other museums and model builders around the world. 

Pat Murphy and Roger Bird at the Spitfire display at the Vancouver Island Military Museum.

The Y2-K Spitfire restoration project at the Comox Air Base put him in great company, meeting former RCAF and RAF Spitfire pilots, the men who fought in those battles. He could listen to their first-hand experiences forever, and he began to research the Squadrons they had flown and fought with. He soon realized the incredible part of history of which he had become almost a participant. He soon built nothing but Spitfires – other aircraft took a back seat. 

The longer he was a part of the restoration project the more Spitfire veteran he met. Their stories spurred Pat to build models of the aircraft they had flown and displayed them next to the Spitfire that was being restored. Each model included a history of the pilots who flew them. To meet and talk to these heroes is something Murphy says he can’t process in words. Each one of them unveils new stories of Canada’s history.

The restoration project ended in 2008 and he took his models home, but the display kept on growing. That’s when he proposed a special tribute to Spitfires at the Vancouver Island Military Museum which stepped up to the plate, creating the display cases. 

Murphy joined the museum society and has continued with his passion, spending all this spare time there. It’s become like a full-time job. He has added 38 more Spitfire models. There’s room for two more models and he’s working of one now. 

Given that Canada operated 14 Spitfire Squadrons during World War II the subject list of Spitfires that honours these young Canadian heroes is virtually endless. Pat takes pride in honouring these great men. 

The museum also has developed a large reference file on Squadron activity and pilots log books. Often Pat’s research has helped families with information about a family member, where he fought or died. VIMM also shares information with other museums or model builders around the world.

Murphy goes through a flight log from one of the Spitfires on display.

Pat started building models long before that, at about age 10 when he would go to building sites in Calgary and scavenge shingles to build wooden aircraft.

After he had built about six wooden models his dad surprised him one day by bringing him a balsa wood and paper model kit, and he helped Pat build it. From then on he was building balsa kits and hanging them in his bedroom or flying them until they crashed.

“It would be difficult to not have a serious passion for military aircraft after spending 18 months on one of Canada’s largest wartime military bases. My father was posted to Camp Debert, Nova Scotia. We lived in officers’ quarters facing a very active runway – July 1942 to January 1944,” says Pat.

Royal Canadian Air Force and the British Royal Air Force aircraft were very active on the East coast. Fighters, long-range bombers and patrol aircraft were active around the clock, providing virtually unlimited opportunity for a young boy to watch aircraft. 

It all started with a four-year-old boy watching planes. He still does that to this day. If you ever want to talk Spitfires, Pat is always at the ready to meet and share stories.

The full Spitfire display at Vancouver Island Military Museum.