US pilot’s RAF story unveiled by daughters

Johnny McNee with Barbara Kucharczyk, centre, and Betty Wolfe, daughters of pilot Roland 'Bud' Wolfe, look over the recovered Spitfire engine at the launch of the Story of Spitfire P8074 exhibition in the Workhouse Museum. (0212PG55)
Johnny McNee with Barbara Kucharczyk, centre, and Betty Wolfe, daughters of pilot Roland 'Bud' Wolfe, look over the recovered Spitfire engine at the launch of the Story of Spitfire P8074 exhibition in the Workhouse Museum. (0212PG55)
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The daughters of a pilot whose spitfire crashed in Inishowen during World War II have opened an exhibition charting the story of the recovered plane.

The daughters of a pilot whose spitfire crashed in Inishowen during World War II have opened an exhibition charting the story of the recovered plane.

The two daughters of Roland ‘Bud’ Wolfe, Betty Wolfe and Barbara Kucharczyk, plus 12 other family members travelled from America on a personal pilgrimage to trace the steps of the US native who served in the RAF in 1941. Bud was one of many Americans who signed up to fight in an RAF unit known as Eagle Squadron because before the US joined the conflict after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

The fascinating story of Spitfire 8074 - which was recovered from a rural bog at Moneydarragh near Gleneely in Inishowen by Claudy aviation historian Jonny McNee and a team of archaeologists in June - was officially opened at the Waterside’s Workhouse Museum yesterday.

In an emotional speech to launch the exhibition, Bud’s daughter Betty said her father - who died 18 years ago - would have been proud to see his plane preserved in such splendour. She said the whole experience had allowed her and her family to “continue grieving the loss” of her father and mother. She added: “We are dazed, touched and humbled at this story which has been preserved in the earth of a Donegal hillside and is now preserved in a Derry museum . . . Now the story belongs to the world and not just to us.”

The man who was instrumental in bringing the story of Bud Wolfe to the masses is Mr McNee. “This launch is the culmination of a year of solid work and commitment by many people. I and the team behind the excavation are indebted to everyone who took the leap of faith with us on this unique project.”

The project was part-funded by Canadian businessman Galen Weston, whose donation echoed the famous wartime gift of his father Garfield Weston who funded the construction of the Inishowen spitfire and seven others in 1941. A part of the fuselage bearing Mr Weston’s name was presented to his son several weeks ago.

Mr Mc Nee added: “Putting on a Spitfire display brings with it many challenges and I extend my sincere thanks to all the Council Museum staff for everything they have done. To meet Bud’s daughters and friends has been very special for me. It was an honour and a privilege to tell them of their father’s wartime exploits in Derry, Donegal and the Curragh, of which he rarely spoke to his family.”

Derry’s Mayor Maurice Devenney said the story of Spitfire P8074 and its American pilot was “fascinating”. “The story has many angles to it. The aircraft diving into the bog, the pilot being apprehended near the crash site in Donegal and interned in the Curragh by the Irish Army before escaping from neutral Ireland and making his way back to his base at Eglinton, before incredibly being sent back to the Curragh Camp on Churchill’s orders.”

Roisin Doherty, Head of Heritage and Museum Service at Derry City Council, said the exhibition was a major coup.

“The archaeological story and the exceptional state of preservation of the items is fascinating and we are greatly honoured to host it at the Workhouse Museum.”

On Tuesday the extended Wolfe family, dubbed “the Wolfepack” by Mr McNee visited the former RAF Eglinton, now City of Derry Airport, where their Bud was temporarily based in 1941. They unveiled a plaque in the terminal to commemorate 133 (Eagle) RAF squadron which was composed entirely of US volunteer pilots. including their father. Earlier in the day the paid an emotional visit to the crash site in Inishowen - 70 years to the very hour since the 1941 crash landing.