“The origins of the Kent County Squadron idea began back in August 1940, when no less a person than Bob Stanford Tuck brought down his shot-up aircraft to a forced landing near Lord Cornwallis’s home at Plovers, Horsmonden. (…) Next morning, Cornwallis said to Tuck that he had just received a cheque for £5,000 from a Mr Stanley Johnson of Bearstead, which he was going to earmark towards a new Spitfire. There followed an appeal to everyone in Kent for money to form an Invicta Flight of Spitfires. Within a short space of time, no less than £29,370 had been sent in for the County of Kent Fund. The first three Spitfires purchased with this money were named MAN OF KENT, KENTISH MAN and FAIR MAID OF KENT.”
W/Cdr Sammy Sampson, former Flight Commander in No. 131 (County of Kent) Squadron
Spitfire Mk. IIB P8348 was called BRITISH AND FRIENDS EX-JAPAN. Seen here in the markings of No.52 OTU.
The donation of specially marked weapons of war to the actual combatants has been carried out for centuries, and in the First World War the tank and the aeroplane joined the list of presentation weapons. The government urged the public to “do their bit” and donate to funds which would “buy” a tank, ambulance, field gun or aeroplane.
This idea was resurrected in the second World War, and a “price list” was made out, £5,000 for a single-engined fighter (usually a Spitfire but sometimes a Hurricane or other type), £20,000 for a twin-engined aircraft and £40,000 for a four-engined aircraft. A Spitfire was a snip at £5,000, this being just half the cost for a torpedo at that time.
Most presentations were for one or two aircraft, but some were for whole squadrons, the first being No.152 (Hyderabad) Squadron, funded by the Nizam of Hyderabad on 21 December 1939. During the First World War the Nizam donated a squadron of D.H.9As, and had received a letter from the Air Ministry thanking him for his generous gift, saying that his name would be forever linked with a squadron of the RAF.
However, with the end of hostilities the government of the day began cost cutting, and the RAF suffered drastically. When the Second World War started, the Nizam enquired what “his” squadron would be doing. This created some embarrassment at the Air Ministry as the name “Hyderabad” had long been forgotten, but they extricated themselves from the situation by explaining that his original donation covered the cost of perhaps two modern fighters, so the Nizam promptly stumped up more cash, thus setting a precedent. He also had small badges made for the pilots, and even sent them £60 with which to have a party, though the pilots thought he could have been a little more generous.
The Spitfire Funds
Meanwhile, the idea caught on, and “Buy a Spitfire” funds sprang up overnight, being further encouraged in 1940 by Lord Beaverbrook when he was appointed by Winston Churchill to run the newly-formed Ministry of Aircraft Production. Very soon the streets of every village, town and city resounded with the rattle of collecting tins, as well as assorted donations from overseas. From Accrington to Zanzibar, from Scunthorpe to New Zealand, from Iceland, America, Brazil, South Africa and India the money poured in.
Newspapers started funds amongst their readers urging them to get “their” Spitfire before a rival newspaper, and a running total with full lists of donors and donations was published each week. “From all at No.15 Station Lane”, “My week’s pocket money – Fred Smith aged 7″, “My first week’s old age pension – 10 shillings (50p) towards our Spitfire”. Penny by penny, pound by pound the fund grew, until that magical day when the target was reached, the cheque sent, and the local newspaper proudly published a photograph of the town’s Spitfire.
A Kent farmer charged people sixpence (2½p) “to see the only field in Kent without a German aircraft in it”. During an air raid, the manager of a London cinema pushed a wheelbarrow up and down the aisle, asking for donations, “The more you give, the less raids there will be”, which resulted in MISS A.B.C. 1, 2, 3 & 4 (AD260, AD263, AD294 & AD309). A member of the Royal Observer Corps charged people threepence to see a bomb crater near his post, all proceeds to OBSERVER CORPS (P7666) and ROYAL OBSERVER CORPS II (serial unknown as yet).
OBSERVER CORPS, Spitfire Mk. IIA EB-Z ser. no P7666 was a personal aircraft of Sqn/Ldr Donald Osborne Finlay, Commanding Officer of No. 41 Squadron in Hornchurch. The Observer Corps (not yet called the Royal Observer Corps) managed to raise enough money to purchase two Spitfires.
The British Community in Brazil gave BOTAFOGO (BM161), amongst others, this being named after a fortress overlooking a beach of the same name near Rio de Janeiro, whose name translates literally to “Spit-Fire”. Mr J.Urie of City Bakeries, Glasgow made a wager with a friend, the loser to shave off his moustache, and when Mr Urie lost, off came the moustache and SANS TACHE went on R7293.
THE DOG FIGHTER (W3403) was presented by the Kennel Club and THE MARKSMAN (W3215) by Marks & Spencer. Not to be outdone, NIX SIX PRIMUS (X4921) and NIX SIX SECUNDUS (X4923) were presented by Woolworths, referring to their pre-war policy of nothing in their stores costing over sixpence. CRISPIN OF LEICESTER (W3242) was presented by the boot and shoe manufacturers of that city, St Crispin being the patron saint of shoemakers. From the uninspired H & H (X4922) presented by Higgs and Hill Ltd, to the unpronounceable HOELOESOENGAI (AD239) of the Netherlands East Indies. MAH TAL smacks of India, but was actually presented by Mr J.Latham, a reversal of his name. SKYSWEEPER (P8082) came from who else but Hoover Ltd, whilst NIPPY (P8656) referred to the waitresses of Lyons Corner Houses.
Boys from Southgate County Grammar school conducting a fundraising effort to buy ‘their’ Spitfire.
[Barry Gillingwater coll.]
The motor industry donated over £100,000 for Spitfires to equip No.154 (Motor Industries) Squadron, with such names as LORD AUSTIN (BM415), NUFFIELD (BM248) and GO TO IT (BM624). Donations from other industries included EDGLETS (R7061) from the Brooke Bond tea company, B.R.C. STAFFORD I and II (R7229 and R7263) from British Reinforced Concrete, THE SWAN (R7268) from the Bryant & May match firm and ARKWRIGHT (R6722) from the English Sewing Cotton Company.
As well as the sublime and the humorous there were also stories of tragedy. Mr H.H.Merrett of St Michel-le-Pit in south Wales received a telegram from the Air Ministry, informing him that his only son, F/O Norman Merrett had been killed on active service. A Spitfire fund was started, and from the 100 inhabitants of that small village came the £5,000 needed to mark W3211 NORMAN MERRETT.
The Shepley’s of Holmesfield, Derbyshire, lost three of their family in the first eleven months of war. Jeanne Shepley a nurse in the F.A.N.Y.s, was killed when the SS Yorkshire was torpedoed, Flt Lt George Rex Shepley was shot down flying a Lysander supply sortie to the troops at Calais, and P/O Douglas Clayton Shepley flying a Spitfire of 152 Sqn was shot down into the Channel off the Isle of Wight. SHEPLEY (W3649) was the culmination of many local donations but tragedy stayed with it when it was damaged over France, and crashed into the Channel taking with it W/Cdr F.V.Beamish DSO & Bar, DFC, AFC, who was killed.
Sqn Ldr N.”Fanny” Orton DFC & Bar was shot down and killed flying MORAY (W3772), presented through the Northern Scot newspaper. Wg Cdr D.R.S.Bader DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar was shot down and taken prisoner while flying LORD LLOYD I (W3185) donated by Mr Oswald Finney.
JUBILEE – THE BOROUGH OF RICHMOND was the Spitfire Mk.IIb P8347 (left). To the right, Spitfire Mk. Vb W3332 – HENDON GRIFFIN
[Ray Sturtivant coll.]
DOROTHY OF GREAT BRITAIN AND THE EMPIRE (AB201) came from donations by females named Dorothy, the youngest 7 weeks, and the oldest 88 years, and not to be out-done, a dog, calf, cat and swan, all named Dorothy by their owners, also subscribed! If a town was unable to reach the target figure of £5,000, it often joined forces with a nearby town in a similar predicament, hence ACCRINGTON, CHURCH & OSWALDTWISTLE (R7154), NEWPORT HUNDREDS & WOLVERTON URBAN DISTRICT (W3317) and many more. Some of the presentation Spitfires were named after wives and sweethearts, such as P8742 ADA, R7230 BRENDA, but DIRTY GERTY VANCOUVER donated by Mr Herbert F.Morris, stretches the imagination somewhat! The last Spitfire to be presented was TB900 on 19 March 1945, fittingly named WINSTON CHURCHILL.