“The donor of £5,000 is entitled to name an aircraft. So long as it remains in service it bears that name; when its life comes to an end so does the tangible recognition of the gift”
Ministry of Aircraft Production
Spitfire Mk.VB, SK-E,(BM271), KENYA DAISY of No.165 Squadron based at Gravesend in October 1942 was one of the three presentation Spitfires bearing that name. This machine was later modified to LF.Mk.VB standard and served with several of the units based at Skeabrae/Sumburgh in the winter of 1943/44.
In the summer of 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain, Lord Beaverbrook’s Ministry of Aircraft Production was eager to explore all possibilities to expand production of aircraft for the RAF, with top priority set on fighters. Help from the public was wanted and with the Spitfire’s publicity record the idea of Spitfire Funds was born. Funds sprang up all over England and it was not long before the Colonies and other countries followed suit and subscribed to the ‘Buy a Spitfire Fund’.
Before long thousands of pounds were being contributed., and the Ministry of Aircraft production set a figure of £5,000 as the cost of one aircraft. The number was chosen purely arbitrarily, as the true production costs were covered by the Treasury. The MAP pricing simply indicated that if the sum raised totalled over £5,000, the donor was allowed to name an aircraft.
The true contracted cost of a Spitfire cost was almost double that number, £8,897, with the fuselage costing £2,500 and the Rolls Royce Merlin III engine £2,000. Other items included the wings at £1,800 and the tail at £500. One of the most important parts were the eight Browning .303 machine guns that cost £100 each and of course the thousands of rivets that cost 6 pence each. As the designated presentation aircraft rolled off the production line, so the name was stencilled or painted on the fuselage in front of the cockpit and the necessary photograph and a certificate and later a plaque was sent to the donor.
The choice of a name was left to the donor who was invited to make a suitable selection. There were however certain restrictions. No company names were permitted but in some cases a few slipped through. Some were straight forward like ‘City of London’, others were more imaginative like ‘The Dog’s Fighter’ subscribed to by the British Kennel Club.
Spitfire funds in Kenya
Kenya did its fair share in the Commonwealth effort and raised an enormous amount of money for ten Spitfires and two Hurricanes. In the case of Mombasa when the fund for a Spitfire was announced, £1,500 was raised in the first five minutes and the Kenya Uganda Railways & Harbours staff raised £1,600 towards another. The records show that the Spitfires were named : Kamba – Mam, Kamba – Meru, Kenya Daisy, Kikuyu – Embu and Mombasa, while two Hurricanes were named Kenya Weekly News.
The first two Kenya Spitfires were donated by funds raised by the Kikuyu, Kamba and Meru tribes in 1941 who raised a total of £27,245. The first Spitfire Mk. Ia, serial no R7152 named KAMBA – MAM was delivered to a training unit on 26 February 1941. After some intensive use the aircraft crashed on 5 October but was repaired, and a year later shipped to Port Sudan and allocated to No. 132 Squadron. On 7 August 1943 the tail wheel broke off on landing while allocated to a training unit at Abu Sueir in Egypt, and later that year the engine cut out resulting in a forced landing. The aircraft was eventually struck off charge and presumably sold for scrap on 1 March 1944.
The second Kenyan presentation Spitfire Mk. Ia, serial no R7159 named KAMBA – MERU was delivered to No. 411 Squadron (Royal Canadian Air Force) on 23 June 1941. A month later, having been used for formation flying and dogfight training the aircraft was transferred to a training unit where on 29 October it hit overhead power cables but landed safely. Further transfers to other training units followed during the next twelve months after which the aircraft was crated and shipped to Portugal in November 1942. It was assembled and flown at Ota Air Force base after which nothing is known.
A third unidentified Spitfire Mk Vb also carried this name but nothing is known of this aircraft other than it served with No. 165 Squadron in England in October 1942, and a fourth Spitfire Mk IX serial no MH879 also carried the name from 11 October 1943 when it was delivered to No. 29 Squadron operating from an airfield outside London. The aircraft was destroyed in a German air raid on 22 February 1944.
Another Spitfire Mk. Ia was named KIKUYU – EMBU from funds collected by the Kikuyu and Embu tribes in late 1940. The aircraft, serial no R7155 first flew on 26 February 1941 and was delivered to No. 124 Squadron before being transferred to the Royal Navy. On 27 October 1942 it was damaged when the propeller hit the ground on take off as the pilot raised the tail too quickly. After two more years service the aircraft was scrapped on 30 December 1944.
Little is known about the history of this Spitfire Mk. VB KAMBA-MERU. About everything we have is this photo; non-standard patch of bright colour forward of the fuselage roundel could indicate a training unit.
The Kenya Pyrethrum Growers and the Digo Local Native Council also raised a substantial amount and nominated an aircraft to be named KENYA DAISY. Spitfire Mk Vc AB453 was taken on charge on 12 March 1942 and allocated to No. 66 Squadron flying convoy protection patrols until 19 April when the pilot forgot to lower the undercarriage when landing. The aircraft was repaired and a year later damaged a second time and repaired. In May 1943, the Spitfire was passed to No. 610 Squadron and on 22 June, flown by Flying Officer Wood, probably destroyed a Focke Wulf 190 over Belgium. Four months later on 2 October the aircraft stalled and crashed killing the Canadian pilot Flying Officer Shewell who was buried in a cemetery in Bath.
The same name was then transferred to a second Spitfire Mk Vc, BM271 that was allocated to No. 133 Squadron. After a period of night operations the aircraft was transferred to No. 72 Squadron and engaged in fighter sweeps over Europe. It shot down a Focke Wulf 190 over Calais in July. It was later transferred to No. 65 Squadron and a year later joined No. 130 Squadron on bomber escorts. With improved versions of the Spitfire coming into widespread use the aircraft was withdrawn from frontline service and allocated to various training units and maintenance units where it was condemned and sold for scrap on 2 January 1946.
The name KENYA DAISY was also passed to a third Spitfire Mk Vc, EN905. Allocated to 66 Squadron in June 1942 it was soon in action and destroyed a Focke Wulf 190 in July. It was damaged in a wheels up landing in August, repaired and joined 167 squadron engaged in convoy escort and air sea rescue duties. In March 1943 after a short overhaul it was allocated to 91 Squadron but damaged when the undercarriage failed and the aircraft slid across the grass. A second undercarriage failure saw the aircraft repaired and reissued to 322 Squadron. On 4 January 1944 the aircraft tipped on its nose when it swung off the runway and sustained repairable damage. After repairs it was sent to a training unit and on 28 March 1945 was struck off charge and scrapped.
Other Kenyan Spitfires
A Spitfire Mk 1a was named MOMBASA after a donation of £5,508 was received from the people of Mombasa through the chairman of the Standard Bank of South Africa in Nairobi. The aircraft, serialled R7161, was allocated to No. 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill in April 1941and over the next three months shot down four enemy aircraft. On 7 August the aircraft crash-landed injuring the pilot. It was sent for repair and fitted with a more powerful Rolls-Royce engine before returning to No. 315 (Polish) Squadron. On 13 March 1942 it collided with another Spitfire while taxying. After repair it was sent to No. 318 Squadron,a nother Polish unit. On 16 August it was shot down over France killing the pilot Flying Officer Ilinski who was buried in Le Havre cemetery.
By the end of the war a massive sum of around £14,000,000 had been contributed from funds for a variety of aircraft types. The close of hostilities saw thousands of aircraft cut up for scrap, but Spitfires were popular with foreign air forces and hundreds were sold abroad. By the late 1950s the day of the Spitfire was over and many that had not been scrapped were dragged out and offered for sale at £5 each, some with no more than twenty minutes flying time in the log book. Quite a difference from a £5,000 price set for the Spitfire funds, and a bargain never to be repeated. Today the Spitfire lives on, with individuals and companies flying and restoring this symbol of what is considered the ultimate single seat fighter. To buy a Spitfire today will set you back at least a £1,000,000, while the operating costs are soaring skywards.
This article was originally published in a magazine Old Africa in 2008