Lord Beaverbrook, the Anglo-Canadian media tycoon Max Aitken, came into the British Government in early 1940 to help speed up aircraft production. He was an advocate of public appeals to raise funds for things like raw materials and also encouraged the public to shop thriftily to help the war effort.
The Spitfire Fund
The Spitfire was hugely popular with the public, capturing the imagination and was covered widely by the media. People wanted to know how more could be built and this led to the setting up of The Spitfire Fund in May 1940. Funds were set up by councils, businesses, voluntary organisations and individuals. Another way was the viewing of downed German aircraft. They were put on display and toured around towns and cities.
Each Spitfire had been priced arbitrarily at £5000 and to encourage the idea that every penny counted a components list was also published. A wing was £2000, a gun £200, sparkplugs at 8s each and rivets sixpence each.
There were some other interesting ways of fundraising. A Kent farmer charged sixpence “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 calling “The more you give, the less raids there will be!”. Market Lavington in Wiltshire drew the outline of a Spitfire in the square and challenged residents to fill it with coins. The task was completed in days. In Liverpool a ‘lady of the night’ left £3 at the police station “for the Spitfire fund”. This was the same amount as the standard fine for soliciting.
Pin badges were also produced and sold to raise funds. These were often made out of brass or tin with enamel inlays like button badges, showing the organisation responsible. Some were in the shape of a miniature Spitfire made from chromium plated metal stamped with the name of the fighter.
Fundraisers could have a dedication of their choice painted on the side of the Spitfire. Some were named after the place where the funds had been raised, others after the local newspaper that raised the money. The Kennel Club helped fund an aircraft called ‘The Dog Fighter’. POWs of Oflag VIB (a prison camp in Germany for captured officers) were able to donate a month’s pay through The Red Cross for ‘Unshackled Spirit’, no doubt kept secret from their captors! A group of women and girls named Dorothy paid for ‘Dorothy Of Great Britain and Empire’. The country of Uruguay, officially neutral, funded 17 aircraft. Other countries and cities donated enough for entire squadrons to bear their name – No. 74 (Trinidad), No. 167 (Gold Coast), No. 114 (Hong Kong). No. 152 (Hyderabad) was donated by the Nizam of Hyderabad in India. Some communities instead chose to name their aircraft in honour of bereaved local families.
Enough funds were eventually raised for 2600 Spitfires of which only 1600 can be traced due to incomplete records. Around £13 million (approximately £650 million today) was raised in total. The funds went into the Government coffers and were used to support the entire war effort as opposed to purchasing individual aircraft. The process had a profound effect on the morale of the people and helped them feel they had ‘done their bit’ for the war effort and was very important.
The Borough of Islington Spitfire Club
On Friday 9th August 1940 the Mayor of Islington, Alderman Douglas McArthur Jackson, launched the Borough of Islington Spitfire Club in the local press:
“I propose to launch the Borough of Islington Spitfire Club and I want £5000 for the first Spitfire. I am confident that Islington will respond.”
“Islington has never been behind in expressing its devotion to our beloved country and to all it stands for. The time has come to put that expression into concrete form and, Citizens of Islington, Go To It.”– Mayor Jackson, August 1940
The Mayor wanted members of the public to get collecting sheets from the Town Hall and log their donations on the sheets. After raising £1 the sheet could be returned to the Mayor who would send out an illuminated certificate of membership of the club. Anyone raising £20 could receive a silver model Spitfire badge in addition to their certificate.
The slogan of the Spitfire Club was ‘each bob you pay keeps the bomber away.’ Cheques could be made payable to the Mayor of Islington’s Spitfire Club and by 13th August the Club had received nearly £150. The appeal had been going for less than a week.
On 24th August Mayor Jackson sat for nine and a half hours opposite The Nag’s Head at the entrance of Holloway Arcade collecting money for the fund. He began at 10am and finished at 7.30pm, interrupted only for lunch and a break for an air raid warning in the afternoon. By that time the fund had already passed the £1200 mark and that day’s collection added a further £89 5s. By the first week of October 1940 the fund reached the halfway mark of £2500. The daily progress of the fundraising was shown on a giant thermometer above the main entrance to the Town Hall in Upper Street.
There were various fundraising activities undertaken to raise money for the fund. A boxing tournament was held at the Caledonian Road Baths on Saturday 5th October where £52 was raised towards “the other kind of Fighters”. A whist drive was arranged by the West Islington Women’s Conservative Association. The Islington Gazette reported: “Just before the whist drive started an air raid warning sounded, but it was unanimously agreed to carry on.” Bracelets were made from the cuttings of Spitfire windscreens and sold. A Mrs Clark invited her neighbours into her back garden to see a deactivated landmine that had landed there during an air raid. She charged a penny a time and news of the landmine being on show spread quickly with over 2000 people coming to see it. In the end £9 was given over to the Mayor for the fund.
The Islington Spitfire
The actual ‘Islington Spitfire’ was a Spitfire Mk.Vb (Trop) ER206 built at Castle Bromwich and was named ‘Borough Of Islington’. It was allocated to No. 46 MU Lossiemouth on 29th August 1942 and eventually shipped to Gibraltar on 25th October, arriving on 9th November. After assembling and testing the aircraft was flown to North Africa and allotted to No. 152 (Hyderabad) Squadron at Souk-el-Arba. On 6th February 1943 it suffered engine failure while carrying out a sweep and crashed south of Pont du Fahs. It was flown by Sgt D.G. Boyce who survived unhurt.
Although the plane never saw combat, the Borough of Islington Spitfire brought together the Islington’s residents to express their “devotion in a concrete form to keep the bomber away”. On request from Mayor Jackson that they Go To It, the Citizens of Islington went to it and they Got It!
Article produced for the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs (1935-45) by Islington Museum volunteer, Johnny Baird.