IN THE Nostalgia page on September 18 we considered how the Spitfire single-seat British fighter aircraft has achieved such an iconic status and epitomises RAF Fighter Command during WW2.

The Spitfire’s first flight was on March 5 1936 and it entered service in the RAF on August 4 1938. Production was slow at first, but by September 1940 it was in service with eighteen RAF squadrons.

During the Battle of Britain Spitfires shot down a total of 529 enemy aircraft, but lost 230 of their own. These needed to be rapidly replaced, at a cost of about £9,500 each. With echoes of today’s policy in relation to the Covid pandemic, only after the British Government had ensured that production had been scaled-up did they worry about how to pay the bill.

Spitfire Funds, over 1,400 of which were established, made a major contribution to that. People literally dug into their own pockets to contribute to the notional “price” for each Spitfire of £5,000 which was established for the Fund. If the sum of £5,000 was raised by any one Fund, that would purchase a Spitfire. In reality of course the aircraft were already being manufactured and one would be named after that particular Fund.

The Wycombe Spitfire Fund

Following the lead set by the Mayor Cllr A.C.White, who made a personal gift of £50 (value £3,250 today) and the Deputy Mayor Alderman O. Haines £25 (£1,625) at the end of August in 1940, donations immediately began to arrive at the council offices. Over the next 8 weeks the BFP listed the detail of these in weekly Subscription Lists. Those making donations ranged from the largest chairmaking firms in the town to individual residents of the district, which even included children.

Among these individual donations were a Mill End schoolgirl who sent a shilling, a penny, a half-penny, and a farthing for luck, an aged resident in the Almshouses handed to the Mayor her King George V Silver Jubilee Crown and a lorry-driver made a gift of 10 shillings and wished to remain anonymous.

Collecting boxes were in circulation in all the factories and workshops throughout the town, also in shops, hotels and inns, and collections were being taken at cinema performances.

After eight weeks of this activity, during a concert at the Town Hall on November 1 the Mayor announced that the target of £5,000 had been reached, resulting in a “rousing cheer” by the audience. Amid “loud applause” Cllr White then proceeded to hand over a cheque to the Town Clerk Mr P B Beecroft, who had acted as Secretary to the Fund assisted by a Miss Deering. The cheque was to be forwarded to Lord Beaverbrook, the Government Minister responsible for aircraft production.

In a short speech the Mayor “expressed his sincere thanks to all the citizens who had contributed so generously to the appeal, especially the people with small means who have come to myself and the Town Clerk with their few shillings. In some cases it has been very touching and something I will always remember”.

Although the Fund was now closed a few collecting boxes had not yet been returned.

The Bucks Free Press carried a report on December 6 that the £5,000 had been forwarded to Lord Beaverbrook, who had stated in his letter of acknowledgement that the Spitfire purchased would bear the name “Chepping Wycombe”. The same report also included a supplementary list of subscribers to the fund, as a result of which a further £50 had been submitted.

The Local Spitfire Funds

The launch of Spitfire Funds was first reported in the Bucks Free Press in the edition on August 9 1940. These were in:

n Great Missenden, where the local Fire Brigade were the organisers. The fund-raising began with a dance on Thursday August 1 in the "Local Hall (kindly loaned by Mr George Oakes)", when "generous gifts were donated by local traders".

n Holmer Green, where a dance was to be held on Saturday August 10, with the Houghton-King Players providing the music. The dance was subsequently postponed to August 24, held at the British Legion Hall and was organised by the local Auxiliary Fire Brigade. The members of the band donated a "substantial part of their fees" to the fund. By this time Holmer Green had joined the Amersham & Great Missenden and District Spitfire Fund.

n Horsley Green Camp, near Stokenchurch, where the Manager of the Camp Captain A L Rose was the organiser. He and Mrs Rose had initiated the fund with a donation of £5 and a dance was to be held on August 31 with Ken Smith's Piccadilly Band "in attendance".

n A fund in Prestwood organised by the local Auxiliary Fire Brigade was launched with a dance on Saturday August 17 at the village hall. The “music was provided by Cecil Saunders and his band” and over 200 people attended.

n The Gerrards Cross & District Spitfire Fund was also launched on Saturday August 17, with Mr R Binder as Secretary and the Manager of the local branch of the Westminster Bank as Treasurer. Initial donations ranged from six pence to £25.

n Wycombe Rural District Council set up a Spitfire Fund, with the Auxiliary Fire Service as collectors, and the Central Office being in Bourne End. 500 copies of a poster had been printed free of charge by Mrs Macpherson of the Station Newsagency in Bourne End.

n Somewhat unusually Burnham had established a Hurricane Fund, but following the setting up of a Spitfire Fund by a Mr A J Blamey, the two had been merged.

n In Beaconsfield the Spitfire Fund was established by a Mrs D G Cattell of the Earl of Beaconsfield Hotel.

The above is just some of the Spitfire Funds which were set up by virtually all the towns and villages in South Buckinghamshire.

What Happened Next

Most of the local Spitfire Funds were declared closed at the end of 1940 or early the following year. With the money collected a cheque would be sent to Lord Beaverbrook as a donation to the National Spitfire Fund. Some examples are:

The Lane End & District Fund raised just over £100, and from this a donation of £30 was made to the Wycombe Rural District Council Fund, and a cheque for the remainder sent to Lord Beaverbrook.

The Marlow Spitfire Fund was closed at a total of £767 5s. 2d. and The Amersham & Great Missenden and District Spitfire Fund raised £2,700 in each case a cheque was sent to Lord Beaverbrook.

The Beaconsfield fund remained open until May 1943, with the indefatigable Mrs Cattell regularly continuing to receive donations and periodically sending cheques to Lord Beaverbrook.

We come now to the Wycombe Spitfire Fund. Just before Christmas 1940 the Mayor announced at a Town Council meeting the receipt from the Ministry of Aircraft Production of a brass plate containing the following inscription “In the hour of peril people of High Wycombe earned the gratitude of the British nations, sustaining the valour of the Royal Air Force and fortifying the gift of freedom by the gift of a Spitfire aircraft”. The brass plate is mounted on a wooden base and the inscription is surmounted by RAF Wings, supporting a crown.

This brass plate is retained at Wycombe Museum.

Finally, on August 22 1941 the BFP was able to show a photograph of “a Spitfire of the latest type named ‘Chepping Wycombe’ by the Ministry of Aircraft Production and donated by the people of High Wycombe district. This Spitfire has two cannons and four machine guns, and its Rolls Royce Merlin engine gives it a speed approaching 400 miles per hour.”

It has not yet been possible to establish the fate of this Spitfire.