Uncovering English History

Discovering the 1940 Spitfire Fund.

excuse any spelling or grammar mistakes this is cited directly from a sign below the spitfire statue and it was covered in bird poop

In Autumn 2008, Lytham St Annes Municipal Council with Councillor John Coombes teamed up with Fylde Historian Peter Shakeshaft after John found the photograph of W3644 and documents in the basement of the Town Hall. The records all related to the years 1938 to 1945 and tell a story of the activities of the Mayors of the old Lytham St Annes Municipal Borough to raise money to support the war effort.

The various funds included the Army welfare Scheme, Czech Refugees, Fishing Boats, Thetis Disaster, Polish relief, Salute the Soldier, Wings for Victory and the Spitfire Fund. The Spitfire Fund was established in August 1940 and ran through until the following Spring From the Lytham files they were able to see the rate at which the fund grew, but also the difficulties encountered and the wide-ranging nature of the support given by all sections of the population. The degree of detail recorded is unusual - letters of receipt to all named donors survive - and the flavour of the time is revealed in a mix of patriotism and pernaps surprising local rivalries.

So what was the Spitfire Fund? After the Nizam of Hyderbad funded the planes for an entire Spitfire Squadron in the weeks before the Battle of Britain. the Government specifically the Department for Aircraft Production headed up by Lord Beaverbrook, developed the idea that different towns, businesses and individuals could have an aircraft named after them if they raised the sum of £5000.

Fighting alone, with their backs against the wall, the people of Britain decided that the most useful thing to do, the most practical and patriotic thing to do, would be to buy Spitfires to replace those that had fallen. So the Spitfire Fund was born and as the poster showing a cheery RAF pilot suggested, their slogan was - “I fly it if you’l buy it”

The £5000 did not cover the full cost of building a Spitfire, as the total cost in 1940 was £8897.6s.6d. which in today’s money is £391,512.00, but it did cover the cost of building the basic airframe, and was felt to represent a sum which communities could realistically raise. By comparison a modern fighter plane would cost about £15-20 million, which gives an idea of the relatively unsophisticated nature of WW2 aircraft. The adult population of Lytham St Annes in 1940 was about 25,000, so in effect the fund needed to raise about £12 per head (in 2012 terms). Surely this would be possible in the prosperous borough of Lytham St Annes? However the files reveal that by Christmas the mayor felt that progress was slow compared with other towns. Blackpool, a much larger town, had funded two planes by November, while a resident of Glossop sent a rather sarcastic letter with enclosed photograph of Spitfire fund- raising in that town and expressing surprise that Lytham was not doing so well!

But people in Lytham were making great efforts. From the files we can see the Mayor’s letter of thanks to children in Tudor Road who raised 8 shillings and thruppence ha’penny from holding a street concert. We find people sending money raised at social events, or through sale of books of poetry, or decorations made from silver paper. One lady auctioned her alamond earrings! Many workplace collections are documented as are personal donations. in some cases of up to 100 guineas, while others offered a few shillings and regretted they could not afford more. There might have been a war on, but the formalities of 1940’s Britain were still observed. The Lancashire Chief Constable iS said have asked for permission to conduct a house to house collection, while the Town Clerk wrote to Archdeacon Fosbrooke, Vicar of Lytham, saying: “I think the fund really requires a boost from some person able to set a good example, and I am therefore having the temerity to ask you whether you think Mr Clifton (the then Squire of Lytham) could be approached and asked to give us a subscription”. It was a patriotic time. One writer hoped that his donation would be “another nail in Hitler’s coffin” while Clir Arnold Ingham hoped St Annes would raise its £5000: "if we should have a dog fight over Lytham St Annes let us have a Spitfire of our own to deal with it and not have to send to Fleetwood or Blackpool to borrow theirs.

It was a long drawn out effort, but by March 1941 the target was reached with the final total of £6500 having been raised. and Lord Beaverbrook was informed. However, things were never straight forward, and the BBC failed to broadcast Lytham St Annes name among the list of other successful donors, which prompted a brisk letter from the Town Clerk. But already things had moved on. Lord Beaverbrook was informed that the Town’s next ambition was to raise the cost of 10 bombers as part of the weapons of War Campaign, although no files survive for that. Discovering W3644 and Sergeant Alan Lever Ridings It would be wrong not to tell the end of the story, although it is a sad conclusion. A Mark b Spitfire W3644, was allocated to the town, and the name inscribed on it. By July 1941 it was built and entered service with No. 19 Squadron. However on 23 June 1942 the plane and it’s pilot, the 20 year old St Alan Lever Ridings from Middlton in Lancashire, was lost on a bomber protection sortie (Ramrod mission) over France, with no trace of plane nor pilot ever found. Lytham St Annes Spitfire was a MkVb, Serial No. W3644 bought with a donation of £6500 presented in April 1941 & was taken on charge at No. 6 M.U. on 16 July 1941. Sent to Air Service Training at Hamble on 1 Aug 1941 for repairs, these being completed 27 Sept & delivered to No. 6 M. U. Brize Norton 3 days later. Sent to No. 1 Civilain Repair Unit at Cowley on 24 Oct & awaiting collection on 1 Feb. 1942. Flown to No. 37 M.U. Burtonwood on 11th Feb & allocated to No. 19 Squadron on 16 Apr - unit flying Ramrod & Rhubarb ops from Ludham, Hutton Cranswick & Perranporth. On 23 June W3644 was shot down by Fw 190s of JG2 & crashed into sea south of Start Point. Its pilot - 20 year old St A.L. Ridings 1058734 of Middleton, Lancs. is commemorated on Panel 92 of the Runnymede memorial.

Thank you for taking the time to read and respect a small bit of Lytham St. Anne’s history

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Super cool!

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not my writing i don’t have that much time

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small, you call that small?! that’s a whole essay I wanted to read! you should have submitted this to a teacher!

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it’s not small at all. i literally took a picture of the sign underneath the statue and copied it. took a while because of missing words and stuff but none was mine

sorry, I love history like this

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me too. especially in places im connected to

Excuse me sir, please site this in MLA format 🤓

Jokes aside, cool piece of history.

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thanks man!

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