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In World War Two our readers helped buy 17 Spitfires, now the famous fighter needs your help again


A Spitfire in the air

A Spitfire in the air

Seventy years ago, Belfast Telegraph readers reached deep into their pockets and made an unprecedented contribution to the war effort funding raising enough money to buy 17 Spitfires.

Today we are asking you to help fund a small society's efforts to bring the spirit of these iconic planes home again.

The Ulster Aviation Society has secured a stunning Spitfire replica but need our help to pay for it and take it on tour around Northern Ireland bringing the aeronautical magic to a new generation.

Spurred on by headlines such as "A Spitfire A Day Keeps The Nazis Away" and "Speed That Spitfire", the original campaign saw thousands of pounds pour into the cashiers at the our Royal Avenue office.

The fund captured the public's imagination like no other and the response completely overwhelmed all other newspaper campaigns in the UK at the time of World War Two.

Launched a day before the German Luftwaffe began their bombardment of manufacturing bases and defence installations in 1940, the Belfast Telegraph's Spitfire Fund generated an impressive £88,633,16s.5d – the equivalent to £2,886,803.54 in today's money.

Initially announced as the 100,000 Shillings Fund, the goal was to raise £5,000 for the production of one Spitfire –– by getting all sections of the community to donate whether they were wealthy or not.

And every one dug deep into their pockets.

The amounts raised ranged from £4,559 from Belfast shipyard workers to the 336 half pennies saved by two Fermanagh schoolgirls. Regardless of how little or how much they gave, the name of every single donor was published in the paper.

In recognition of the contribution from the Belfast Telegraph readers the aircraft were all given Ulster names – Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, Tyrone, Larne, Ballymena, Bangor, Aldergrove, Mountains O'Mourne, Enniskillen, Mid-Ulster, Belfast, Portadown, City of Derry and Harlandic.

Unfortunately most of the fighter planes were lost through damage in action or crashed. The Tyrone and Harlandic were downed in the same battle off the French coast, while the City of Derry and Londonderry were struck off in 1941.

In total 12 airmen gave their lives flying Spitfires donated by Northern Ireland. Only the Enniskillen and the Fermanagh survived the war, but both have long since been scrapped.

However in 1994 the oldest surviving Spitfire was given honorary Ulster citizenship and was re-named Enniskillen. It was completely restored and repainted in its original colours at the Belfast-based planemakers Shorts and regularly takes part in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flights.

This Enniskillen enjoyed a remarkable front-line operational career spanning 1941 to 1944. It was used in daylight bombing raids against battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in December 1941, and in June 1942, flew 29 operational missions including the fierce aerial battles in support of the Dieppe Raid.

The aircraft continued to fly operationally until July 1944 and took part in many cover patrols over the beaches of Normandy including on D-Day (June 6, 1944).

In 1944, it was relegated to support duties until it was bought by Group Captain Alan Wheeler three years later and placed on the civil register for air racing.

After crashing during the Kings Cup Air Race in 1953, it was returned to Vickers-Armstrong where it was refurbished and flown by Jeffrey Quill until it was donated to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in 1965.

Society scrambles to fund stunning replica of classic plane

One of the Belfast Telegraph Spitfires has come home.

A replica of one of the 17 Spitfires that our readers funded for the war effort has been brought to Northern Ireland as part of an educational plan to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE day on May 8 2015.

The Ulster Aviation Society has brought a full-size exact replica of a Spitfire fighter, built from fibreglass by an English firm.

It was recently transported by ferry to its new home at the society's premises at the former Maze site and is the only replica of its type in Northern Ireland.

UAS chairman Ray Burrows said it is an exact copy of the type of aircraft purchased through the famous Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund of 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain.

The newspaper's aim was to raise £5,000 through public donations – the price of a Spitfire at the time.

But thanks to the generosity of our readers, we raised £85,000 and were able to buy 17 Spitfires.

Mr Burrows called it the best newspaper fund-raiser during the Second World War.

Each of the 17 Spitfires was named after a community, county or region of Northern Ireland, and the society hopes to name its replica Spitfire after one of those actual "presentation" machines.

Mr Burrows explained that the society's original plan was to mount an 18-month campaign this year to raise £85,000 – the price of a single replica Spitfire. Still-flying originals can cost upwards of £1.7m each, far beyond the society's resources. But members received a surprise last month.

"This aircraft came on the market in December at a fraction of that £85,000 price," said Mr Burrows.

"It was just too good an opportunity to miss. The guy who was selling it wanted it to come here. This aircraft was basically looked at, purchased, delivered and assembled here in three days – which is a record, even for the society."

The organisation is planning an official, public rollout for the Spitfire later this year which will mark the official beginning of a fund-raising campaign to pay for the aircraft. The society said it has had to deplete its existing finances and accept the offer of a rapid loan of £20,000 to take advantage of the low price offer.

"But while we're scrambling for funds, we're also aiming to have our Spitfire play a role in a limited number of public events and for education purposes throughout Northern Ireland during the months and years ahead," said Mr Burrows.

"The indications are that it will be a very popular attraction."

Each feature of the replica Spitfire's airframe has been duplicated with the closest attention, even down to the exact size and types of the thousands of rivets used on the original aircraft.

The structure is mainly fibreglass, carefully moulded from an original Spitfire. As well, the paint scheme and markings show exacting attention to authenticity, said Mr Burrows.

"It's important to us that we portray this replica as accurately as possible," he said. "It's a powerful symbol and its distinctive appearance still evokes strong, positive feelings from people."

The society added its Spitfire is a "unique and lasting tribute to the people from many lands who produced, maintained and flew the aircraft that helped to ensure our freedom".

Spitfires flew and fought from Northern Ireland during the Second World War, notably from RAF bases at Aldergrove, Eglinton, Ballyhalbert and Long Kesh – the last location being the home of the Ulster Aviation Society.

The organisation, founded in 1968, boasts a collection of 20 machines, the largest assemblage of historic aircraft on the island of Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph