The Bolsover Spitfires: 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain

You may think that crowdfunding is a relatively new thing but actually it isn’t. During both the World Wars, war bonds, or the National Savings Movement as it was known during the Second World War, were often used to raise money by advertising directly to the public. However, Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production, came up with a new public funding campaign to help build spitfires to defend the nation. This is part of the reason why the Spitfire still remains at the heart of the nation and our collective memory of World War Two.

Bolsover Colliery answered this call eagerly. The men who worked there and their families in the surrounding community managed to raise enough money to supply the RAF with not one, but two Spitfires! Yet at Chesterfield, the town were unable to raise enough money for one of the aircraft. The miners were able to raise so much money as they promised to give a penny for every 10 shillings they earned to another local fundraiser, Mrs Shepley of Holmesfield, as well as donating to their own Spitfire fund. The Spitfire built with the money raised from Holmesfield was named Shepley to honour the men who had died from that family.

Both of the Spitfires built from the Bolsover mining communities fundraising efforts were first flown in March 1940 and both were fitted with Rolls Royce engines manufactured in Derby. So in many ways, these planes felt very local, even though they were to fly over the Channel and fight over to the continent. The amount raised for each plane was £5,700, or £224,274 in today’s money. No one could accuse these miners of not being generous!

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Photograph of Spitfire given by the Bolsover Colliery Company, D4774/13/12

The miners at Bolsover were not the only miners who appeared to be good at fundraising. Miners in Durham also managed to raise enough money for two Spitfires. The estimated amount of money raised by the public across Britain and the Commonwealth for Spitfires by August 1940 was £3,050,000. From that figure it is clear to see just how much Bolsover had raised. The final total was round £13 million given by around 1400 funds to build 2,600 Spitfires. Most of these fought during the Battle of Britain.

So what actually happened to the Spitfires Bolsover Colliery paid to build? Only one of the planes survived the war. One of them was shot down by the Luftwaffe near Dungeness in September 1941, sadly killing its pilot. The surviving one had had two accidents during its time in service. One of these involved hitting overhead cables, another where it was tipped on its nose whilst taxiing. Unfortunately, it is not known what happened to this aircraft following it’s removal from service in 1947.

Bibliography:

‘Bolsover Colliery of the Bolsover Colliery Company’, http://www.oldminer.co.uk/bolsover.html

Bridgewater, A. N., North Derbyshire Collieries (2009) https://www.aditnow.co.uk/documents/Doe-Lea-Coal-Mine/North20Derbyshire20Collieries20Small20Update.pdf

Ferguson, N., The Battle of Britain: A Miscellany (Chichester: Summerdale Publishers, 2015)

Letter from the Royal Air Force Staff College to the manager at Bolsover Colliery detailing the Spitfires paid for by the colliery in the Second World War, November 1987, N42/1/5/10

Tebbs, A., Stories from Carr Vale and New Bolsover, Commissioned by Bolsover District Council (2014)

Watson, G., ‘Spitfire Fund: The ‘whip-round’ that won the war?’, BBC News, 12 March 2016, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35697546

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

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On This Day: ‘Spitfire in Court’

From the Alfreton and Belper Journal, 3rd December 1909:

SPITFIRE IN COURT

A CHESTERFIELD PRISONER’S ECCENTRICITIES

An extraordinary statement was made by a prisoner at the Chesterfield Borough Police Court, on Monday, the person in question giving the name of Luke Spitfire, of no fixed address, who was something of a “spitfire” by nature.

The man was charged with stealing a Bible, valued at 50s., from the Chesterfield Parish Church, on Saturday, and evidence was given that prisoner was seen to emerge from the building with the book underneath his coat.  Benjamin Gascoigne, a young man living in Durrant road, Chesterfield, asked Spitfire what he was doing with the Bible, and he replied that he was going to sit down and read it, although it was too dark to do so.  Police-constable Kee arrested the man, who made no answer to the charge.

Spitfire loudly requested the attendance of the priests to identify the Bible as the property of the church.  Having entered a plea of guilty, the accused went on to make the following amazing statement: “I have been a ratepayer for 20 years, and of course every ratepayer helps to keep the Bishops and the priests and everybody else between, and supposing I was stealing the Bible, I was only stealing part of my own property.  (Laughter).  It is no earthly use to me, because what is in the book I have swallowed.  I claim to be tried by my peers.  I am a B.A. and an educated man, and I am the same as Lord Byron, when he committed murder, he claimed to be tried by the Lords, and he got off.  I claim to be tried by my equals and not by ‘vagabones’.”  (Laughter).

Sentence of 28 days’ hard labour was passed.

The County Local Studies Library holds the Alfreton (and Belper) Journal, 1870-1935 – just ring to book a microfilm reader.