Culture

The story of how the people of Wales raised £8.4m to build 31 Spitfires in WWII

13 Sep 2021 3 minutes Read
Spitfires take to the skies in WWII (Credit: RAF)

It’s a little known story, but during World War II people from across Wales donated money to local Spitfire funds.

These played a vital role in the building of the fighter planes that ruled the skies during the conflict.

So successful were their fundraising efforts that 31 Spitfires were built thanks to the efforts of Welsh people who raised £150,000 – £8.4 million in today’s money.

Inspired by the lead up to the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire funds began to be set up in May 1940 to increase production of the fighters.

Each Spitfire cost £5,000, (£282,000 now) to manufacture.

Each fighter plane built with Welsh raised money was given a name of local significance.

The names that were given reflected the places in Wales, which raised the money – ‘Pride of Newport’, ‘Flintshire’ and ‘Yr Hen Bont’ from Pontypridd.

The ‘Flintshire’ Spitfire (Credit: RAF)

However, the smallest place to raise the money was the village of Michaelston Le Pit, near Cardiff.

There, the villagers raised the money to build a Spitfire, after a pilot from the area, Norman Merrett, was killed. The Spitfire was named in his honour.

Flight Lieutenant Merrett from Michaelston-le-Pit served with the only RAF Reserve unit from Wales, No 614 (County of Glamorgan) Squadron. The squadron consisted of part-time airmen from south Wales who began serving full time at the outbreak of the war.

Flt Lt Merrett and the squadron flew Lysander light bombers on anti-invasion patrols in Scotland during the Battle of Britain.

He died on August 10, 1940, after his aircraft crashed while on exercise.

Flt Lt Norman Merrett (Credit: RAF)

His father, Mr HH Merrett, joined the nationwide Spitfire appeal after Flt Lt Merrett’s death and with him, 100 villagers raised £5,000 which paid for a Spitfire, named after Flt Lt Merrett.

There is also a stained-glass window tribute in St Michael’s Church where he is buried.

The Spitfire funds and the courage of Welsh pilots will be told as part of an exhibition on the Battle of Britain which opens at City Hall in Cardiff on September 16 and 17, marking the 81st anniversary of the event.

The exhibition will tell the story of fighter aces and commanders from Wales who defended Britain from the Nazi attacks and the Welsh airfields that trained fighter pilots.

The Spitfire named after Norman Merrett

Originally scheduled to be held for the 80th anniversary of the battle in 2020, the event was postponed due to coronavirus and is being held a year later in the week of Battle of Britain Day. That day – September 15 – is seen as the decisive date in 1940 when Nazi aircraft losses were so high that they knew they could not defeat the RAF and proceed with an invasion of Britain.

The event will begin at 11.30am on Thursday, September 16, with a parade and flypast outside City Hall attended by a number of local dignitaries, including the Welsh Secretary Simon Hart.

Once the exhibition has been opened in Cardiff it will then go on tour across Wales, giving everyone the chance to see and find out more about the ‘Welsh Few’. Dates for this will be published shortly.

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