HISTORY OF THE LESOTHO SPITFIRE

The Right Honourable William Hague MP FRSL 

the British Foreign Secretary

and First Secretary of State

Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton, KCB, BSc, FRAeS, RAF; the Chief of the Air Staff and head of 
the Royal Air Force

Some years ago Mr John Hurst served as an OSAS Officer with the British High Commission in Maseru, employed as a Principal Planning Officer seconded to  the Lesotho Government.

 

On an official visit to Miss Patricia Notrem, a senior rep resentative of Barclays Bank (Barclays 
International) in Mohales Hoek in the south of the country, they came across the traffic 
island named "Spitfire Circle" but although intrigued they did not have time to find out  more. 


Decades later John had access to our historians and records which showed that Spitfire Circle and the monument with the attached plaque had been built to commemorate the donation of two Spitfires by the Principal Chief and people of Mohales Hoek and a local expatriate resident

M r.William Scott  MBE.

To John’s astonishment the records revealed that Basutoland (now Lesotho) had contributed an 
entire Squadron of Spitfires to the Royal Air Force by supplying funds to enable their production.  This, he thought, was something which should surely be known widely !

 

In 1939, when war was declared on Nazi Germany , the Paramount Chief, Simon Seeiso Griffiths, was the driving force to amass funds to assist Britain. The Principal Chiefs, the tribal Chiefs and Headmen of villages made heroic efforts to raise funds to enable fighter aircraft to be built for the defence of Britain against Nazi bombers.  Records show that the start of the fund was in April 1940 and that monies were received on the 20th of June, 1940 at the height of the crucial Battle of Britain.    

The Squadron to which the Basutoland Spitfires were allocated was named No. 72 (Basutoland) Sqn. and it is one of the relatively few Second World War squadrons that exists to the present time.    

Number 72 Squadron was equipped with Spitfires and took part in the battle but it was not until June 1941 that the official naming of the Squadron took place with the presentation of its “Colours” ( the Standard and Squadron Crest.)

It was only after June 1941 that each aircraft carried a Basuto name but it did so for the rest of 
the war, fighting across Europe until victory in 1945.

The Squadron is now a training squadron  and now, after 75 years; some of the squadron’s latest aircraft still proudly carry the names of their illustrious predecessors.

 

 

 

The Lesotho Tribute is Born


Following a draft proposal to His Royal Highness Prince Seeiso Bereng an audience was granted 
at the Lesotho High Commission on the 14th of June 2011.

 

Present  were:


•  His Roy al Highness, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso
•  Dame Mary Richardson, President of SOS Villages, Chair of the English Speaking Union
•  Captain Geoffrey Mathews former private Secretary to HRH Prince William & Prince Harry
•  Mr John Hurst, Spitfire Heritage Trust, Project Officer:  Gifts-of-War
•  Mr David Spencer Evans,   Chairman, Spitfire Heritage Trust & former Chairman of The Spitfire Society.

 

With his Royal Highness’ enthusiastic support  the project was able to advance while awaiting 
formal approval from the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

The British Ministry of Defence in London lent its support to the project at an early stage by 
facilitating a visit for His Royal Highness to No. 72 Squadron of the Royal Air Force at their 
base in Linton-on-Ouse.

This was the Squadron that received the Spitfires in 1940 and was officially  designated:  

“No.72 (Basutoland) Squadron, RAF”. Each aircraft was given a Basuto name. The Squadron is  still in existence and currently  has  a role operating  Short Tucano training aircraft p rep aring newly qualified pilots for fast jet training on Hawks.

The Basuto names are still p roudly carried on some of the aircraft.

 

The visit was planned to coincide with the 72 Sqn Association annual reunion. The RAF laid on a 
superb flying display with a nine aircraft formation of Tucanos followed by two Tornados, the PR 
19 Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBM F) and a Hawker Fury biplane.

This was followed by a flight  in the ultra-realistic Tucano training simulator with Prince Seeiso at 
the controls.

In the evening the Prince was Guest of Honour at a formal dinner at the Officer’s Mess attended 
by about a hundred members of 72 Sqn. both retired and serving.

The Prince was escorted by the Chairman and one of the two Deputy Chairmen of the Spitfire Society .

 

The 72 Squadron historian maintains a comprehensive collection of squadron records.  There is 
much to say which is better said in the three volumes of Tom Docherty ’s book “Swift to Battle”. 
Prince Seeiso was presented with a volume.

 

In  early  November Prince Seeiso received a communiqué from the The Honourable Ntate Timothy 
Tahane, the Minister for Finance who reported that he had presented the proposal before the 
Cabinet of the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and that the response had been enthusiastic.

On the 14th of November 2011, Prince Seeiso informed the Chairman that the Prime Minister

The  Rt. Hon. Pakalitha Mosisili will be very pleased to accept the Tribute.

 

The 2011 Armistice Day Parade in London, commemorating those who lost their lives in the wars for 
freedom, was held on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.  

This was a particularly appropriate occasion for a meeting between Prince Seeiso, the Foreign Secretary and the Chief of the Air Staff who were wholeheartedly in support of the Tribute to Lesotho.

History of "The-Gifts-Of-War

 

When the British Prime Minister The Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Churchill installed the Canadian, Lord
Beaverbrook, in June 1940 as the Minister for Aircraft Production, the ‘Beaver’, as a successful
newspaper proprietor, came with a wide range of industrialist acquaintances. He was the man to galvanise war production of armaments! In answer to a Jamaican newspaper headline asking “How Much Does It Cost To Build a Bomber?” He gave a nominal figure of £20,000. To the question from Sir Harry Oakes, afellow Canadian and a mining millionaire then living in the Bahamas: “What does a Spitfire cost to make?” He answered guessing £5,000 at a time when it actually cost £8,900.

The Beaver quickly received the £5,000! This roughly equates to 250,000 Maloti and pounds Sterling in 2012.
 

Ever quick to capitalise on an opportunity the Beaver set a publicity group to work on a variety of
campaigns to raise more funds: “Out of the frying pan into the Spit-fire” started on July 10th 1940. It
may be a coincidence but this is the same date that it was later decided that the official history of the
Battle of Britain decided it was the day the battle commenced.


Many Spitfire funds started across Britain and the Commonwealth in 1940. This is a remarkable story that is still being researched today. The donors received a bronze plaque and scroll recording Britain’s
appreciation. A photograph of the aircraft usually accompanied the scroll. On some occasions, where
appropriate, a mounted trophy naming the aircraft was presented instead of a plaque. Where the donors
were commercial companies blatant publicity in a name was not permitted. For example: the British
Broadcasting Corporation donated £5,000 for a Spitfire and it was subtly named “Ariel”: the name of the
organisation’s staff journal.


Two of the Basutoland Spitfires were eventually converted to “Seafires” which was the name given to
Spitfires strengthened and modified with the addition of arrester hooks to enable them to land on the
decks of Royal Navy aircraft carriers. Modification included the distinctive feature of folding wings to
allow storage in the limited space available on a ship. The aircraft were allocated different serial numbers at the time.

Pilots of 72 Squadron

BASUTO

 

 

Named Squadrons

 

There were three categories of named squadrons:


   • Gift squadrons,
   • Allied squadrons such as Dutch, Free French, Polish etc
   • Affiliated squadrons that were former UK regionally named

     Auxiliary Air Force


There were RAF squadrons that had preponderance of members from a Commonwealth country fighting within the auspices of the RAF against the enemy.

Fifty six RAF Gift Squadrons are listed for WW2 but not all of these were fighter squadrons and not all were Spitfire-equipped.

Named Spit fires        Registration No.     Notes

 

 

Basot ho,                                                 No not found

 

Basut o,                     W3380

 

Berea,                        W3516

 

Harding,                     AB822

 

Leribe,                       AB817

 

Lerumo,                     W3256

 

Lijahbat o,                                                No not found

  

Lilepe,                        AB893

 

Lipahamola,               AB922

 

Mafet eng,                 W3368

 

Makesi,                      W3259

 

Maseru,                      AB818

 

Mat lama,                                                 No not found

 

Mohale’s Hoek          W3429

 

Mokhot long,             AD274

 

Moshesh,                   AA749

 

Mosehoeshoe,                                         No not found

 

Quachas Nek,            W3704

 

Qut hing,                    P 8757

 

Richards,                    W3513

 

TaKa Likhoe,                                           No not found

 

Thaba Boisu               AB854                 The name Thaba Bosiu

                                                                 was also bestowed upon                                                                                t                                                                        three Sopwith Camels in WW1      

                                                                                    

                                                                                   

Renamed ex

President Roosevelt

                                   W3430

 

Renamed ex

Trengganul

                                    W3440

 

Scot t of Mafet eng                                 Donated by Basutoland

Lulu of Mafet eng.                                   resident William Scott

 


Supplementary Notes.


The primary reference is a book “Gifts-of-War” by Henry Boot and Ray Sturtivant published by Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd.

Boot and Sturtivant spent the greater part of twenty years tracing and
interpreting archive documents. Much of the immense information assembled in this book has come from archives that can be accessed at the National Archive Collection at Kew near London

How and why we do what we do.

Lesotho is one of the heroes of WWII.

Find out how and why we payed tribute.

If you'd like to learn more about and or get involved in our projects.

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The Spitfire is much more than a vintage aircraft

 

It is a Great British icon that symbolises the coming together of all the nations of the Commonwealth, as we stood together in defence of our common human values and freedoms.

 

The Spitfire Heritage Trust is robustly engaged in the strengthening of links and the development of programs that create opportunities, educate, celebrate and give thanks to our Commonwealth family of nations, and to our shared values that transcend culture, religion and gender.

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