History: Brentwood residents raise money to build Spitfire during Second World War
PUBLISHED: 12:00 18 October 2018
This week, historian and vice-president of the Brentwood Writers’ Circle Sylvia Kent tells us how “jumble sales and sherry parties” helped during the war.
Supporting local causes has always been part of Brentwood’s community plan.
This came in handy, way back in 1940 - the first year of the Second World War.
Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production, had just introduced a scheme which many towns and villages adopted for helping the war effort with extra fighting planes.
The price of building a Spitfire was £5,000, a large sum then, with the finishing production costs invariably increasing.
Brentwood folk began collecting pennies from door to door, holding jumble sales and sherry parties.
Amazingly, within two weeks, they had raised £6,100.
On December 7 1940, the Royal Air Force took possession of a brand new Spitfire, courtesy of our very own Brentwood residents.
The registration number was P7743 and the word BRENTWOOD was emblazoned on its fuselage in four inch high yellow letters.
The late photographer and historian, Geoff Perrior, an expert in aviation, told us all that the plane was a Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mark 11F Type 329 powered with a Rolls Royce Merlin X11 engine.
This precious aircraft was built specially at Castle Bromwich.
Brentwood Museum curator, John Fryer, outlined in an article some years ago, that: “Following handover, our Spitfire went to RAF number 9 Maintenance Unit and was made ready for squadron service.
“On March 21 1941, she was delivered to 66 Squadron at Exeter, but a few days later, on April 9, she was transferred to Warmwell in Dorset where she flew with 118 Squadron.
“On July 23, she was on the move again with 403 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, and 12 days later, was at RAF Martlesham Heath with 54 Squadron which moved to Hornchurch, so our Spitfire could well have flown over the Brentwood people who had raised the money to build her.”
In October 1941 our plane joined 457 squadron Royal Australian Air Force until December 21, when she attached to 61 Operational Training Unit at Heston, staying for a month until late January when she joined a fighter training unit, 52 Unit which concentrated on air-to-air firing at Aston Down, Gloucester.
In February 1942 when American Pilot Officer Abrahams was at the controls over South Wales, he noticed the engine was running roughly and problems followed.
With fire inevitable, Abrahams made a forced landing and Brentwood was brought to earth with undercarriage retracted and flaps down.
It was soon repaired and was in service with the Air Service Training Unit at Exeter, but sadly records end in May 1942, 18 months after it took to the air.
Despite this seemingly short period of service when ‘The Few’ were fighting so diligently for Britain, this was a crucially long time for any Spitfire to be operational and Brentwood was proud to play its important part.