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A Spitfire called 'Shetlander'


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Form today's Times. There's a photo as well but I don't have time to work out how to insert it atm.


War effort of island who answered the call to buy a Spitfire

Fiona MacGregor

As the Blitz pounded Britain an island community answered a desperate appeal for funds for fighter aircraft to defend the country. Children gave pocket money, there were dances and parades, and in ten weeks Shetland had raised enough to pay for a Spitfire.

Every donation, even sixpence, was recorded by the local newspaper, and an amateur historian who stumbled upon the files has published a book about a Spitfire called Shetlander, the people who bought it and the brave American who flew it.

Margaret Stuart was researching the role of Shetland women during the Second World War when she found the Shetland News reports of how more than £250,000 in today’s money was raised. She also investigated the story of Flight Sergeant Walter Wicker, from Chicago, who took Shetlander into action against the Luftwaffe.

Ms Stuart, of Walls, a village on Shetland, said: “I noticed an advertisement on the front page of the Shetland News — on August 22, 1940, about a Fighter Plane Fund.â€

It was the height of the Battle of Britain and the Government had called for communities across the Empire to raise money to pay for Spitfires. Those who raised the £5,000 needed could name “their†aeroplane.

Ms Stuart said: “The Shetland community were really enthusiastic. It involved ten weeks of intensive fundraising; £5,000 was a huge sum of money in 1940. It was kicked off with two shopkeepers in Lerwick who gave £500 — a huge amount.

“Every week, every donation was acknowledged in the columns of the Shetland News. There were more than 7,000 individual donors. They had collection boxes in shops, dances and the Boys Brigade paraded a model Spitfire through the streets.

“Everyone wanted to join in, including children giving their pocket money. Someone in Gulberwick sold 200 hens, at one penny a hen.â€

By October 1940 they had raised £6,000 and in April 1942 their Spitfire, Shetlander, was assigned to 133 Squadron, one of the Eagle squadrons of American volunteers serving in the Royal Air Force. Its pilot was Flight Sergeant Wicker.

Ms Stuart said: “Walter was an exceptional young man. He came from a wealthy Chicago family — his mother was a famous children’s entertainer known as the ‘Singing Lady’ — but he had such a strong social conscience.†An entry in his pilot’s logbook for April 13, 1942, shows his satisfaction at being given a Spitfire: “Finally got a kite.â€

He and Shetlander survived only eight sorties. On April 27, while escorting bombers over the Channel, he was shot down and killed. Flight Sergeant Wicker’s body was washed up in Dover and he is buried in nearby Folkestone. On his headstone are the words: “He died that democracy may live.â€

Ms Stuart, whose book is called The Spitfire “Shetlander†said: “I found the story totally engrossing and very humbling. Hopefully it will now show some of the sacrifice made during the war. It’s part of our history, something we should all remember with pride.â€

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That is an interesting story. Great to see folk working together.

I have listed all the war graves at The Knab, as well as the private memorials to those lost in war and buried elsewhere. Some of their stories are quite incredible, some sad.

There is much left about these times, sadly, they are slowly going back to nature and fading with others memories. It would be good to see them recorded before they go.

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