BY JUNE 1940 it was clear that Britain was facing great danger.

Our allies in Western Europe had fallen one by one as the German Blitzkrieg had tore through their defences.

Norway had been invaded in late April, by the end of May, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and much of France was in Nazi hands.

Around 300,000 British troops had been evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, leaving their tanks and guns behind.

Weeks later France surrendered. It would be our turn next.

All that stood between us and a German invasion was the Royal Air Force.

Their aircraft had to stop the Germans getting control of the skies over Southern England. If they had that, they could invade. So we needed fighters and plenty of them.

One problem was that they were expensive.

Knowing how vital aircraft production was, Churchill appointed the Canadian, Lord Beaverbrook as Minister for Aircraft Production in June 1940. He gave £5,000 as the price of a Spitfire.

Beaverbrook was a newspaperman in peacetime and he knew how a powerful simple, emotional appeal could make people part with their money.

Britain still was saddled with debt it had gathered during the last war and as a result of the depression, so the need for extra cash was serious.

Beaverbrook set up a team to work on a variety of campaigns to raise more funds and from this the Spitfire fund was borne.

Appeals would be made to towns, counties and workplaces to raise £5,000 to buy their ‘own’ Spitfire.

It would be named in honour of the donor and be emblazoned with their name.

As importantly, it would galvanise people for the fight to come and make them feel they could play their part, no matter how small, in defending their island.

Many Spitfire funds sprang up across Britain and the Commonwealth that summer.

As the Battle of Britain intensified people across the country responded to the call to fund more of the fighters. And it was Spitfires alone that they were asked to pay for.

Although the Hurricane fighter was more numerous and shouldered a greater burden in the air battle, Beaverbrook’s eye for a simple and powerful message would mean that the sleeker, more glamorous Spitfire would be the focus of the campaign.

South Wales Argus: PROMOTION: The Spitfire Fund was publicised across the country

PROMOTION: The Spitfire Fund was publicised across the country

Newport, like many towns across the country quickly responded to the call and launched its appeal in July 1940.

Under the headline: ‘A Newport Spitfire – Help cause of humanity’, the Argus told how of the appeal, made by the mayor of Newport, Alderman Richard Davies.

“A Newport Spitfire will one day rise majestically into the skies to aid the Empire’s War effort”, he said, adding: “Newport’s Spitfire will take its place as soon as the people of Newport make it possible.”

The appeal came after the Argus editor had received “several suggestions” that a Spitfire Fund be set up as “the people of the town and the county are anxious to do their part.”

The mayor told how one Harold Webb had donated £105 with the hope that it should start a fund for the purpose of buying a Spitfire by Newport people.

He said how it was clear there had been “strong support” for the fund, adding: “From all that has been told to me by people who wish also to subscribe and by others who have told me too that they have been approached.

“I appeal to all Newport people to view this in the same enthusiastic way.

“Send in your pennies, send in your shillings and send in your pounds to the mayor’s parlour.”

Readers were reminded: “Remember – it takes a lot of money so please give generously. It may save a lot of lives.”

While today fundraisers sit in baths of beans or run marathons to help cure diseases – then the peril was incredibly clear and the methods were slightly different.

South Wales Argus: COLLECTION: A fundraising event for the Newport Spitfire fund held at Maindee Police station sometime in 1940. Money was collected in the unexploded German bomb.

COLLECTION: A fundraising event for the Newport Spitfire fund held at Maindee Police station sometime in 1940. Money was collected in the unexploded German bomb.

Fundraising events often had an eye-catching centrepiece, with downed German aircraft often displayed to encourage people to chip in to the fund. In Newport, people were encouraged to fill a German bomb (safely emptied of explosive) with cash to pay for a fighter.

The display carried a placard telling donors: “This is an unexploded 500lb German bomb. Help us to fill it with money for the Mayor’s Spitfire Fund. Each Spitfire means less of these bombs.”

Bombers carrying these had already killed Newport people in Stow Park Avenue and later would do so in Eveswell, Rogerstone and Maindee.

There could be no more compelling reasons to give.

Almost two years later, Newport had gathered its pennies, shillings and pounds and had its £5,000.

By this time the danger of invasion had passed but the need for fighters was still acute.

In April 1942, the fighter paid for by the people of Newport and Monmouthshire was revealed.

Its picture made the front page of the Argus but with much of its background censored for fear of revealing where it was based.

The Spitfires presented to the nation each bore a name suggested by the donor and this was marked in four-inch yellow characters on the engine cowling.

Where the donors were commercial companies publicity in a name was not allowed. For example: the BBC donated £5,000 for a Spitfire and it was subtly named ‘Ariel’ after the corporation’s staff journal.

The Spitfire Mk Vb, serial number BM265 was named simply ‘Pride of Newport’.

The ‘Pride of Newport’ had a varied career from then on.

It first went to 331 Squadron on May 12 that year. This unit was manned by Norwegian airmen flying in the RAF who had escaped their country when the Germans invaded.

South Wales Argus: COMRADES: Spitfires of 331 Squadron in 1942 when 'Pride of Newport' would have joined them

COMRADES: Spitfires of 331 Squadron in 1942 when 'Pride of Newport' would have joined them

The aircraft would see combat but not before moving from unit to unit.

It left 331 Sqn and was used by two further units before finding a home with 232 Sqn at the end of September and in November sailed for North Africa, where it became operational with its Spitfires in North Africa in January 1943.

Here it would fly in support of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of Algeria.

Spitfire funds raised enough money for around 2,600 of the aircraft by the war’s end. Their names, scattered across the globe, wherever the RAF fought, showed that people from cities, towns, and companies were with them.