Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tale of ‘Shetlander’ spitfire and pilot uncovered

Published on 26/05/2013 00:43 

The remarkable forgotten tale of a spitfire named “Shetlander” and its brave American ­pilot has been uncovered by an amateur historian.

Margaret Stuart was researching the role of Shetland women in the Second World War when she “stumbled” across the story of how islanders raised more than £250,000 in today’s money to fund the aircraft.

She told Scotland on Sunday she tracked down the sister of the Shetlander’s pilot, Flight Sergeant Walter Wicker, in Chicago. She said he forfeited his American citizenship at the age of 20 and hitchhiked to Canada to join the RAF.

Wicker went on to carry out eight sorties in the Shetlander before being shot down over the English Channel in 1942.

“It is a very humbling story, both on the part played by Shetlanders who raised so much money to fund a Spitfire and Flt Sgt Wicker,” said Stuart, who lives in Walls on the west side of the islands.

She added: “I stumbled on it by accident and it took over my life. I was researching Shetland women in the wartime for an exhibition when I noticed an advertisement on the front page of the Shetland News – on 22 August, 1940, about a Fighter Plane Fund. It caught my attention and I wondered what that was all about.”

As the Battle of Britain was raging and planes were being lost at an alarming rate, a campaign was launched by Lord Beaverbrook, the minister of aircraft supply at the time.

He was appealing to companies and individuals across the British Empire to make donations of £5,000 – around £250,000 nowadays – for the construction of new aircraft.

Stuart said: “The Shetland community were really enthusiastic and supported this campaign to raise enough cash to fund a Spitfire.

“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 – even if they gave six pence they were there. The amounts were given in districts of the islands. There were more than 7,000 individual donors – an amazing feat. They had collection boxes in shops, dances and the Boys Brigade paraded a model Spitfire through the streets.

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