Lesotho's fibreglass replica of a Spitfire Mk Vb fighter took six years to make
Image: Andrew Unsworth Lesotho's fibreglass replica of a Spitfire Mk Vb fighter took six years to make

Its presence is thanks to the strange link between the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, the green and pleasant land of England, and the planes that once defended it.

The Spitfire was unveiled shortly after Remembrance Sunday last year after being donated to the country by the Spitfire Heritage Trust based in the English county of Devon. It was donated to honour Lesotho for its role in World War 2 - 20,000 men left to fight in the war.

During the war the people also donated generously to a fund to support the war effort, part of which went to pay for 25 Spitfires which flew as the No 72 (Basutoland) Squadron. They had Sesotho names like Makesi, Moshoeshoe, and Thaba Boisu - the latter a name which had also been given to three Sopwith Camels in World War 1.

The fund was started in October 1939 by the trader JT "Baseane" Thorn of Roma with a personal donation of £500. (Thorn was awarded an OBE in 1940 for ''the valuable part he played in the public life of Basutoland".)

The original goal was to collect £50,000, but in the end The Basutoland War Fund collected more than £120,000. Even the ''Witwatersrand African" community donated £5,880.

More than half of the money was donated directly to the British government and the rest was distributed to 10 funds including the Governor-general's War Fund, the Basuto Gifts and Comforts Fund, and the Red Cross.

Thorn's grandson Ashley still owns the Roma Trading Post in Lesotho. ''I never knew that the war fund sponsored Spitfires," says Thorn. ''It's only when news of this gift came that I picked up on it."

The realisation encouraged him to look at his grandfather's scrapbook on the War Fund, which contains detailed records of the donations.

A replica of a Spitfire Mk Vb fighter on Makoanyane Square in Maseru, Lesotho
Image: Andrew Unsworth A replica of a Spitfire Mk Vb fighter on Makoanyane Square in Maseru, Lesotho

The director of the Spitfire Heritage Trust, David Spencer Evans, a former RAF intelligence officer, said: "We owe so much to the Basutoland, to Lesotho, to the people, that those of us who were not born even during World War 2, feel that it's a debt of honour that we have to pay. We are the beneficiaries of their help It's such an honour to be able to present this small tribute to a great nation."

The fibreglass Spitfire took six years to make, and Evans made casts from a real Mk Vb Spitfire himself. It was built in Withiel, England, before making its journey by land and sea to Lesotho.

Spitfires have become a part of Sotho culture - one of the most popular of the Basotho blanket designs is the Victoria England Spitfire. The design was introduced in the early 1940s and is still made today. The manufacturers, Aranda textiles, made a special limited edition of the blanket last year to mark Lesotho's 50 years of independence.


This article was originally published in The Times.

© Wanted 2016 - If you would like to reproduce this article please email us.