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Spitfire for the King of Lesotho
8 September 2016

A full-size replica Spitfire is nearing completion in a shed in Cornwall before being sent off to the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Just opposite the Victoria Inn at Withiel is a collection of small industrial units and inside the Spitfire Heritage Trust is proudly putting the finishing touches to a breathtakingly authentic-looking re-creation of the famous Second World War fighter aircraft.

To mark Battle of Britain Day next week, the fibreglass craft will start its long journey to the Kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa, where on November 11 - Remembrance Day - it will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the tiny landlocked country's Independence from Britain. Lesotho's King, King Letsie III, will officially receive the monument.

David Spencer Evans, the former RAF intelligence officer behind the project, made moulds from a real Spitfire to ensure that every detail is correct. It has taken more than five years since the original idea set the project in motion.

"The full-size replica Spitfire monument will be mounted for public display in the capital of Lesotho, Maseru," said David. "It is a Mk Vb, and will be carrying the code letters of No.72 (Basutoland) Squadron.

"The people of Lesotho were incredibly generous to Britain, at the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, and this is our way of saying thank you."

The initial proposal for the project was put to His Royal Highness Prince Seeiso in 2010. Lesotho is one of the unsung heroes of the Second World War. The country, formerly known as Basutoland, presented Britain with 24 Spitfire fighter aircraft - sufficient to equip two entire RAF squadrons. This was a disproportionately generous contribution from a Commonwealth country the size of Wales with a population of only 400,000 people.

​The No. 72 (Basutoland) Squadron is one of the relatively few Second World War squadrons that are still in existence. With Prince Seeiso's support the project was able to win backing from the Ministry of Defence, which helped arrange a visit to the RAF at Linton-on-Ouse.

The aircraft has been made by a small team of volunteers, working from drawings, photographs and models to get everything right. Next week, the wings will be "unplugged" to get the aircraft out of its make-shift "hangar" before it is loaded onto a lorry, taken to Bristol and put aboard a ship bound for southern Africa.

​"Although I was in the RAF I've never flown a real Spitfire," said David. "I'd love to have a go but so far I haven't found anybody willing to lend me one.

"The Spitfire is much more than a vintage aircraft. It is a Great British icon that symbolises the coming together of all the nations of the Commonwealth."


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