The Old Lady of the skies

Fundraising by Bank of England staff during WW2 paid for a Spitfire for the Royal Air Force.
Published on 30 April 2021


Alice Beagley, Museum Officer

World War Two changed life for everyone working at the Bank of England.

Banknote printing moved out of London to Overton in Hampshire. And gold reserves were shipped to Canada in the undercover ‘Operation Fish’.

It was a difficult time for everyone, from the printing staff who made our banknotes, to the porters who kept our building safe.

How did they respond to this upheaval? They raised enough money to buy a Spitfire!

Spitfires were single-seat aircrafts used by the Royal Air Force (RAF). This intrigued me so I’ve dug into our records to find out more.

In May 1940, the RAF launched its aircraft presentation scheme. It asked the public for donations to build fighter planes. These were expensive to make and low in supply.

Funds came from variety of patrons from the miners of Durham to an Indian Maharajah. But they were mainly raised by individual companies or towns.

In July 1940, the Bank of England’s Deputy Secretary W H Nevill suggested its staff should contribute towards the scheme.

They rose to the challenge. Between August 1940 and February 1941 they raised the £5,000 needed to buy a Spitfire. That sum is worth around £258,000 today.

Below are photos of the fundraising drawing boards, which tracked the contributions. And the cheque for £5,000.

Fundraising drawing board (Bank of England Archive; reference 17A26/1)

Fundraising drawing board (Bank of England Archive; reference 17A26/1)

Fundraising drawing board (Bank of England Archive; reference 17A26/1)

The £5,000 cheque from the Staff Spitfire Fund (Bank of England Museum; reference 745)

The Spitfire they funded was initially called 'P8509'. But it was later nicknamed 'The Old Lady'.

It could reach speeds of up to 400 miles per hour. It carried two 20mm cannons and two machine guns.

For people like me who aren't weaponry enthusiasts, ‘20mm’ just means the cannons fired bullets that were 20mm in diameter.

It also had an engine designed by Rolls Royce – very fancy!

The aircraft was presented to the RAF later in 1941. And the Bank of England received this commemorative plaque to mark the occasion:

Commemorative plaque presented to the Bank of England in 1941 (Bank of England Museum; reference A280)

The Old Lady first served with 266 Squadron at RAF Wittering, where it took part in strikes on the Dutch coast.

The aircraft was later reassigned to 277 Squadron in Gravesend, where it carried out ‘Air Sea Rescue’ duties. It remained with them until March 1944.

The Spitfire was eventually retired to an Operational Training Unit. Sadly, it was written off in 1946 after a collision with another aircraft.

That may have been the end of the Old Lady Spitfire. But that spirit of giving lives on among the people who work at the Bank of England.

Each year they nominate two charities to raise funds for. It’s one of the many reasons I am proud to work here.

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