Hawick’s Spitfire remembered

R7128 Hawick Teribus
R7128 Hawick Teribus

By October of 1940, no-one doubted but for the pilots of the Royal Air Force’s Spitfires and Hurricanes, things would have been very different.

After a nerve-wracking summer of air battles between ‘The Few’ of the RAF and Herman Goering’s much-vaunted Luftwaffe, it was make or break by September of that year.

Now, exactly 75 years after the Battle of Britain reach its height, a timely reminder was brought to The Southern’s attention this week by Flt Lt Frank Wielbo, of 2180 (Galashiels) Squadron of the Air Training Corps.

It is an copy of an old photograph that was first published in the Hawick Express Pictorial and shows a Mk1a Spitfire that went by the name of ‘Teribus’ in honour of the Hawick townsfolk who dug deep into their pockets to raise the £5,000 price tag in just five short weeks.

The Hawick Express of October 16, 1940, carried an article entitled ‘How Spitfire Fund Grew - 95% of People Contributed’ and reported how 1,054 donations were received at Hawick Town Hall from home and abroad for the local ‘Spitfire Fund’.

Spitfire Funds were a way communities were able to do something to help the war effort and with British backs to the wall in 1940, people decided the most useful thing their communities could do was raise money to replace RAF Fighter Command’s losses.

It saw communities large and small, businesses, organisations, societies, clubs, trade unions and individuals start up ‘Spitfire Funds’ and posters appeared in shop windows showing a cheery RAF pilot above the slogan “I’ll fly it if you’ll buy it!”

So-called ‘Presentation Spitfires’ bought by communities for the nation each bore a name suggested by the donor and usually marked in four-inch yellow characters on the engine cowling.

Teribus had its name and the Hawick town crest proudly painted on the fuselage, just below the cockpit canopy.

Sadly, Spitfire R7128 - ‘Teribus’ - had a bit of a chequered career. It first flew on February 15, 1941, and a week later joined No. 9 Maintenance Unit at RAF Cosford.

In June of 1941, it was converted to Spitfire PRIII and allocated to 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at RAF Benson. The aircraft ended up tipped up on to her nose on August 28 after a cross country flight from St Eval to Benson when Pilot Officer (Plt Off) R Robb taxied onto soft ground.

Official records show it was repaired on site and returned to 1 PRU. It was then transferred to No.3 School of General Reconnaissance at Squires Gate, Blackpool.

An overshot landing at RAF Squires Gate saw Teribus hit an obstacle on April 22, 1942, injuring its Canadian pilot, Plt Off J Gorman.

Teribus was then handed over to Air Service Training where it was declared beyond repair and ‘struck off’ on April 23, 1942.

In February, 1940, a brand new Spitfire cost £8897.6s.6d, which is equivalent to about £255,608 today.

But recognising it would be difficult for small community organisations to raise that sum, Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production, dropped the nominal price of a Spitfire to just £5000, equivalent to £143,600 today.

Some 1,500 ‘Presentation Spitfires’, paid for by ordinary people, were produced, representing about 17% of total wartime Spitfire production.

Flt Lt Wielbo says the Supermarine Spitfire simply captured the nation’s imagination like no other aircraft.

“It is one of the most iconic aeroplanes ever built. The roar of the Merlin engine, the shape of the famous elliptical wing, the sleek lines of the Spitfire, its manoeuvrability and the move to all metal construction all contribute to the status of the Spitfire,” he told us.

“Films like the First of The Few, starring David Niven and Leslie Howard, and Reach for the Sky, with Kenneth More, undoubtedly contributed to the romanticism of the Spitfire. “Through the efforts of The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Spitfire and its stablemates, the Hurricane and Lancaster, are household names and have a place in the heart of many thousands of supporters who appreciate the efforts of ‘The Few’ during the summer of 1940.”

Madge Elliot, of Hawick, was a young girl during the Second World War, but clearly remembers the Hawick Spitfire Appeal.

“Yes, the plane was called Teribus and Hawick folk did really well raising all that money in just a few weeks. It was a great effort and I clearly remember various fund-raising events that were staged in the town.

“I don’t think that particular Spitfire enjoyed a particularly glorious career but it still played its part in helping the war effort and that was the main thing.”