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Govt unaware of Britain’s Spitfire ‘gift’


spitfire-planeBereng Mpaki

THE government is yet to receive official communication from Britain over the mulled handing over to Lesotho of a full-size replica of the Spitfire plane in gratitude for the assistance the Mountain Kingdom rendered the former colonizer during World War II.

Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane told the Sunday Express yesterday there was yet no official word from the British with regards to the replica plane.

“I am unable to comment on that issue with authority because the government has not yet received any formal communication from Britain about it,” he said.

According to British media reports, the Spitfire Heritage Trust is putting the finishing touches to an authentic-looking recreation of the plane in Withiel, Cornwall. The Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the country’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and many others before, during and after World War II.

The Daily Mail says the gift – which has been six years in the making – is in recognition of Lesotho’s role as one of the unsung heroes of World War II during the Battle for Britain in which the German air force attempted to gain air superiority over the RAF from July to September 1940.

It was one of the turning points of World War II and prevented Germany from invading Britain.

“The country, formerly known as Basutoland, presented Britain with 24 Spitfire fighter aircraft – enough to equip two entire RAF squadrons – during the Battle of Britain,” says the British newspaper, adding Basotho raised more than £100 000, enough to pay for 24 Spitfires.

“That was a disproportionately generous contribution from a Commonwealth country the size of Wales with a population of only 400 000 people.”

Serving with No 72 (Basutoland) Squadron, the airplanes flew under African names like Makesi, a Sesotho name for hunting dog, and Moshoeshoe.

The British tabloid says the replica would be unveiled in Maseru on 11 November this year and meant to return the favour.

It further claims the initial proposal for the project was put to Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso in 2010.

“With his support, the project won 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,” adds the Daily Mail.

David Spencer Evans, the former RAF intelligence officer behind the project, is quoted saying he made moulds from a real Spitfire to ensure every detail was correct.

“The full-size replica Spitfire monument will be mounted for public display in the capital of Lesotho, Maseru,” he says.

“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.”

On its website, the Spitfire Heritage Trust also claims it received an invitation from the Lesotho government to participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations.

“We are thrilled to announce that Spitfire Heritage Trust have received an invitation from the government of Lesotho to take part in the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of Lesotho’s Independence from Britain.

“Our presentation of the Spitfire Tribute will form part of the official programme and will be received by His Majesty King Letsie III on behalf of the people of Lesotho,” says the trust.

The Spitfire aircraft is also showcased on a limited edition blanket range launched by Aranda Company in commemoration of the 50th independence anniversary.

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