Small plaque honours big war effort shown by town

It’s a small piece of wood, about eight inches by six.

Trevor Matthews with the plaque recognising the efforts of people from Willenhall in assisting the war effort
Trevor Matthews with the plaque recognising the efforts of people from Willenhall in assisting the war effort

But when it came up for sale at a Bridgnorth auction house about five years ago, Trevor Matthews didn’t need to think twice about bidding to buy it.

Because the plaque, issued by the Ministry of Aircraft Production at the height of the Second World War, commemorates the small contribution he made as a small child to the Second World War effort.

Our recent feature about how the people of the West Midlands funded Spitfires during the war brought memories flooding back for Mr Matthews, who lives in Claverley.

But the retired assistant manager of Littleton Colliery in Cannock points out that it wasn’t just Spitfires that people in the area helped fund – because as a young boy he helped raise money for a Hawker Hurricane.

The retired assistant manager of Littleton Colliery in Cannock recalls how he helped with a fundraising effort at Albion Road Junior School in Willenhall, near Walsall.

Mr Matthews was nine years old when his school started taking part in a National Savings scheme to raise money towards the cost of one of the famous fighter planes in 1941.

A Hawker Hurricane

At the time, the Government was raising funds for the war effort through the issue of National Savings certificates. Each certificate cost 15 shillings, equivalent to 75p in new money, and after five years the Government would pay out £1 and 6d, a profit of 5s 6d, or 27.5p.

Pupils at his school were encouraged to bring in sixpence (2.5 new pence) every Friday if their parents could afford it, with every 30 sixpences buying one certificate.

The people of the town raised £6,000 to fund a Hurricane, which was named Willenhall.

The town was also awarded with a plaque from the Ministry of Aircraft Production in recognition of the funds it raised.

And when Mr Matthews read that the plaque was going under the hammer at Bridgnorth Antiques Centre about five years ago, he didn’t think twice about lodging a bid.

“Each year every town selected a specific item of military equipment to raise funds for,” says Mr Matthews, now 88.

“In 1941 the objective was to purchase a Hurricane fighter for the RAF, and the plaque was awarded to the people of Willenhall by the Ministry of Aircraft Production that year in recognition of their efforts.

A Hawker Hurricane

“When I saw it was being auctioned, I thought ‘I must get hold of that’,” he says.

“What other piece of wartime memorabilia can I buy that is connected to the small role I played in the Second World War?

“When I went to the auction I didn’t know how far I was prepared to go. I ended up paying £140, which I was quite happy with.”

But young Trevor’s efforts extended beyond chipping in with his weekly sixpence. As one of the top two boys in his scholarship class, he was was entrusted every Friday afternoon to take the money collected to the post office in Walsall Road.

“That was quite a responsibility for a nine-year-old boy,” he says.

“There were 350 pupils at the school, and if only 200 of them brought a sixpence, this would amount to £5, the average weekly wage of a working man at that time.”

Mr Matthews also recalls having responsibility for ensuring the air-raid shelters serving his school were properly ventilated. In order to keep them damp-free and ventilated, the hatches had to be opened in the morning and closed again just before home-time.”

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